Mark Reviews Movies

THE YOUNG VICTORIA

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Cast: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Thomas Kretschmann, Mark Strong, Jim Broadbent

MPAA Rating: PG (for some mild sensuality, a scene of violence, and brief incidental language and smoking)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 12/18/09


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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 17, 2009

Victoria ascended to the throne of the United Kingdom at the age of 18, after leading a sheltered life, being overly protected by her mother and her mother's advisor under a set of rules meant to weaken her spirit, finding herself in the midst of a difficult political battle between the parties in government, and seeming completely unprepared to run her own life, let alone rule over a country whose citizens are suspicious of the regency and struggling with the impact of the Industrial Revolution.

This is the background in which the titular young Victoria distances herself from her manipulators, finds others, learns to make up her own mind—even if she may be wrong—and falls in love with a man who can serve, not, like so many other men in her life, as a puppeteer, but as a sounding board, a like mind, and, hence, a true partner.

Similarly, the screenplay for The Young Victoria by Julian Fellowes sets up the politics and romance as partners. The film could not work as a whole without the one complementing and expanding the other, and yet both are intriguing and affecting in their own right. That it also fulfills as an observation of watching a young girl mature into a monarch just makes it more rewarding.

Victoria is played by Emily Blunt as a young woman who will defy whatever rules she can, even if it is in the smallest ways. Her mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), and the duchess' advisor (and although rumored as her lover, the film keeps it conjecture) Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) established the "Kensington System" (named after the palace of Victoria's birth), in which the princess must hold hands with an attendant while ascending or descending the stairs and is held away from the public eye except in the most important of matters.

Victoria will hop the last step, and when invited to the birthday party of her grandfather King William (Jim Broadbent), she can't help but steal the attention away from her mother and her power-hungry counselor (although it has as much to do with the unintended mystique that the two have established for the princess as it does the girl's charm).

Conroy hopes for a regency or at least to have an major influence over the future queen, while in Belgium, King Leopold (Thomas Kretschmann) wants his nephew Albert (Rupet Friend) to woo Victoria and help his country's needs. Victoria knows all too well about the scheming and wants no part of it, so after taking the crown, she ostracizes her mother, ignores Conroy, and holds minor suspicion of Albert in spite of their mutual affection.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée keeps matters subdued. Victoria and Albert's relationship for most of the film is at a distance. They keep in contact through letters, in which we can sense a genuine caring develop.

While Albert feels the pressure from his uncle to be more forthright about growing a political partnership, Victoria feels the stress of trying to make a difference in her country. She takes on Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) as a political advisor. He seems earnest enough, but rumors begin to circulate that Melbourne has the Queen under his thumb. He begins choosing her maids in waiting and is more than eager to throw in his two cents about issues. Parliament begins to debate, the Prime Minister quickly grows weary of a figurehead trying to interfere in the government, and citizens eventually start to amass outside of Buckingham Palace as a violent mob.

All of this builds and builds, but still, Vallée maintains restraint. In spite of this overall control, he does indulge in the occasional stylistic flourish. There are some moments of strange framing (a close-up of the arm of a settee while characters talk, out of focus, in the background) and a cut to the hairs on the Duchess' arm standing on end after an assassination attempt stand out as most out-of-character with the rest of the film.

The political intrigue is necessary for Victoria to learn from her mistakes, which turn out to be potentially devastating. Albert is suspicious of Melbourne but holds his tongue, knowing that it is Victoria's role to discover the possible machinations of her advisor on her own. When Victoria and Albert talk, they speak on equal terms, with similar wordings, based on a like-minded philosophy. While the rest of the world around them seems intent on playing the power game, they worry about how to make life for the poor better (Why her visit to see the conditions of the needy is kept only to dialogue, though, is strange). While the rest of the men around her wonder what advantage they can gain by having the Queen's affection and attention, Albert wants her to know that his own affection and attention toward her are without an ulterior motive.

He loves her and wants her to love him. It is a simple attitude but one that is sincere and effectively observed.

Ultimately, it is this mature understanding of the couple's relationship, which goes beyond politics and romantic love, that makes The Young Victoria affecting. To wit: Following Albert's death after 20 years of marriage, we learn, Victoria would spend the last 40 years of her life in mourning, having servants lay out clothes every morning for her deceased husband.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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