26 January 2013

En kongelig affære

I continue to be wild for the costume drama. Okay, wild might be a bit of an overstatement, but let's just say that I like them plenty. Here we have historical costume drama in a setting that I'm not personally used to: Denmark in the 1700s.

It's probably a good idea to not count on cinema to convey historical truths. I'm sure that things in a feudal Denmark were even filthier for the peasants, and my companions and I speculated after the film on just how unattractive the major players might have been by the standards of health and beauty that we now expect (and which are depicted in the film, most likely), versus the reality of the time (the imagery not being pretty, I will spare you).

Aside from aesthetic considerations, there can probably be some debate about how history unfolds. Is it the machinations of a few very powerful people, or are there more elements of mass society and popular values in play. You might also question whether a foreign-born queen (even if the whole of the British monarchy was pretty much German, neighbours to the Danes) and a foreign-born doctor (also German, but not by way of Britain) could really have conspired successfully to usurp the decision-making powers of the structure that predated their arrival on the scene and introduce sweeping progressive reforms.

Or maybe I'm naïve and things unfolded just as in this film.

So let's step further away from the issue of historical accuracy to see if it was good cinema. It was beautiful, for sure: lovely settings, lovely costumes. It's interesting how so many of these historical films and TV series with references to castles in pristine countryside (and some in more urban settings) are filmed in a number of eastern European countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria…). This really makes me want to travel to those countries to see for myself, rather than travelling to the countries they are meant to depict!

King Christian VII was supposedly insane, and the actor certainly worked at that. I'm not sure if he succeeded more in depicting impetuous, foppish or childlike more than truly mad, and at times I was left wondering if he wasn't just crazy like a fox. Still, when you are betrayed by those closest to you and you lose on what you think you have been working on with them, what is there to do but go play with your little African friend? (Quite a cringeworthy element of this depiction, but probably among the most historically accurate!)

The noblemen on the ruling council are all sufficiently self-interested and entitled, and offended when the upstart doctor won't bend the rules for them, and not even for his friends among them. They whip up dissent based on perceived moral failings to get their political power back – sounds a bit like now! There is scheming and half-truths by the boatload and things generally don't end up favourably for those who were on the wrong side of history from our perspective. But then again, we already knew that going in. The emergence of pastry making and coolly designed furniture remain unexplained, so they must have happened in a different historical era.

The film is in Danish with English subtitles. It's kind of fun to hear a language we are not used to, and this element made it easier for me to make up my mind about whether to listen more closely or read more closely (an issue when one understands the spoken and the subtitled language both).

Given my past disclosures, I'm sure you are asking yourself how easy it is for someone with a proclivity for nodding off to follow a subtitled movie. I will say that presents extra challenges, as the "just resting my eyes" periods are a bit blank in plot development terms.

Added bonus information: I think I may be developing a new aspect to my nodding off in movies. This would be verbalizations as I awaken. No words just yet, so my friends have been able to attribute them to outbursts that are film related. I'm sure I'm only a couple of sleep-deprived weeks away from shouting something truly embarrassing in my sleep in the cinema.

I'm bracing for bear attacks, should that ever happen. Or, as we speculated while walking away from the cinema, I might get strip-mauled! Who is to say whether that prospect is an incentive or a deterrent for my anti-social behaviour?

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