The Young Victoria (2009) – on rental. There are three English Queens that I have a reading interest in: Queen Elizabeth I, the current Elizabeth, and Queen Victoria.
One of the most remarkable events in the latter’s reign and life was her life-long love for her husband, Prince Albert whom she was married to for 21 years before the prince consort’s untimely death from typhoid fever at the age of 42.
The Young Victoria is a new production by Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée whose body of work is unfamiliar to me. The film has a striking resemblance in tone to Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth (1998) which like the new film chronicles the ascension of a young queen to the throne, the initial years, and the love of her life: and in the new film, Albert for Victoria.
The film also enjoys the same visual treatment as the other most recent English period drama on royalty I watched, namely The Duchess (blogged here). But while the latter falls roughly into the same genre bracket – that both are films of intrigue, drama, and love and relationships in the English aristocracy – The Young Victoria was a far more enjoyable experience than The Duchess… on account of the spot-on casting of Emily Blunt in the title role of Victoria.
Blunt has been in a few other roles before this new film, e.g. Mike Nichols’ near-satirical Charlie Wilson’s War which I really like, but she’s better known for her role as the acidic Senior Assistant Emily in The Devil Wears Prada. I pointed out to Ling that it’s the same actress midway through the Victoria, and it took her a while to see the resemblance! Blunt is roughly in the same group of UK actresses as Keira Knightley, but hasn’t experienced the same megawatt exposure as Knightley has.
But not withstanding that, I couldn’t help but compare between the two actress within their two recent films, and come out wondering how much better The Duchess would had been if Blunt had taken Knightley’s role as Georgiana Cavendish. Her Victoria portrays the entire breadth and range of intelligence, wit, beauty and vulnerability – and she doesn’t have Knightley’s protruding jaw nor her distracting 20th century mannerisms misplaced into a period drama.
Blunt is also supported by what is a who’s who list of very good actors from the isles: and they include Jim Broadbent who plays the slightly demented old King William IV, Mark Strong who’s almost unrecognizable with a receding hairline, Paul Bettany who turns in a slightly slippery Lord Melbourne and advisor to Victoria, and Miranda Richardson as the Duchess of Kent. The last is Rupert Friend who was Mr. Wickam in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice, and this time stars in the role of Albert.
The visuals are amazing, as are the costumes. But while The Duchess was equally as sumptuous looking onscreen, The Young Victoria has warmer tones due I’m guessing to the use of more natural lighting, unlike the somewhat over-processed and almost HDR look in The Duchess. The coronation scene was splendid in both sight and sound, and post-card like with an explosion of colors and shine. I wonder if any part of it was CGed. The skeptical part of me says it is because the scene was just too grand. But if it was, it certainly was hidden very well.
The film seems to have been mostly faithful to factual history (with a few exceptions, especially a dramatic assassination scene at the film’s end which got ‘embellished’), even though the semi-short running length at 100 minutes meant that only selected events was included in this retelling. The film though wisely puts the focus squarely on the love relationship between Victoria and Albert, so the film’s subplots rarely stray too far from that central theme.
There are two failings though: one severe enough for me to have docked a star, and the other minor. Firstly, for a film in which Victoria and Albert’s relationship is cornerstone to, I don’t think Friend was playing off Blunt very well. Blunt impresses in every scene, but Friend felt a little wooden and barely able to reciprocate in conviction. Sort of like Matthew Macfadyen’s equally wooden portrayal of Darcy in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice and that’s not merely on account of how Darcy’s character was written in Austen’s novel.
Secondly, the minor failing lies in the somewhat inaccessibility of the film if you’re unfamiliar with early 19th century English politics. Lots of situations are referenced, especially the perpetually messy state of pan-European politics and party loyalties within England then. I think the film could had done a better job explaining its background and context.
Still, I enjoy The Young Victoria from front to end, as did I think Ling who loved the overtly romantic segments of the film. The winning line for me? Albert saying to Victoria in courtship:
“Of the modern composers, I suppose Vincenzo Bellini is my favorite.”
A composer who lived 200 years ago from our time: but a modern composer in Victoria’s day. That gave me the chuckles! :)