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.


This gorgeous film, with music by Handel, Gluck and Vivaldi, is based on the true story of the Danish King Christian VII (1749-1808) and his doctor, Johann Struensee (1737-1772).

An interesting representative of eighteenth-century medicine, Struensee engages with progressive ideas of the Enlightenment, which is alluded to frequently in names such as Voltaire and Rousseau. He donates much of his time to the poor. He adopts measures for improved hygiene and he supports variolization for the whole population, beginning with himself. He even arranges a successful varioloization of the young prince--a controversial move that ran the risk of killing the boy. He is a religious skeptic.

The doctor’s control over the king helps to advance his own agenda, but it is also a ploy to provide stability in the royal household and in the country. The jealous, manipulative aristocrats care only for their power and wealth. They reverse the progressive laws as soon as the doctor is removed, and the king returns to his puppet state. But he still has the children.

 The portrayal of the king’s mental illness does not allow for a “diagnosis,” nor should it from this distance, although some scholars contend that he suffered from schizophrenia. The misery of the young Queen Caroline Mathilde (1751-1775) well reflects the difficult condition of women in that era, even those who lived in privilege.

The film does not continue beyond the deaths of the lovers. In reality, at age 16, the young son staged a coup in which he became regent of his own ineffectual father. As Frederik VI (1768-1839), he passed a series of reformist measures that restore and surpass Struensee’s ideas. His (half?)-sister, Princess Louise Augusta (1771-1843) remains a close confidente and important figure at court.


In Danish. Original title En kongelig affære




Zentropa Entertainments

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