The Young Victoria

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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The Young Victoria

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Screenplay by: Julian Fellowes
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson
MPAA rating: PG
Run Time: 104 minutes

Fans of romantic movies will savor The Young Victoria, with its appealing historic personalities, excellent performances and first-rate production values. For aficionados of English history and royalty, The Young Victoria, with all its pomp and circumstance, is an extra special treat.

The film is a mostly true biographic account of Victoria’s troubled and sheltered childhood under the thumb of her scheming mother (played by the excellent Miranda Richardson), her unexpected accession to the throne at age 18, her hasty and thorny education in the art of British royal power and politics, and her love match to Prince Albert (Rupert Friend, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas).

Victoria’s father, Edward, Duke of Kent, the fourth son of George III, died shortly after her birth, leaving her as his heir. She was crowned Queen in 1837 only because her three uncles who were ahead of her in succession – George IV, Frederick Duke of York, and William IV – who died without any surviving legitimate children.

During the early part of Victoria’s reign, she was influenced by two men: Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, whom she married in 1840, and her first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany, Secret Life of Bees). Both men, in their own way and from their own perspective, taught her much about how to be a ruler in a ‘constitutional monarchy’ where the monarch had very few powers but could wield much influence.

Emily Blunt (Sunshine Cleaning, The Devil Wears Prada) is terrific as Victoria. I last reviewed Emily Blunt in her role as Norah, the punk sister in Sunshine Cleaning. Comparing these polar opposite roles, one can appreciate the full range of Blunt’s talent. She nimbly and believably portrays the disparate aspects of Victoria’s personality – the young lonely innocent, the imperious ruler, the passionate young woman – and back again.

Rupert Friend performed well the role of the enigmatic Prince Albert. Friend had a nuanced and complex role to play, just as Prince Albert’s role in Victoria’s life was nuanced and complex. An intriguing new biography by Gillian Gill, We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals (Ballantine Books, 2009), explores their relationship as it discounts the traditional historical view of Victoria taking a back seat to Albert.

British political life was given short shrift in the film, although it was most interesting to me. Not that I didn’t enjoy the Masterpiece Theatre elements in The Young Victoria, the heady historical romance, the magnificent locations and over the top costumes (Emily Blunt’s costumes were insured for £10,000 each).

The literate screenplay by Academy Award winner Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) stayed on the right side of melodrama. There is, however, one glaring historical error in the screenplay concerning Prince Albert’s actions during one of the several assassination attempts on Queen Victoria. Yes, the film needed more drama, but re-writing history is not an appropriate way to re-create it.

The Young Victoria explores only the first tumultuous years of Victoria’s 63-year reign (1837-1901). An unsatisfying rolling written epilogue, used to summarize the rest of her life, left the film’s ending seeming a bit abrupt. Then the most inappropriate song was sung as the credits ran.

Sarah (“Fergie”) Ferguson, the Duchess of York, was instrumental in producing The Young Victoria. One can understand her feeling a kinship with Victoria; both were unprepared for their sudden thrust into the royalty system and both suffered as a result.

The Duchess’ emotional connection to Victoria underscores the relevance of Victoria’s story. Hers is a timeless tale of a young woman who resisted all those who wished to manipulate or mock her, overcame her fears and found independence and love. What could be better?

For the few who may be interested, here is a list of fabulous locations used in the film:

Arundel Castle, Arundel, West Sussex (exterior)
Balls Park, Hertford, Hertfordshire
Belvoir Castle, Belvoir, Leicestershire (interior: Windsor Castle)
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire
Brighton, East Sussex
Ditchley Park, Enstone, Oxfordshire (interior – Windsor Castle & exteriors)
Ham House, Richmond, Surrey (Kensington Palace)
Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey
Lancaster House, The Mall, St. James’s, London, (doubling for the Buckingham Palace coronation ball)
Lincoln Cathedral, Lincoln, Lincolnshire
Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich,
Osterley Park House, Isleworth, Middlesex
Oxford, Oxfordshire
St. James’s Park, London
Westminster Abbey, Westminster, London
Wilton House, Wilton, Salisbury, Wiltshire

(c) Emily S. Mendel 2009

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