“Ehrengard: The Art of Seduction” is what a Mills & Boons novel would’ve sounded like with a royal 19th century setting and a comedic touch to the story.
Based on a posthumously published novel written by Danish author Karen Blixen, the 2023 Netflix movie directed by Bille August is set in the fictional kingdom of Babenhausen. The story revolves around Mr Cazotte (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), a painter hired by the grand Duchess (Sidse Babett Knudsen) to instruct her son, Prince Lothar, in the art of seduction and persuade him to marry a young lady to secure his place in the succession line. Concurrently, the painter makes a wager with the Duchess, vowing to successfully seduce the beautiful Ehrengard (Alice Bier Zanden), who hails from a noble military family. What unfolds is a romantic comedy filled with misunderstandings and mishaps.
The grand castles and scenic wilderness of the fictional Babenhausen provides a gorgeous background for the film and the cinematography captures a royal old-world charm well through brightly lit shots of royal courts, churches, and ballrooms. The period costumes on the other hand aren’t very elaborate and look like they might have been rented from a shop. Regardless, those with a soft spot for frivolous royal romances will find “Ehrengard: The Art of Seduction” to be quite amusing. The story dwells on court politics, family rivalries, succession squabbles and the erring ways of the heart.
Sidse Babett Knudsen, as the conniving yet friendly Grand Duchess, is the most enjoyable character in the story. Bored by the stifling court life, she takes delight in gossiping with her painter and lives vicariously through his scandalous tales. Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, as the self-assured painter Cazotte, effectively portrays the role of a narcissistic swindler, as intended. His paintings on the other hand are meticulously grand and make him worthy of being a royal court artist. Alice Bier Zanden portrays Ehrengard as righteous and warrior-like, making most viewers root for her to resist falling for the schemes of a man like Cazotte.
Emil Aron Dorph and Emilie Kroyer Koppel shine as the endearing royal couple, Prince Lothar and Princess Ludmilla, who find themselves embroiled in controversy shortly after their wedding. They conceive the heir before wedlock and Cazotte is tasked with keeping the matter under wraps and avoid a national scandal! Will the royal couple be able to keep their secret or will scheming cousins dethrone them? The question of whether Ehrengard she will succumb to the painter’s charms also keeps viewers guessing until the end.
While the first half of the story is funny and visually engaging, the plot becomes slightly tedious in the second half and veers towards making a mockery of the more likable characters. Some of the plot developments and characters can be quite frustrating for modern viewers, so we have to keep reminding ourselves of the 19th-century timeline to put things in context. For example, in one scene, a royal character pokes at the pregnant princess’s belly, which may seem ludicrous to us now, but notions of personal privacy were different back then.
Surprisingly, despite its suggestive title, “Ehrengard: The Art of Seduction” doesn’t have as many steamy moments as one might expect. It’s primarily a dramatic comedy, with Cazotte’s risqué sketches providing the most provocative moments in the film. An interesting comical twist unfolds towards the climax, and the story ends on a rather convenient note. With a lean runtime of 90 minutes, the movie serves as a decent romantic comedy for a one-time watch.
Rating: 6 on 10. You can stream “Ehrengard: The Art of Seduction” on Netflix.
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