Film Review: The Young VictoriaExquisitely produced but dramatically erratic, this British period piece does capture the thrill of true romance between young Victoria and Albert, launching a most successful royal marriage.
Poor Albert, prince consort to Queen Victoria of England: He always loses out in the billing. The age in which he and his wife reigned is named after her. London's great museum is the Victoria and Albert Museum, with the prince in second position. Now comes a movie about these first cousins falling into passionate love and it's called The Young Victoria. No billing at all for Albert.
But the title does tip the film's strategy. Written by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) and helmed by French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y.), the film scrutinizes the early life of the young princess and then queen, her male influences, youthful mistakes and ability to adjust and settle into a role she performed for an astonishing 63-plus years.
The film, which if nothing else marks the first time Martin Scorsese and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, have worked together as producers, was released in the U.K. in March. Even British Republicans could embrace this most appealing though rarely rousing account of one of history's most famous queens. Elsewhere, especially in North America, the film may come off somewhat decorous compared to last year's The Duchess, which involved a much more tempestuous, rule-bending aristocrat.
Emily Blunt, one of the best and most glamorous actresses to come out of England in recent years, makes an unusual but highly successful choice for the young Victoria. She puts healthy vigor and sexuality into a woman not associated with either. Meanwhile, Rupert Friend catches just the right nuances of a man who must figure out how to be a second fiddle. So much so that you at times wish the film had been more along the lines of Victoria and Albert in Love. All the film's best moments involve the two lovers.
The geopolitical chess game involving Victoria's overbearing mother (Miranda Richardson) and her conniving advisor (Mark Strong); her uncle, King Leopold of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann); and a dying King William (Jim Broadbent), which brings these two young people together, doesn't lack for fascination. Discovering a common ground in despising all the manipulative adult behavior surrounding them, the couple realizes they can be themselves in the other's company. A deep friendship then turns into an exciting love. You don't wind up with nine kids without an ardent physical attraction.
Yet the film wants to bring other factors into focus: the influence of the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), whose advice to Victoria is often self-serving, and her political gaffe in the so-called "bedchamber crisis," where she refuses the royal appointments of a new PM, Sir Robert Peel (Michael Maloney), thus causing a popular backlash against the monarchy.
Yet the real interest to modern viewers is the role the newlywed Albert finds himself in, wanting to be a ruling partner to a queen who, initially at least, only wants a loving husband. This aspect only creeps in toward the end, though, which is a pity since here, in the middle of the 19th century, is an intriguing role reversal between husband and wife that is eventually resolved, leading to 20 years of wedded bliss.
Fellowes creates something of a false climax, following a vehement quarrel between the lovers, as Albert takes a bullet intended for his pregnant wife in an assassination attempt, when in reality both bullets missed their mark. Thus does Victoria realize what a gem she has in Albert. OK, so you can bend history a little.
Vallée's direction itself is a little bloodless at times. But this is not entirely his fault, since much of the love match comes about through endless correspondence. Letters are not the most visually arresting of cinematic devices.
Production values are first-rate, as terrific locations stand in for Kensington Palace, Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey and the then newly constructed Buckingham Palace. The misery of living in such an elaborate "bubble" of seeming luxury is brilliantly evoked as everyone complains about cold rooms, dirty windows and poor staffing. As a princess, Victoria isn't even allowed to walk down stairs without an adult holding her hand. It's not easy being a royal.
-Nielsen Business Media