October 02, 2013

"A Royal Affair" and The Age of Enlightenment



Every now and then you find a movie that captures your imagination, or sometimes it even finds you!

This was the case with “A Royal Affair”.

 I saw the trailer while channel-surfing one night and since historical movies are one of my favourite genres I decided to watch it.

I had studied the “Age of Enlightenment”  1700 – 1800, at high school but the main focus was on France, Prussia and Russia. We learned nothing about Denmark, and nothing about the American Revolution in this context.

From the Princeton site  it is defined thus:

“The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the Enlightenment) is the era in Western philosophy, intellectual, scientific and cultural life, centered upon the 18th century, in which reason was advocated as the primary source for legitimacy and authority.

Developing simultaneously in France, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the American colonies, the movement was buoyed by Atlantic Revolutions, especially the success of the American Revolution, when breaking free of the British Empire

Most of Europe was caught up, including the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Russia, and Scandinavia, along with Latin America in instigating the Haitian Revolution. The authors of the American Declaration of Independence, the United States Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and the Polish-Lithuanian Constitution of May 3, 1791, were motivated by Enlightenment principles.[1]

The "Enlightenment" was not a single movement or school of thought, for these philosophies were often mutually contradictory or divergent. The Enlightenment was less a set of ideas than it was a set of values. At its core was a critical questioning of traditional institutions, customs, and morals, and a strong belief in rationality and science. Thus, there was still a considerable degree of similarity between competing philosophies.[2] Some historians also include the late 17th century, which is typically known as the Age of Reason or Age of Rationalism, as part of the Enlightenment; however, most historians consider the Age of Reason to be a prelude to the ideas of the Enlightenment.[3] Modernity, by contrast, is used to refer to the period after The Enlightenment; albeit generally emphasizing social conditions rather than specific philosophies.”

There is more information here.

We also learned about “enlightened despots” like Catherine The Great of Russia, and Frederick the Great of Prussia and also of the ‘philosophes’ like Rousseau, Diderot and Voltaire. 

I think it is fair to say that all the countries in Europe were ruled by either monarchs or religious leaders, like the Papal States for example, but mainly monarchs who could be described as ‘tyrants’ or ‘dictators’ since they came to rule by virtue of their birth and acted that way generally.

“A Royal Affair” is about a young English Princess, Caroline Mathilde, who is married off to King Christian VII of Denmark who has severe mental issues. 

A German doctor,Johann Friedrich Streunsee, becomes the court physician.
He comes to court with many books about the Enlightenment. These books have been banned in Denmark, but the new Queen is quite aware of them. She borrows these from him and more than a friendship follows in due course.

The Danish Establishment feels very threatened by ‘a man of the Enlightenment’ and since the doctor is able to help King Christian VII he is also able to influence his thinking. 

He encourages the king to change many laws that help improve the lives of the common people. 

I don’t agree: he is no more a dictator than any other contemporary ruler, notwithstanding the fact that he wasn’t born to the role or voted into it – who was voted in back then? 
He was even a pioneer of vaccination which is quite astonishing.

The actors are outstanding as are the sets and costumes. 

The story is fascinating in its truth. The ending is uplifting after the horrific incidents that precede it.

I highly recommend this movie for both history and movie buffs!

Many reviews that I have read give it a great deal of credit like this one from the ABC.

It was directed by  in 2012.


Alicia Vikander - Caroline Mathilde

Mads Mikkelsen -  Johann Friedrich Struensee  (Le Chiffre in Casino Royal)

Mikkel Boe Følsgaard - Christian VII 



Above:  still shots from the movie of Queen Caroline and Dr Struensee.

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