The Young Victoria
Just a little get together, you said. No big deal, you said. I hate you.

Golden Mug

Costume Design (Sandy Powell)

Theatrical Release Date: 12/25/2009
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Cast: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Thomas Kretschmann, Mark Strong, Jim Broadbent

One of my favorite Mel Brooks quotes is “It’s good to be the King.” Said in “History of the World: Part I”, the reference is to the amount of shenanigans one can get into without fear of repercussion. But before one can reign supreme, what kind of person is destined to rule a people by virtue of their birthright alone?

“The Young Victoria” concerns itself with just that, examining where said Queen came from and her life leading up to taking the throne. However, that doesn’t mean that politics aren’t involved. There are two major conflicts in the film; those looking to control Victoria as she takes the throne and whether she’ll choose love or politics when it comes to marriage. Dealing with these elements is where director Jean-Marc Vallée and the team fall short.

The balance of which element to cover with greater attention seemed to be dictated by whichever event happened chronologically (and certain elements revolving around Prince Albert were fabricated/altered to make things more dramatic). I understand and endorse the idea of exploring the monarch’s life before she began her reign, to see the humanity underneath all the tradition and etiquette, but it wasn’t clear if the script understood exactly what the focus was supposed to be and Vallée didn’t seem to make a decision either.

Luckily, good decisions were made when casting had to be determined and of course, it’s best to start with the leading role of Victoria, undertaken by Emily Blunt. While relegated to supporting roles prior to this, Blunt has always managed to make her roles essential to the overall result (or outright stealing scenes much of the time) and so it comes as no surprise that she’d knock this out of the park. It’s a tricky act, being prim and proper in accordance with the ways a Princess should act, while also adding a fiery personality and keen wit that wouldn’t often be shown to people outside of one’s inner circle.

Blunt handles this with aplomb and while it might not be enough to garner recognition this awards season, it’s on the short list of possibilities. In her hands, Victoria comes across as not only a intelligent future Queen but also a passionate woman and loyal friend. If this depiction is accurate (and I’m not saying otherwise), it’s easy to see what made her such a beloved figure in English history.

Rupert Friend and Paul Bettany play the love interests, and do so ably, but it’s in them that it feels like the most script rewriting must have taken place. They play almost polar opposites and are such clearly defined archetypes that it’d be hard to convince me that Victoria ever really had to choose between them. It feels more like a number of suitors were condensed into these two character to make things more palatable from a story structure perspective and while I can understand it, a more elegant approach wouldn’t make me wonder about this during the film.

The rest of the supporting cast also suffers from the same malady, providing good performances but not having characters developed fully enough in the script to fully justify their efforts. Miranda Richardson, for example, plays Victoria’s mother and is shaded by jealousy, envy and spite for 98% of her screen time. There seems to be no give or take to the character, which is simply unrealistic – and when a bone is thrown her way, it’s too little too late. The same can be said of a few other characters and it’s a shame because a lot of promise seems wasted as a result.

On the positive side though, Ilan Eshkeri’s score was nicely done, the costume department provided a number of beautiful pieces and the production design as a whole was solid. “The Young Victoria” hits all the expected beats and boasts decent performances all around, earning it a 3.5 out of 5. There have been plenty of better period films but this year, I’ll take what I can get and it’s nice to see Emily Blunt finally get a leading role. She’s deserves more and hopefully this turn will help.