Movie Review – The Young Victoria (2009)
by HELEN GEIB
The Young Victoria is a romantic drama recounting the courtship and early married life of England’s Queen Victoria and her consort, HRH Prince Albert. Those years coincided with Victoria’s accession to the throne at 18 and her reign’s politically rocky beginning, and the film is also a historical drama about the English monarchy and English politics c. 1840. Although considerably less interesting in the latter aspect than in the former, this is an enjoyable film and refreshingly true to the facts of its famous true story.
The most famous part of Victoria and Albert’s story is surely its ending: that Albert died too soon (at 42); that Victoria met his death with despair; that although she outlived him by 40 years, she never stopped mourning him. While The Young Victoria is concerned with the beginning of their life together, its conclusion is still relevant. The film is first and foremost a love story, but it also persuasively locates a second source for Victoria’s extreme attachment to her husband in the physical and emotional isolation that defined the rest of her life.
The film introduces Victoria with a snapshot of her childhood: Not allowed to play with other children. Her studies and leisure reading strictly curtailed and monitored. Constantly under the watchful eye of adults. Required to sleep in her mother’s bedroom until she was 18. Never allowed to walk up or down a flight of stairs unless she was holding an adult’s hand. It was a childhood, and young adulthood, of incredible material luxury but extreme social isolation. The film’s summary of her early life is both factually accurate and a sympathetic “poor little rich girl” depiction. In thematic terms, it prefigures the conditions of her adult life that inform the romantic/coming-of-age story.
Emily Blunt’s fine performance as Victoria is the largest part of the film’s success in telling both of the parts to that story. Rupert Friend is very appealing as Albert and the two of them make a very charming couple. Julian Fellowes’ script is at its best in the love story; Victoria and Albert’s courtship through exchanging letters is particularly well handled. It is also skillful in showing the shared interest in charitable and social reform causes that would come to characterize their public life.
In contrast, the political backdrop to Victoria’s accession and early reign is merely sketched in. While some of the streamlining of events and maneuverings was undoubtedly necessary to keep the story manageable for a two hour movie, the film goes overboard in simplifying the political history. (For example, we learn that there are multiple political parties vying for control of Parliament and personal influence over their queen, but nothing of their respective platforms, nor any concrete information as to what power the queen actually possesses at this stage of development of the constitutional monarchy.) The film benefits hugely in this regard from compelling performances by Mark Strong, Miranda Richardson, Paul Bettany, Jim Broadbent, Thomas Kretschmann, Julian Glover, Jesper Christensen, and Harriet Walter, all of whom make their parts seem more fully written than they are.
To say it is a handsomely mounted production would be an understatement. This is truly a must-see film for lovers of costume drama. The costumes themselves are exquisite and the art direction is impeccable. Several famous stately homes- Blenheim Palace, Arundel Castle, Wilton House, and Belvoir Castle- are convincing stand-ins for the royal residences and gardens.
Keira Knightley gave one of the best performances of 2008 in The Duchess, a well-realized depiction of English aristocratic and political life in the 18th century.