Saturday, January 9, 2010
The Young Victoria
Emily Blunt’s charming portrayal of Queen Victoria makes screenwriter Julian Fellowes’s and director Jean-Marc Valée’s historical drama The Young Victoria a delightfully engaging little film. Unconstrained by any strict adherence to how the real Victoria might have looked or acted, Blunt is free to interpret how the young 18-year-old heir to the throne of England resisted moves by her mother to usurp her power, shed herself of advisors seeking to control her, and chose a spouse whom she loved and who respected her desires to be a true ruler. As Victoria, Blunt reveals budding regal stubbornness as she refuses to sign a regency agreement limiting her power, and yet her suggestions of doubts and fears build suspense as this very young woman becomes queen of the most powerful nation in the world. Especially delightful are her adolescent acts of rebellion against her isolated lifestyle as arranged by her controlling mother (Miranda Richardson) and her sinister companion, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong).
Rupert Friend as the romantic Prince Albert who becomes a beloved figure in British history, and Paul Bettany as the conniving Lord Melbourne, both add solid support. Briefly, Jim Broadbent as King William IV provides a dramatic moment in which the old lion disrupts a grand banquet to rant at Victoria’s devious mother.
Costume dramas featuring the pomp and pageantry of balls and banquets tend to get stuffy quickly without cutting to a rousing battle scene or labor riot, but director Valée establishes an energetic pace and injects his film with some visual flair. Dimly lit scenes suggest the realities of an evening spent by candle and firelight during the 1830s. His use of jump cuts, montage, slow motion, and a dash of handheld camerawork save the film from visual blandness.
At a smoothly paced 104 minutes, The Young Victoria feels like only half a film. Victoria becomes queen, marries Albert, has her first child – and then the film ends with line after line of superscript summarizing her long reign. Victoria and Albert express concern for the poor and downtrodden laborers of industrial England, but we never see Victorian England beyond Buckingham Palace and a couple of carriage rides in St. James Park. This film is strictly about the young Queen Victoria and not about Victorian England.
With a larger budget and a longer screenplay, we could have seen at least glimpses of England’s booming industry and the resultant social problems. In the same way Valée skillfully uses montage to skip through the years and yet incorporate development, he could have stretched the plot to include Victoria and Albert’s first ride on the Great Western Railway and their tour of the Crystal Palace (a nice CGI opportunity) in Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition of 1851. In addition, background snippets of Potato Famine horrors and military blunders in the horrendously mismanaged Crimean War (1854-1856) could have pumped up the drama.
But I fully realize that that is not this film. As a depiction of a few years in the life of the young Victoria, this is an enjoyable, well-acted, artfully filmed little historical drama.