Mads Mikkelsen

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Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film


Young, beautiful Caroline Mathilde (Vikander) writes a letter to her children explaining why they have been separated. A few years earlier in 1766, she was sent from her native England to Denmark to become consort to King Christian VII (Følsgaard).

Her hopes are dashed when she discovers that her regal husband is deeply disturbed and little interested in her. They manage to conceive a baby boy – and all further relations between them discontinue.

Dr. Johann Struensee (Mikkelsen) is a progressive, German physician, interested in helping the poor. His friends wish to curry favour with the monarch and sway politics. They believe that Struensee might be good for the King and good for them. He is recruited to the royal entourage.

The plan works well. Struensee is able to calm the king, who grows fond of and dependent on his physician. Under his influence, the king asserts his own authority and begins making progressive laws – banning torture, improving sanitation, outlawing biased financial practices for artistocrats. These changes displease some of the very people who had brought Struensee to court.

Worse, the doctor understands Caroline Mathilde and her loneliness. He is instrumental in a partial reconciliation between the queen and the king, but inevitably he and she fall in love. Their affair is an open secret at court. When she bears a daughter, the King recognizes the child, but everyone knows that the infant is not his.

Eventually the affair is used to bring down both Struensee and the Queen. She is sent into exile without her children. He is lied to, and brutally decapitated in 1772. Three years later, she writes to her children and dies of fever.

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This film by Danish filmmakers focuses on two Scots, Wilbur (Jamie Sives) and his older, considerate brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins), who own a family buy-and-sell bookshop, North Books, in Glasgow. The opening movie credits intersperse with Wilbur's suicide attempt by pills and gassing himself. Wilbur's attempt is thwarted first by the fact that he has to put more coins into the apartment gas meter, and then by his brother, whom Wilbur had telephoned just before losing consciousness. Wilbur continues suicide attempts throughout much of the movie, with methods that range from the absurd to the disturbingly tragic.

The brothers' father had recently died and several scenes occur at a hillside cemetery. Surrounded by imposing stone monuments, the brothers' parents are buried without markers, but with a view, if you cock your head and imagine, of the bookshop. The tragedy of the mother's death when Wilbur was only 5 years old, is invoked to explain much of Wilbur's disturbance.

Early in the movie, Alice (Shirley Henderson), a waif-like single mother who cleans the operating and trauma theatres and sells books she finds at the hospital to the bookshop, is introduced, along with her soon to be 9 year old daughter, Mary (Lisa McKinlay). Alice and Harbour wed, and Mary presciently plunks a penguin eraser she has just received atop the wedding cake next to the bride and groom: "That's Wilbur," she says.

Two hospital workers feature prominently in the film. Horst (Mads Mikkelsen) is a Danish ex-pat physician and "senior psychologist." He chain smokes, distances himself from the group therapy he supposedly supervises, and yet deftly discusses bad news with Harbour in several scenes. The psychiatric nurse, Moira (Julia Davis), however, who, with ever-changing hairstyles and inappropriate nurse-patient interactions, acts primarily as comic relief, delivers the same bad news with unthinking, devastating directness.

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