God save the queens, and the movies about them.

Recalling Cate Blanchett’s emergence in “Elizabeth” (1998), Emily Blunt turns in a star-makingly regal performance in the first-rate period drama “The Young Victoria.”

The film, directed by Quebecois filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee, scripted by Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”) and produced by Martin Scorsese and Sarah Ferguson, is a smart portrait of the 19th century chess game that is European royal political maneuvering. In particular it reveals the brokering of brides and grooms (I get it, Duchess), that goes on as the continental powers wane and the British Empire newly rises.Young Victoria, who is forbidden to walk down stairs without holding the hand of a servant, is at first under the iron thumb of bully Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), the husband of her weak, perhaps erotically in thrall mother the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson). Behind the scenes, King Leopold of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann) schemes to ally his vulnerable nation with the increasingly powerful, emergent British Empire by marrying his dashing nephew Albert (Rupert Friend) to the niece of aging King William IV (a brilliantly volatile Jim Broadbent).

Blunt’s Hanoverian Victoria may be too much like Blanchett’s screen Elizabeth – headstrong, rebellious, determined, in short queenly – to seem altogether new. But the courtship with Albert is charming to watch, thanks to the slow-burning chemistry between Blunt and Friend (“Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont”), who eerily resembles a young Jeremy Irons, and marvelous dialogue by Fellowes. Friend’s Albert speaks German in some scenes and gets to make an old-fashioned entrance leading two large hounds on leashes, his libido in the panting flesh.

Newly crowned Victoria’s overreliance on the dashing Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) is also lucidly dramatized by the filmmakers, as is Melbourne’s cutting dismissal by newly installed Prince Consort Albert.

Following in the footsteps of the doughty Sarah Bernhardt, Bette Davis played Tudor Queen Elizabeth twice. Richardson played her hilariously in the classic series “Blackadder.” Of course, Queen Victoria was played by Dame Judi Dench, another screen Elizabeth as well, in “Mrs. Brown” (1997). Moreover, Victoria, the longest reigning monarch in world history, was the first British sovereign to appear in moving pictures (her 1901 funeral cortege was also filmed).

Vallee uses CGI judiciously to fill out Westminster Palace for the 1838 coronation crowd scene, and other British royal landmarks, including the newly built Buckingham Palace.

Friend is especially good at suggesting how Albert was commanding without appearing to be, a stong will clasped in a velvet glove, and how valuable he was to his monarch wife.

Blunt, who possesses the screen’s most devastatingly ambiguous smile, demonstrates her ability to carry a movie on her lovely shoulders and establishes herself as the screen’s newest, smartest and sexiest monarch.

Source: Boston Herald




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