The Doctor and the Queen
by Stephen Applebaum
Sep 11, 2012 | 632 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It was one of the great scandals of the 18th century: Johann Friedrich Struensee, the German physician at court in Denmark, seduced Queen Caroline Matilda and tried to seize power from King Christian VII, hoping to bring Enlightenment ideals to the Danish people. Nikolaj Arcel, the co-writer of the Swedish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movie, has turned the story into a sweeping historical drama. A Royal Affair, starring Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander, won awards at Berlin for best script and best actor (for Mikkel Følsgaard as King Christian).

Stephen Applebaum: How important is this story to Danes?

Nikolaj Arcel: It’s very important. It’s part of our cultural identity. We learn about it in school, we read about it in books, we see the ballets and the plays. It’s not only politically interesting but also a very soapy, melodramatic, saucy story. There’s death and birth and forbidden love. It’s like a fairy tale.

Applebaum: Struensee tries to bring the Enlightenment to Denmark with only the Queen’s help. Why doesn’t he forge more alliances?

Arcel: He was a political amateur. He didn’t know about what you needed to stay in power, and he did all the wrong things. He went to bed with the King’s wife. He cut the military, which is the main thing you should not do. And he took the money from the nobility and the rich. He felt he could implement these grand ideas, thinking, “Of course everyone will love me for it because they can see that it’s good for them.” He was a little bit like Obama.


Applebaum: Lars von Trier is one of your executive producers. How involved was he?

Arcel: He was not there on the set; that would have been horrible. Everybody would have been wondering, “What does Lars think?” No, he would read various stages of the script and tell me what he thought and bring me ideas. Then he came into the editing room several times.

Applebaum: What traps did you hope to avoid?

Arcel: A lot of directors who do historical films fall in love with their ability to show everything. “Let’s slowly move in on the castle for 10 minutes while I show you how big a director I am.” I am always bored with these films. But obviously I do sometimes fall into the trap.

Applebaum: Were you surprised by the international success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and how did you feel about the Fincher version?

Arcel: I wasn’t surprised by it at all. The book was a big hit, and Noomi [Rapace, who played Lisbeth Salander] is fantastic, so we already had a good basis. I haven’t seen the Fincher version. I am a big Fincher fan, and I am scared of watching it. I feel I will get a slap in the face saying, “Look what we can do.”  

Stephen Applebaum is a UK-based freelance writer specializing in film, entertainment, social issues and politics. His work appears regularly in newspapers and magazines worldwide.

©Stephen Applebaum. Reprinted with permission.

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