A Royal Affair

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The Enlightenment reverberates across the world today. When studying political movements, you can trace the influences of any one to the ideas of Rousseau and other Enlightenment scholars. The movement is the reason why our world looks the way it does now, how the United States formed and how France became independent (if only for a little while). But before these two very famous revolutions, there was a quieter one in a neighboring country. In Denmark, a doctor with Enlightenment ideals persuaded the king to institute radical changes to his country in order to make the people more free. Why wasn’t this movement more well-known? It was because in the end he did not fully succeed. The king was too easily persuaded, too easily controlled and the elite who desperately wanted back control were too eager to get rid of this spoil sport of a doctor. This unfortunate fact does not mean his story and his efforts should be buried in the sands of time.

This film tells the story of this unlucky doctor, but frames it within a love story. I think this love story is the film’s Achilles heel. Is it not interesting enough to watch the doctor rise to power, institute widespread changes and then see his sudden downfall? Apparently not. We have to have a love story between the Queen and the doctor to give some sort of unneeded emotional anchor. I think the love story falls flat because deep down inside the filmmakers knew that they really didn’t want to focus on that part of the story. The love story is given a lot of screen time, but the scenes could have easily all taken place in the card room fully clothed. The Queen and the doctor are drawn together purely because of their shared ideals not because of their sexual affection. What I would have loved to see was them arguing more in the card room and building the sexual tension that way. The love story is an integral part of the original story but it is annoying to insinuate that the Queen seduced the doctor purely because she wanted more power in the court which it does at one point in the film. Here again is the female making a pawn of a man she holds in her hands. In parallel to the conniving Queen (shown in a sympathetic light, at least) is the conniving stepmother of the King who was thrust aside once he ascended to the throne. She has a son that will never be considered to rule unless they take the crown by force (hint: she is the bad woman). She conspires to take the power away from the doctor after he starts to strip the elite of their wealth and power. This is how she can get support and be able to go through with her diabolical plan.

I think the film could have achieved iconic status if they focused more on how his ideas affected the minor person rather than obsess over the intrigue in the royal mansion. You only get the surface impact on how these changes helped to show France and America that they could do the same thing. The Queen doesn’t know just how bad conditions are outside of her little over privileged bubble. And by extension neither do we.

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