The Young Victoria
Running time 100 minutes
Written by Julian Fellowes
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Mark Strong
In the otherwise somber The Young Victoria, vivacious Emily Blunt, who did so much for stiletto heels in The Devil Wears Prada, puts a modern spin on the famously poised and longest-reigning monarch in British history. This is a lavish and lovingly detailed period piece that attempts to re-create England’s last golden age, but the enchanting Ms. Blunt is the whole movie, and it wouldn’t register even a small bleep on the Richter scale without her. She puts the Vicki in the young Victoria.
Born in 1819, she is crowned almost by accident, and never wanted the job. Between her uncle, the mad King William IV, and his three brothers, they’ve produced only one heir to the throne who lived beyond puberty, so Victoria has no choice but to find herself crowned at a tender age, knowing nothing of the world swirling outside the walls of Kensington Palace. For a spirited child, it is a prison, replete with food tasters to protect her from assassins and endless lectures on protocol from her stern, social-climbing mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), and her villainous, politically ambitious adviser, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong). Denied even the briefest privacy, she is used as a pawn in the animosity between her uncles, the loony William (Jim Broadbent), and Leopold, the King of the Belgians (Thomas Kretschmann), which results in an arranged marriage with Prince Albert of Germany (Rupert Friend). The communion takes—gradually at first, through their love of Bellini operas and the novels of Sir Walter Scott, and then grows with trust and a shared understanding of loneliness in the public eye. Once they are together under the same roof, the movie is over, but not the running time. The second half is a romance novel brought to life, with glittering balls, another scheming palace puppet master (Paul Bettany) working hard to destroy Prince Albert in Victoria’s eyes, and a coronation ceremony in a computer-generated Westminster Abbey. Despite the odds, the royal couple establishes a bond, clashing with Parliament over their views on welfare, housing and education. The movie is not only about a liberal, headstrong princess who would not be controlled, rising above her youth and inexperience to win the heart of the man she loves and eventually the people she rules, but also about how Prince Albert learns to find his own place of importance in the court. The movie should really be called Victoria and Albert. They reigned together 20 years, until Albert died at the age of 42. Queen Victoria died at 81, in 1901.
Moving the action from dreary old Windsor Castle, with its tapestries and mahogany staircases, to a newly constructed Buckingham Palace, flooded with sunlight and gold-leaf crown moldings, French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée gets the pomp and pageantry right, but reveals little insight into the qualities that turned Victoria into the beloved and enduring monarch she later became. What a shame the movie is only about her youth. The most intriguing part of her rule was after Albert’s death, when his widow guided England through the Industrial Revolution in the 1880s—a colorful time of teeming Whitechapel slums, factory-smoke fog, Dickensian derelicts, Oscar Wilde decadence, the Elephant Man and Jack the Ripper (who, according to one popular theory, was suspected to be Queen Victoria’s own grandson, the Duke of Clarence). Julian Fellowes’ script doesn’t get to the good stuff, and reveals nothing about her personal or family life. It’s hard to sift through the numerous palace intrigues. Some of the actors speak with accents thick as gravy. The music is intrusive, overpowering every scene, and there’s even a soapy song by Sinead O’Connor under the end credits called “Only You—Love Theme from The Young Victoria”; it sounds like an audition for one of those Oscar night horrors staged in a cloud of smoke with costumed dancers in white wigs waving candelabras.
At times like these, I was doubly grateful for Emily Blunt. From the coins, stamps and cameos sold in London curio shops, the impression of Queen Victoria has always been starchy and dour. Ms. Blunt provides the charm and charisma to give an old-fashioned profile a welcome contemporary appeal.