A Royal Affair
Despite the implicit promise in that title, there’s not a single character from the House of Windsor in this film, which many people may find a genuine relief. Instead, it’s a Danish period piece about a scandal that rocked that country in the 18th century.
This will be good news to drama aficionados who prefer to stay glued to our TV sets on Saturday nights. We love the Danes these days, don’t we? And given their success with such impeccable, complex, grown-up series such as The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge, how could we not?
A Royal Affair shares many of the virtues of those series: it’s classy, well-written and genuinely intriguing. The story revolves around an illicit romance between the teenage princess Caroline (Alicia Vikander) and a political radical - Streuensee, her husband the King Christian’s personal physician (Mads Mikkelsen).
The couple conspire to use the king to move Denmark forward into the age of European-wide enlightenment. Clearly, this material could easily be lurid, but the story unfolds without recourse to sensationalism. As for Mikkelsen, who can express substantial information with a raised eyebrow or a sharp glance, one sees why he is currently the European film actor of the moment.
There’s something undeniably compelling about this fictional French film about the Child Protection Unit of the Paris police department, and the devoted men and women who work in it.
By day, they interrogate parents suspected of child abuse, gently interview vulnerable children, and arrest child molesters and under-age pickpockets. It’s a stressful work, and after hours they let off steam with a vengeance, drinking heavily, flirting with each other and often jeopardising their marriages.
Director Mäiwenn is also a well-known French actress; she appears in Polisse, playing a photographer assigned by France’s Interior Ministry to hang out with the tightly-knit unit and document its work. She skilfully draws out the dozen or so lead characters, and elicits touching performances from her child actors, some of them talking hesitantly about the ill-treatment they have suffered.
Polisse (the title suggests how a young child might spell ‘police’) is not always an easy ride; afterwards you may feel like a stiff drink yourself. But you won’t forget it in a hurry.
It’s commonplace these days for re-mastered old films to receive a limited release in art-house cinemas before enjoying a new DVD release. But it’s rare that one as good as Billy Wilder’s 1960 masterpiece comes along.
Jack Lemmon plays an ambitious worker bee in a giant, impersonal New York insurance office, and seeks favour with his superiors by lending them the key to his apartment, so they can conduct after-hours trysts with women – some of them lowly employees of the same company. He falls for the office’s elevator girl, played by Shirley MacLaine, only to find she’s embroiled in a doomed relationship with one of these sleazy executives.
The script is ruthlessly sharp, Lemmon and MacLaine are on top form, and this was a brave film to make at a time when the ethics of all-powerful American corporations were never questioned. Filmed in glorious black-and-white, it makes a neat contrast to the TV series Mad Men, which began in the same period. The Apartment is unmissable.
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