The Young Victoria
2009, PG, 100 min. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. Starring Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Mark Strong, Thomas Kretschmann, Jesper Christensen, Harriet Walter.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Dec. 25, 2009
How young is young Victoria? At the film's beginning, she's just 17, with all the sullenness you would expect from a shut-in future queen fending off attack from her maman and prospective suitors cherry-picked by two kings. Blunt convincingly portrays the Princess Victoria as bullied and slightly silly but, most of all, desperately alone. Her mother, the Duchess of Kent (Richardson), and her handler, Sir John Conroy (Strong), scheme to usurp her power via a regency; her uncle, King William of England (Broadbent, in a delicious little part darting mighty close to camp) fights to stay alive long enough for Victoria to turn 18; and her other uncle, King Leopold of Belgium (Kretschmann), plainly wants to put an inside man, his nephew, Prince Albert (Friend), either in her bed or, better yet, beside her on the throne. Trying times for a teenager, indeed. Scriptwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) makes admirable work of shorthanding the complicated lineages and motives and manueverings, although time to time, it does feel, well, like work, especially when the inexperienced Victoria ascends to the throne and becomes the political pawn of the Whig Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (Bettany, practically unrecognizable in brown contacts that blot out his pupils). Having just typed this all out, I marvel at how exciting it all sounds – feuding families! palace intrigues! – but The Young Victoria is really too staid for such exclamation points. Director Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y.), surely inspired by Barry Lyndon, leans on candlelight for several key scenes, and the effect is not only gorgeous but also intimates the deepening attachment between Victoria and Albert – one that was mutually felt but not spoken about plainly. (In fact, Victoria puts off Albert for some time – having just earned her independence, she isn't keen on giving it up again so soon.) All told, The Young Victoria is a very well-made if not especially memorable picture, moving with all the grace and steadfastness of a waltz Victoria and Albert share, but absent any urgency or anything particularly exclamatory.