Nikolaj Arcel’s large-scaled Danish Historical about the attempt of ‘mad’ King Christian to embrace Enlightenment principles for his country in the late 1700s is undoubtedly well made, but so tidy & conventional in form & content it doesn’t make much of a mark. You approve of it, but barely feel it. The structure of its story, as the film itself notes, is much like the tale of King Arthur, Guinevere & Launcelot where an illicit love affair between a Queen and a King’s best friend (in this case Mads Mikkelsen as the unbalanced King’s physician) destroys lots of good intentions. (Giuseppe Verdi’s DON CARLO and A MASKED BALL also come to mind, distractingly so, since their passion & intelligence only point up what’s missing here.) Perhaps the film doesn’t quite come off because the villains of the piece, the conservative voices of the Dowager Queen & the religious zealots, aren’t given their due as true believers. Or maybe the love affair isn’t convincing enough to explain the pointlessly reckless behavior and the unacknowledged blind ambition.
DOUBLE-BILL: Sofia Coppola’s MARIE ANTOINETTE/’06, with its ironic post-modern flourishes, makes even the mustiest parts of AFFAIR seem like a breath of fresh air. (Or vice versa for Coppola fanciers.)