Pros: Gorgeous settings and costumes, Emily Blunt is wonderful in her role.
Cons: Sadly, you can't do a lot with a film that is under two hours.
One of the films that I had been hoping to watch was the recent production of The Young Victoria, about the adolescence and early marriage of Great Britain's Queen Victoria. And being that I am interested in all things Victorian, it was pretty much a given that I would be viewing this as soon as it was available on DVD.
Princess Victoria of Kent (Emily Blunt) lives in a very sheltered world created by her mother, the widowed Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson). Kept isolated, treated as though she has little brains and judgment, Victoria isn't even allowed to sleep alone, nor even go down a flight of stairs without someone holding her hand. It's a deliberate tactic, created by the duchess' advisor and money manager, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) and called The Kensington System, to ensure that he through the duchess will maintain political and financial control over Victoria -- even after she reaches the age of eighteen and can rule England in her own right. As we see in the opening scenes, he's trying to force her to sign control over to him and her mother, but even sick with typhoid, Victoria manages to refuse and show some of her famous temper and stubbornness.
But they're not the only ones out to control the young heiress. So too is her uncle, King Leopold of Belgium (Thomas Kretchmann). He knows that one day Victoria will have to marry, and towards that end he's been grooming his young nephew, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Rupert Friend) to step right into the part. In fact, he sends one of his most trusted advisors and cronies, Baron Stockmar (Jesper Christiensen), to mold Albert into the necessary role of becoming the right consort for the headstrong Victoria. Besides, England will be the perfect backer for his rather shaky throne, giving him a direct line to the resources that he needs.
But Victoria isn't without allies, especially the current king, William IV (John Broadbent) and her devoted governess, Baroness Lehzen (Jeanette Hain), who gives Victoria the love and tenderness that she needs so badly. The question remains, can the old king stay alive long enough to prevent a regency by the duchess and Conroy? Fortunately, he does, and Victoria suddenly finds herself Queen at eighteen, thrust into a dazzling world of politics and gaiety that she never dreamed existed.
There too, people are seeking to control her, especially the two rival politicians, Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) and Sir Robert Peel (Michael Maloney) who are leaders of the conservative (Tory) and liberal (Whig) factions of Parliament. That same fictionalization goes even to the new Queen's ladies, who are chosen by the politicians. It's not smooth going at all for Victoria, especially when she blunders in a scandal involving one of them, Lady Flora Hastings.
In between all of this, Victoria is meeting her cousin Albert, and finding that she does like this rather shy, very handsome young man. They are soon exchanging letters, and Albert is visiting England, and while he has to wait for her to ask him to marry her (he is, after all, just a prince, and she is a Queen), Victoria isn't quite certain if she really wants to marry just yet...
I found this to be a beautifully produced, lavishly created film, directed by Jean-Marc Vallee. Both Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend do very well indeed with their roles, and while their passion for each other is restrained, it is certainly believable. The Victoria here is not the dumpy, aging widow with a sour expression that most tend to have when they think of Queen Victoria, and Albert is still young and strong, not yet broken down by ill-health and overwork. They're still in the midst of growing up, and discovering the world, and it is lovely to watch.
While nearly all of the factual errors are fairly close -- the Queen did survive several assassination attempts in her life -- the bit with having Prince Albert seriously injured is a bit of hyperbole. I guess it was tossed in there to show that Victoria really does love him and need him, and personally, I found it to be a bit too over the top. The scene where King William gives a very public dressing down to the Duchess of Kent is based in fact, and really did happen. My favourite touch was Dash the spaniel, and yes, the newly crowned Queen did hurry back to the palace to give him a bath.
But where the film really hit it for me was the costuming. While it's pretty apparent that zippers were being used to fasten the women's dresses -- that is one of my favourite pet peeves in film -- they are spot on in terms of accuracy and colour. They provided a rich display of the time and place, and I was pleased to see that they got it right. The costuming was so well done that it won an Oscar for Best Costume Design, in spite of the flaws. One stunning section is Victoria's coronation, which is recreated with a great deal of accuracy.
The script and story are intelligent and work out well, and give the right feel for the story. The anachronisms are hard to spot, and don't detract or cause a suspension of belief. While the story does feel a bit rushed in spots, it does move along nicely with very little dead space in the narrative.
In addition to the main film, there are quite a few extras on the DVD edition. Deleted and extended scenes fill in a few blanks, such as more on the Flora Hastings scandal, the rivalry between Lehzen and Conroy, and some of the behind the scenes mishaps of the coronation -- which I wish that they had left in for some levity. Several featurettes go into the making of the film, the costumes and locations used, two bits about the Coronation and Victoria's wedding. Finally there is a featurette on the real Queen that uses some excerpts from her diary to give some of Victoria's own thoughts.
Coming in at just under two hours, this really isn't enough to tell all of Victoria and Albert's stories. For that, I would suggest an A&E miniseries, Victoria and Albert and for Victoria's later life without Albert, Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown. For those who enjoy reading, I suggest a look at Gillian Gill's recent biography about their marriage, We Two: The Marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
All in all, this gets a solid four star rating from me. It's not perfect, and a lot of the story is cut out, but for those who enjoy a good costume drama, it fits the bill.
This is part of CaptainD's Good Movies EpiGuide 3
And my own take on Britain's Royals:
Nearly Ten Great Films about British Royalty, Part 1: The Victorians and the Windsors