Once you get past the fact that lovely Emily Blunt doesn’t look anything like the dour historical pictures of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, The Young Victoria is an appealing and well-crafted, if staid, portrait of a fascinating ruler.
Though the film moves at a stately pace, the production design and costumes are sumptuous and the ensemble cast is splendid. But the film belongs to the title character, and Blunt deftly conveys the young queen of England’s grace and burgeoning steely resolve.
When the proceedings feel muted, Blunt enlivens them. Still, the tenor is one of a dignified fresco rather than a stirring film.Victoria is a typical teen who, because of her station in life, is unable to rebel. Her scheming mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) controls her, and the duchess, in turn, is manipulated by her adviser, John Conroy (Mark Strong). But the princess’s devotion to her uncle, King William IV (Jim Broadbent), is telling. She is naive, but she rises to the challenge when he dies and she is crowned queen.
The film focuses on her regal development, but it is largely a romantic drama as written by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park). While still a princess, Victoria is attracted to her cousin Albert (Rupert Friend), but is put off when he is so evidently coached by her uncle King Leopold of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann), who envisions an advantageous match. Once Victoria confronts Albert, their affection builds.
Perhaps the film has a subdued quality because a sizable portion occurs while Victoria waits to be ready emotionally to be courted by Albert. But Friend and Blunt make a strikingly handsome couple, and their romance is sweetly stirring. When she asks him to marry her — which is apparently protocol when you’re the queen — he accepts. Some of the most poignant scenes focus on their early wedded bliss.
The tale’s palace intrigue is a bit lackluster. Paul Bettany is low-key as Victoria’s closest adviser, Lord Melbourne, the British prime minister whose motives are murky. Their union displeases both her subjects and her new husband. But there’s clearly danger in the air when Strong tries to establish himself as the power behind the throne. The rising character actor, who is also the villain in the upcoming Sherlock Holmes, exudes menace.
There’s trouble on the home front when Albert chafes at the limitations of the role of prince consort and seeks a voice in palace decisions. But the strong-willed Victoria fears being controlled, after the years she gave in to her conniving mother. The filmmakers take some liberties with history to resolve this, but it’s true that Victoria and Albert went on to live as true partners.
This genteel slice of life certainly beats attempting a sprawling biopic of Queen Victoria, who ruled from 1837 until her death in 1901. But it’s Blunt’s delightful central performance that makes it truly worth watching.
Source: USA Today