A surprising name crops up as executive producer of an absorbing new Danish film A Royal Affair – that of Lars von Trier. The film itself, based on a true story, is a costume drama telling of a perilous love affair in the late 18th century between English-born Queen Caroline (Alicia Vikander), wife of Denmark’s King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) and the royal physician Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen).
It’s a tale that has everything – illicit love, a cuckolded king, power politics, revenge and counter-revenge, an illegitimate royal princess and inevitable tragedy.
As the football pundit Alan Shearer famously remarked in a different context: “You couldn’t have wrote that script.” Well, the script was certainly wrote, and very well wrote, by director Nicolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, who won a prize for it at the Berlin film festival. But you couldn’t have thought it up as a work of fiction without arousing disbelief.
It’s a riveting story, splendidly made and played (and in cinemas from 15 June), but too conventional, I’d have thought, to attract von Trier, director of Breaking the Waves and The Kingdom and co-founder of Dogme 95, the avant-garde movement that produces films notable for grainy texture and hand-held camerawork.
"I know what you mean, but he’s a friend,” Arcel tells me. “We share an editing suite. He was interested in the story and helped a lot with ideas, writing and editing."
More than that, though. Arcel, who also co-wrote the Swedish film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, regards von Trier as the inspiration behind the current renaissance in Scandinavian, especially Danish, film-and-television-making.
“He was the first of us to attain international fame and recognition, someone we could look up to, who encouraged us to think out of the box.”