The Young Victoria (2009)


   

Our rating: 5 out of 5

Rated: PG


reviewed by Charity Bishop

      

England's female monarchs have fascinated me since a young age. Victoria is the one I know the least amount about thus far, but this film has encouraged me to pick up several biographies on her. A European release with no fixed release date on our side of the Atlantic (hopefully, it will appear just before Oscars season), it is a quiet masterpiece about a fascinating woman -- and the longest reigning monarch in English history.

 

The only heir to the British throne, young Princess Victoria (Emily Blunt) is considered a pawn by her mother's manipulative secretary Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), who hopes the king will die before she comes of age, so he might rule through her as Regent. A favorite of King William (Jim Broadbent) and having inherited her father's defiance, Victoria refuses to sign away her sovereignty. Various monarchies across Europe are aware that soon the state will be in her youthful fingers and so parade a number of suitors in the hope of earning her attention. Foremost among them is her talented, mild-mannered cousin Albert (Rupert Friend), who swiftly wins her affection through honesty rather than flattery. The two form an unlikely friendship that accumulates in letter writing when apart, an event that rapidly becomes precious to both in spite of the fact that all their correspondence is carefully poured over by their superiors.

 

When William dies unexpectedly one night, Victoria assumes the position as Queen and immediately uses her authority to prevent her mother (Miranda Richardson) from further interference in her affairs. Tempestuous rivalries in Parliament give her an unsettled early reign and she relies heavily on the advice of Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), something that disconcerts Albert as Melbourne is known to have his own agenda. Inexperienced and naive, Victoria will face public disapproval over her political decisions and an uncertain future, until Albert lends his steadying hand. While these young lovers have been depicted in film before, it has never been with quite as much beauty, taste, and elegance. This production knows how to do it right, with quiet but unique camera movements that perfectly capture not only the spirit and enthusiasm of the young monarchs, but the beauty that surrounds them -- the exquisite costume design, the lavish rooms, and crystal-lined tables.

 

Its greatest attribute is how likable its leading characters are -- halfway through their first conversation, the audience is in love with Prince Albert. When he goes dashing downstairs to read Victoria's letters, we smile at his enthusiasm, and experience his frustration when she attempts to treat him as a subject rather than a husband. Their scenes together are quiet and gentle and sweet. Victoria is lively and delightful, a monarch you immediately like. The acting is lovely from a talented range of accomplished thespians -- among them many familiar faces. It is not slow moving in spite of its subject matter and has the wisdom to end where it does, rather than pursuing further into their lives. (Even so, the announcements over the closing credits as to what happened later brought dampness to my eyes.) What I liked most about it is that Victoria and Albert fell in love through their letters. I find that terribly sweet and truly romantic. I also appreciate that filmmakers treasured them enough not to show us too much of their intimacies. There are several scenes in which they kiss, or are familiar with one another in bed, but nothing inappropriate or too suggestive.

 

Mild language intrudes in the form of one profanity, and violent content is restricted to a man being injured; we see him bloodied about the arm and then learn he will be all right. There are a few scenes of intensity in which Sir John bodily threatens Victoria. Once, he grabs her by the arm and forcibly throws her onto a couch. There are several passionate arguments. A remark is made about the need to put Albert in Victoria's bed for political purposes. It is an altogether enjoyable experience that I hope is not kept from Americans too long, for it is a movie that will be a treasured addition one day to my personal collection. There was not a misstep in it anywhere, for everything about it was wonderful. I thought the personal touches (Victoria's affection for her dog, for example) were an especially nice touch, as was giving a voice to Queen Adelaide (Harriet Walter). Her scenes of quietly encouraging and guiding Victoria were among my favorites.

 

Some of the moments are painful -- it is difficult to watch Victoria's anguish at the treatment of her mother by the king, and to witness her own estrangement from the woman -- but there is also a sense of accomplishment, for throughout we are aware that this young woman became one of the most celebrated monarchs in history.

 

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