YOUNG VICTORIA, 2010
Cast: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Thomas Kretschmann, Mark Strong, Jesper Christensen, Harriet Walter, Jeanette Hain, Julian Glover,Michael Maloney, Michiel Huisman, Genevieve O'Reilly
A dramatization of the turbulent first years of Queen Victoria's rule, and her enduring romance with Prince Albert.
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Not a year can go by that we don’t get some example of the costumed English court drama, and you pretty much know what to expect with them. Politics, emotions repressed behind a wall of duty (except for the Restoration), lavish sets and more lavish costumes (especially the Restoration), maybe some war. The only question, really, is which period they're going to pick.
There's nothing particularly wrong with that; Shakespeare was more than slightly fond of dramatizing the monarchy, trying to add life to historical events. Even he wasn't immune from a slight bit of hagiography that comes with dealing with nationalistic subject matter, and ever film of the type has more or less suffered from that problem. How to find the real person, which is really the only reason to tell one of these stories?
"The Young Victoria" tries to get past that particular stumbling block by ignoring the latter part of her very long reign in order to focus on what it is that made her who she was.
The problem is, who she was not always a very nice person and that won't do for story that needs a protagonist so what we get is something of a gentle romance, hitting many of the traditional beats of royal biopickery, as young Victoria (Emily Blunt) tries to reconcile placing her personal desires on leave in order to do what her country requires of her.
But as a romance, it more or less works. Blunt's Victoria is as strong-willed as she should be without ever becoming shrill. Even better she and her Albert (Rupert Friend) have some real chemistry that makes you want to root for them, even though you already know how events must go.
But you can't help but shake the feeling that you're not getting the real person; and if you're not getting the real person, what's the point behind one of these things.
Instead, Julian Fellows' ("Gosford Park") script quickly falls into repeating and explaining the political maneuvering surrounding Victoria. That and focusing on the exactness of table settings.
He's wisely redressed it as a something of an intellectual lover's triangle—with Albert wrestling for Victoria's affection and devotion with the charismatic Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany—but while it creates tension and drama it tends to minimalize Victoria. And this is her movie, isn't it?
There's actually a fair amount of uncertainty about what should be the focus—Victoria's strained relationship with her mother, Lord Melbourne's advances, Albert's drive to be useful and needed—and in the end the filmmakers try for a little of everything. The result is muddled, at best.
It's very well cast and acted with a tremendous ensemble that Blunt manages to lead instead of falling behind and that itself is a feat. But as a drama it's a bit light and as a historical recreation it smells of Lysol and bleach, as if the real dirt has been washed aside. That tends to rub out the dramatic meat as well.
There's a lot to like about "The Young Victoria" but it's not particularly interested in stretching itself. It's easy on the eyes and genuinely charming, but there's little truth in it, even of the fictional variety.