The Young Victoria
Details: (PG), 105 mins, In Cinemas 27 August 2009, United Kingdom, English
Synopsis: A dramatisation of the turbulent first years of Queen Victoria's rule, and her enduring romance with Prince Albert.
Emily Blunt joins the ranks of great screen monarchs.
As regal performances go, Emily Blunt’s mesmerizing turn in The Young Victoria is every bit as majestic and impressive as Cate Blanchett’s in Elizabeth.
Both movies follow the young monarchs as they accept their destinies, negotiate the minefield of court politics and treachery, and impose their rule.
They were very different queens, of course: Victoria was happily married for 21 years and she bore nine children; as the sobriquet the Virgin Queen indicates, Elizabeth 1 was unmarried and childless.
The cleverly-crafted screenplay by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Vanity Fair) portrays Princess Victoria of Kent as an unhappy teenager who laments that “even a palace can be a prison,” and hates the protocol which insists she must be accompanied whenever she walks up or down stairs.
She’s next in line to the throne in the event that her sickly uncle King William (a wild-eyed Jim Broadbent) kicks the bucket. At 17, she resists efforts by her domineering mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), abetted by her manipulative adviser, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), to persuade her to sign a regency order, which would mean the duchess could rule in her name.
Meanwhile her uncle, Belgian King Leopold (Thomas Kretschmann), plots to get his nephew, Albert (Rupert Friend), to marry her for his political advantage. During a highly metaphorical game of chess, Albert and Victoria both realise they are pawns in a complex dynastic game – and romance starts to blossom.
Ascending the throne at 18, Victoria is unwilling to commit to marriage until she establishes her authority, while her private secretary, Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), conspires to control the Royal household and keep Albert at bay. Albert’s no quitter, however, and Victoria finally lets her heart rule: conforming with Royal protocol, she invites him to marry her in 1840.
The film has its flaws: Strong is a hissable, pantomime villain. Although Fellowes offers up a number of dramatic episodes, there’s a lack of tension as the narrative relies on romance, intrigue and machinations to sustain momentum. Among the most stirring scenes are a wild rant by King William; a blazing row between the Queen and Conroy; Victoria banishing her mother; and an assassination attempt.
Its great strength is the love story between Victoria and Albert, which hits a rocky patch when she declares she wants an obedient friend and lover and he insists he wants to be her partner and equal, not just a mere Consort. Blunt is a bit hard to believe initially as a teenager, but shows a sure grasp as her character evolves from girlish reserve and playfulness into a self-assured, dedicated ruler and devoted wife.
Friend, who was so shallow and unconvincing in Stephen Frears’ Cheri, is a commanding presence as Albert: a little diffident at first, then ardent, proud, and determined to use his position to better society.
Bettany is wonderfully wry as Lord Melbourne, a cynical politician who disdains poor people as “rabble” and coldly remarks “how inspiring” when told of Albert’s ideas for housing reform. French/Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée presides over a richly detailed, sumptuous-looking production which stands comparison with the cream of British historical dramas.
A curious footnote: among the producers are Martin Scorsese and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York.
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