Mads Mikkelsen and Mikkel Følsgaard did not receive Oscar nominations for portraying Johann Friedrich Struensee and Christian VII of Denmark respectively in A Royal Affair.
Mads Mikkelsen as the true lead of the film comes in a little later as a foreign doctor Johann who is recruited by former court members hoping to gain favor with the King once again. Johann's method is by becoming the king's personal physician. It's always a good thing to see Mads Mikkelsen in a film it seems even a better thing to see him in a leading role. Mikkelsen is captivating in the role even in his relatively unassuming early scenes, achieving something very important in his personal presentation of the doctor. In that Mikkelsen avoids any stuffy notions of the period or a period piece for that matter, yet he avoids feeling overly modern either. Mikkelsen finds the right balance which he uses to suggest the progressive mind of the man just in his very manner of being. His earliest scenes though are as he goes about finding his way into the good graces of the king. Mikkelsen conducts himself as Johann as sort of the best possible confidant, as he brings a warmth in his interactions though with this certain grace though that keeps him from seeming to be a sycophant.
Følsgaard and Mikkelsen's chemistry is actually very key to the film in the creation of the unique relationship between the two, which isn't as simple as king and servant or even as two friends. Although he does have that warmth of a proper confidant Mikkelsen doesn't make that a meaningless thing. It's this interesting command that Mikkelsen conveys in the relationships as he dominates their interactions with one another. Mikkelsen though is careful in that he in no way portrays this as truly manipulative of the doctor, even though it technically is. He shows the care that Johann gives to the king is genuine but with it he asserts his role of more than just a guardian. Følsgaard in turn again stays very much with his portrayal of the king as more than anything a fool, and in many ways a simple minded man. Følsgaard does not use this to give a one dimensional turn but instead finds truth within this attitude. In that Følsgaard offers the first bits of sympathy for the king by depicting such earnest appreciation in his interactions with the doctor, showing the appreciation the king has for a man who wishes to do what is best for him.
Of course Johann's relationship with the Queen is equally important which begins rather coldly as Caroline views him merely as one of the king's lacking at first. Her opinion changes though when Johann finds a dead commoner. This is a great scene for Mikkelsen as he also uses it to show the viewer essentially the sincerity of Johann beyond a doubt. Mikkelsen brings such a quiet yet powerful passion in portraying the severity of his outrage, yet also the tenderness in treating the dead man. As Mikkelsen carefully shows the wholly genuine humanitarian that is the doctor. Mikkelsen makes the switch in Caroline's view of him convincing yet he and Vikander go further to develop the budding relationship between the two. This is often unsaid yet both effortlessly convey the mutual attraction and affection the two share. Mikkelsen's work though again avoid simplification of turning Johann into some sort of lothario. This is in making the affections honest, but Mikkelsen adds more by having the small hesitation in his moments of showing that love, properly representing the doctor's fear knowing where the affair could lead him, and by doing this he grants the situation a greater meaning.
As Johann gets in greater graces with both the king and queen separately, he earns the disdain of the established power. Johann begins to attempt to improve the plight of the common people by influencing the king and again Mikkelsen excels in these scenes. As he makes Johann's suggestions again not that direct manipulation but instead subtle encouragement for the king to be a better leader. Mikkelsen actually even has this idea of affection in the treatment of the king, showing someone who believes in him. Følsgaard's in turn doesn't portray this extreme change in the king to a smarter man really, the relative simplicity of him is properly a constant in his performance, but what he does do is growth in the king's empathy by the empathy shown for him. Følsgaard's best scene comes when the the established council, where the king beforehand has had no sway, attempts to exile Johann. Følsgaard's terrific in the scene as he is able to depict the way the king finds his confidence just as they try to take away Johann. It's powerful moment as Følsgaard portrays the effort it takes for the king to break out of his usual state.
The king not only prevents Johann's exile but eventually gives him the power to be essentially the de facto leader of Denmark. Where Johann rules by a series of reforms. Mikkelsen, even as Johann seizes absolute power, portrays Johann a man of duty rather than a man of power. Mikkelsen does this by providing not a hint of joy in his success rather always providing the burden as he attempts to do his good while facing severe opposition by the establishment as well as the press that demonizes him. This leads to an early tension when a story tells of Johann's affair with the queen, and Følsgaard's very good in the accusation scene by portraying a controlled anger in the king. In that he reacts with the rage you'd expect though Følsgaard in the rage shows the king attempting to find some way to forget the "lie" by an explanation by Johann. The king receives such, but the rumors persist until a few coup is undertaken by the old guard which leads to the exile of the queen and the execution of Johann. Følsgaard has little to do in these final moments but uses them. He shows the king reverted back to his weakened state but not as quite the same petulant fool he once was, having learned something from his time with Johann. He brings a somberness reflecting the regret in the king over losing his friend and essentially his kingdom. The highlight of the concluding scenes is the execution. A large part of that being because of Mikkelsen's outstanding portrayal of it. He gives the scenes such a visceral edge, even though we don't see the killing, by so effectively realizing the terribly fear as Mikkelsen physically shows a man just barely holding from breaking down. It is a heartbreaking scene as Mikkelsen presents the sheer devastation in Johann in final moments as he is left with nothing to hold to. Følsgaard's work should not be hand waved as it very good performance within the limitations of king Christian. Mads Mikkelsen though is the standout through his always compelling and complex portrayal of the ill-fated good doctor.