‘A Royal Af­fair’ dra­ma­tizes Dan­ish his­tory

A wise doc­tor helps a king rule in retelling of a true story.

Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN360 DAILY - By mick Lasalle San Fran­cisco chron­i­cle rat­ing: olence. run­ning time: hours, 17 min­utes. the­ater: Ar­bor Alan eisen­stock Con­tact Matthew Odam at 912-5986. Twit­ter: @odam

Den­mark’s “A Royal Af­fair” tells an amaz­ing real-life story from Dan­ish his­tory that has ev­ery­thing go­ing for it — sex, love, ter­ror, pol­i­tics, vi­o­lence. A beau­ti­ful young royal from Eng­land is brought to Den­mark to marry King Chris­tian VII, sight un­seen. And then she meets him, and he’s bor­der­line in­sane, lash­ing out at peo­ple with­out warn­ing and mas­tur­bat­ing around the clock. What a guy.

Mikkel Boe Fols­gaard won the best ac­tor prize at the Berlin Film Fes­ti­val for his per­for­mance as the king, a ter­ri­fy­ing weak­ling who, yet, has a soul. When a Ger­man doc­tor, Stru­ensee (Mads Mik- kelsen), is brought in as the king’s per­sonal physi­cian, Chris­tian gets a lit­tle bet­ter. He has a friend. And grad­u­ally, he starts tak­ing Stru­ensee’s ad­vice on how to run the coun­try — along more pop­ulist and lib­eral lines.

As played by Mikkelsen, Stru­ensee is just so much more of a man than the king that ev­ery­one no­tices it, in­clud­ing the queen, who is young and love-starved. And so we have this pres­sure-cooker sit­u­a­tion: As long as the king lis­tens to Stru­ensee, Den­mark will get bet­ter. But if Stru­ensee and the queen con­sum­mate their un­der­stand­able at­trac­tion — they’re the best-look­ing and most sane peo­ple in the coun­try — they risk ev­ery­thing.

If Chris­tian VII is the film’s flashiest char­ac­ter and the queen its most sym­pa­thetic, Stru­ensee is the most fas­ci­nat­ing, a man of re­laxed de­meanor and fierce am­bi­tion, un­usual per­cep­tion and tin-eared clue­less­ness. Mikkelsen has the aura of a man who can never make a mis­take, un­til you re­al­ize that he can.

“A Royal Af­fair” is an en­gag­ing and en­ter­tain­ing film, one that might have been great, if only the his­tory were dif­fer­ent. Dan­ish his­tory col­lab­o­rates with the film­mak­ers for about three-quar­ters of the run­ning time, but so long as the film is com­mit­ted to pre­sent­ing a ver­sion of the truth — as it should be in a movie like this — the last quar­ter was bound to dis­ap­point. “A Royal Af­fair” is mag­nif­i­cent when it plays just like a movie, and less so when it be­comes like real life.

They fig­ured that was the end of it. The guys went their sep­a­rate ways be­fore join­ing up again in their 20s in Los An­ge­les. Zala be­gan a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in the video game in­dus­try, and Strompo­los chased the dream of a mu­sic ca­reer.

The two drifted apart again as Zala moved to Florida and Strompo­los bat­tled his drug de­mons be­fore find­ing clar­ity and love. Then, in 2003, they re­ceived an email that would change their lives. It was genre film­maker Eli Roth (“Cabin Fever.”) A copy of the adap­ta­tion had landed in his hands through six de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion from one of Zala’s New York Univer­sity class­mates. Roth loved the movie and brought it to Austin in 2002, where he screened a por­tion of the film at Knowles’ an­nual Butt-Numb-A-Thon at the Alamo be­fore the unof­fi­cial world pre­miere of “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Tow­ers.” The au­di­ence loved it. The Leagues loved it.

And Roth had even big­ger news for Zala. Spiel­berg loved it. The leg­endary film­maker even­tu­ally sent a let­ter to the guys say­ing how im­pressed he was with their “very lov­ing and de­tailed trib­ute.” The two would meet their film­mak­ing hero in 2006.

“It was ev­ery­thing you’d want it to be in meet­ing your boy­hood idol,” Strompo­los said of the al­most hour-long talk with Spiel­berg.

Knowles and the Leagues in­vited Strompo­los and Zala (and their third part­ner, cin­e­matog­ra­pher and makeup artist Jayson Lamb) to the Alamo in the spring of 2003. Af­ter the sold-out shows in Austin, the guys took the film on the road and have screened it at about 100 venues across the coun­try and overseas.

Af­ter the Van­ity Fair ar­ti­cle, a lit­er­ary agent con­tacted the guys, who chose to work with Eisen­stock on the non­fic­tion book that reads like a novel. “Raiders!” should have strong ap­peal not just to fans of the film, but those new to the story of Strompo­los and Zala. It is a tale of ad­ven­ture and imag­i­na­tion. But at its heart, the book, part “Won­der Years” and part “Stand by Me,” is a story about friend­ship and per­se­ver­ance. Two kids con­quer­ing set­backs and fall-outs to cre­ate some­thing they never imag­ined would en­dure.

“We just made the movie for our­selves and never dreamed it would turn out to be the Cin­derella story that it has been,” Zala said.

CONTRIBUTED by mag­no­lia PIC­TURES

Mads Mikkelsen and Ali­cia Vikan­der in “A Royal Af­fair.”

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