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Non-Review Review: The Young Victoria

There are a few period dramas about classical nobility released every year. Most of them, such as The Dutchess are fairly bland and lifeless affairs – indeed, it’s hard to create an energy or dynamism around a world most of us have never known which is built upon self-restraint and self-control. The tendency is towards po-faced self-importance and excessive melodrama. While I would be hard pressed to describe The Young Victoria as “exciting” or “thrilling”, it is one of the better period pieces I have seen to focus on the British Royal Family, perhaps because – despite the impressive scope of its subject matter (Queen Victoria was, as the end titlecard informs us, the longest-serving monarch of Great Britain) – it remains tightly focused. It’s a story of courtship and romance, loyalty and dependency. It’s a genuinely and honestly romantic film.

Royalty and politics make strange bedfellows...

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are constantly portrayed as a couple who are perfectly in step with each other. The fact that Victoria would wear black in public for the remainder of her life as a sign of mourning following his passing is an indication of how strong the bond was between the two. Though the two would have disagreements over the course of their marriage – the fiercest (not covered by the film here) over Victoria’s foreign policy – there was no doubt that both were devoted to one another. In the public imagination, as distinct from most upper class social pairings from the era, this was not a relationship founded on political expedience, but on genuine love and affection.

The Young Victoria is unashamedly “history lite” – or “MTV history”. It isn’t intended for stuffy old historians like me, it’s far too sweet. Although I will concede that even my heart warmed a bit at some of the relentlessly saccharin moments shown on film. Don’t worry that William Lamb, the Viscount Melbourne, has been de-aged and hunk-ified for this adaptation. It wouldn’t be nearly so saucy to see young Emily Blunt flirting with a forty-year-old smooth operator, so cast him as Paul Bettany (who does have some grey strands). Never mind that the climax of the movie relies on a moment of badass action from the male lead which never actually happened (and the current Queen is certainly not amused). To nitpick on such things is to miss the point. Though one may call this a “historical romance”, the “historical” bit is just thrown in there because people say things like “ma’am” and talk with British accents. 

Do historical inaccuracies hound the film?

The movie isn’t perfect. It seems a bit convenient to use a fictional incident at the end to resolve what was likely an overly melodramatic version of an argument between the two lovers (and, this being a romance, they are obligated to argue – or, in the parlance of the times, “quarrel” – at the third act). Some of the twists are turns seem too carefully choreographed to cover what is but a tiny chapter in an extraordinary life. At times it feels like Victoria is being converted into something of a plucky “girl power” heroine, rather than portrayed as the more complex historical figure she was.

Still, for everything it does wrong, it is an engaging story. It invests wisely in its cast. If there is any justice in the world, Emily Blunt will be “the next big thing” – this is by no means her finest performance, but she is head and shoulders above the actresses who traditionally appear in these sorts of roles. That said, herself and Rupert Friend have a genuine romantic chemistry which helps the film through. Paul Bettany makes a great supporting actor, even if the film isn’t sure what to make of Lamb – is there a flirtation between the two, or is it purely professional? And it’s great to see Jim Broadbent as King George – Broadbent had memorably and hilariously (yet affectionately) played Albert on BlackAdder all those years ago. Miranda Richardson and Mark Strong round out the cast.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée handles the film well. He never overwhelms his cast or antagonises his audience by being intrusive, but there are more than a few wonderfully composed shots, like Victoria regally “gliding” to a dance or a tracking shot following the glasses down the length of an extremely long dinner table. You aren’t ever particularly conscious of his style, which is nice on a film like this.

At 100 minutes, it’s a tightly edited film. These sorts of period pieces traditionally cross the two-hour mark (and possibly beyond) – or at least they feel like they do. The Young Victoria breezes past, which is a compliment given how well-worn the ground could feel. It isn’t a brilliant film or a landmark one, but it’s charming in its own way. It isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s a well-made film. It’s an unashamedly romantic film which takes more than a few liberties with its settings, but it mostly delivers on what it promises.

One Response

  1. This film just sort of lies there, inoffensive but not really enticing. Miranda Richardson is wasted, Emily tries but something is off. That being said Rupert Friend convinces me in his talent, he really does stand out here. Overall it’s good, but no better (or worse) than The Duchess.

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