She Said: The Young Victoria

By Caroline Thibodeaux

January 4, 2010

If I were either of those two dudes, I would run. And keep my bloomers down.

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For a change of pace, the Big Daddy and I ventured out to see The Young Victoria, a historical romantic drama starring Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) and Rupert Friend (The Libertine). Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (C.R.A.Z.Y.) from a screenplay by Julian Fellowes (Oscar winner for Gosford Park), this film follows the early years of the emergent Queen Victoria and Albert, the man who would become her Prince Consort.

It begins in the dark, shabby halls of Kensington Palace. Young Victoria is growing up isolated and restrained by the machinations of her mother the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and her mother's secretary and almost certain lover Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong). As the heiress presumptive to the throne of the United Kingdom and having not yet reached the age of majority, Victoria's early life is an especially tricky one. It's an existence fraught with "advisors" at every turn looking to manipulate her and make her their puppet in the selfish pursuit of power. Victoria's accession to the throne parallels the young girl's accession to womanhood, as she learns to start relying on herself. She eventually realizes that if the superb choice she makes for a husband is any indication, then she has more than earned the freedom and privilege to trust her own good judgment. And she falls madly in love while doing so, so that's just bonus.




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I love a good historical drama and very much looked forward to this film. I had previously enjoyed Blunt's work in Prada and My Summer of Love and I've always found British royal history quite intriguing. The entire movie hinges on Blunt's performance and she is good here, but now and then I got the feeling that she may have been miscast in the role. She often comes across as too modern to play a sheltered, cosseted young virgin from the 1800s. Part of the fault lies with Vallee. His direction never seems to give the film proper flight as he allows the sumptuous scenery and production design to overtake and supercede any true dramatic tension. Two or three lines would be furtively read off and then the audience would be sent off to examine yet another beautifully manicured English garden. Victoria has a serious bone to pick with both her mother and Conroy and whenever it seems like she'll actually get around to picking that bone, hey – look at that wainscoting! Yes, the film is gorgeous and that attention to detail can be rewarding on its own. The costume, hair and scenic design are all visual feasts for the eyes. I just kept waiting for the height of tension to match the height of the design and unfortunately, that never happened.

I would be remiss not to mention a few of the performances. Rupert Friend is never exactly dashing as Albert – that would be impossible seeing as he has even less chin than Orlando Bloom – but he manages to convey a sweet strength of his own in this more than capable portrayal. I've no doubt that in real life Blunt could and would eat him alive, but they have an ease together in their scenes and it makes you want to root not only for their relationship but cheer them on as they strive towards their independence.


Jim Broadbent is a hoot as the aging sovereign William IV. He has only two major scenes and in them he hilariously portrays the loud, pissed off uncle at the family gathering who is at that age where he's going to say whatever he feels like saying and he doesn't care what anyone thinks about it or who gets embarrassed by it. Everyone has that uncle in their family; he's just usually not the reigning monarch of the British Empire. Harriet Walter lends a beautiful stately presence as the dowager Queen Adelaide and Miranda Richardson is alternately conniving and sympathetic as the grasping Duchess of Kent. Historically speaking, Paul Bettany is too young for the role of Prime Minister Melbourne (he was actually 40 years older than Victoria) but his casting in the film is far from egregious. As played by a younger man, the relationship between Victoria and her advisor takes on another layer. Mark Strong is fine as the power-hungry Conroy, but he's becoming kind of one-note in his performances. I'd love to see him do something different and unexpected that does not involve him scowling or pushing people around. Thomas Kretschmann (Valkyrie) does a lot of screaming as the acquisitively minded Leopold, King of the Belgians.

The Young Victoria doesn't completely fail or succeed. There are too many good performances and things to look at for it to be a complete failure and the actual history is pretty interesting. Fellowes' script is somewhat disappointing and I wonder how much of it was lost in the editing room. Regrettably it pales in the light of other recent biopics concerning England's women monarchs. Abandoned by the director and a so-so screenplay, eventually it all falls entirely on Blunt's slender shoulders to carry this film. She's up for the job and makes a valiant attempt, but in the end, those shoulders are more comely than sturdy.


     


 
 

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