Movie #18: The Young Victoria

Even though I enjoy movies about British royalty, and I studied some history in university, I can’t say that I know much about Queen Victoria’s life. Unfortunately, after watching The Young Victoria, I still don’t. It wasn’t that there were historical details missing, but it was difficult to follow who the characters were, or what they wanted. The focus seemed very much on Victoria and her immediate vicinity. As a result, it was difficult to visualize the larger, historical picture. I’m not sure who this film was supposed to appeal to: history buffs? period drama fans? It couldn’t seem to make up its mind, and I suspect that it lost both audiences. I count myself in the second category more than the first, but the movie seemed unable to decide if it would tell the story of Victoria as a young queen, or Victoria as the beloved and eventual wife of Prince Albert. Emily Blunt is wonderful (as always) as Victoria. She slips easily from a somewhat leisurely youth (despite the pressures that bombarded her) into a strong-willed queen. Of course, she looks lovely in a gown, and can give a look that is both serious and playful at the same time. However, I found it hard to think of her as the young queen because there were so few scenes of her doing queenly things. Most of the scenes take place in one drawing room or another, often with someone talking to Victoria and she listening. There was very little good, engaging dialogue. Many of the scenes presented almost tableaus instead, which we were supposed to understand because of the context (as if). There was even one stretch where we got a series of characters actually reading letters on screen while the letter-writer provided the voice-over. All these flaws would probably be forgivable if only the romance was a bit more interesting. First, (sorry, I don’t normally rant about how an actor looks) Richard Friend as Prince Albert was gaunt to the point of repulsion; his cheeks were so sucked-in, it was painful to look at. While the plot propelled him and Victoria together, he couldn’t hold a candle to Paul Bettany (as Lord Melbourne the prime minister) in terms of being a man of substance. I would have been so much more interested if the Albert-Victoria relationship had more time to develop (in scenes that weren’t montage or frivolous upper-crust things like flirting over archery lessons). Also, then they could introduce Melbourne as a kind of obstacle to their love. Colour me shocked when the end credits rolled and I saw that the screen-writer was none other than Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. He is the master of the prim soap opera: his characters are subdued yet fascinating, demure yet passionate. Sadly, none of that was present in this movie. “Victoria and Albert” are just no “Bates and Anna”, I guess. (3 out of 5)

18 down, 32 to go!

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