THE YOUNG VICTORIA
The old Queen Victoria may have led the more eventful life, but it’s THE YOUNG VICTORIA audiences want to see. However, before we can get to the good stuff, we have to lay the groundwork and, like so many British period dramas, we are first run through a brief history lesson: Victoria (Emily Blunt) is sick (for reasons not included in the lesson) and her mother and her advisor are trying unsuccessfully to get her to sign a Regency. Victoria, however, is determined to be Queen, and as soon as she recovers the suitors come rolling in.
Among them is Leopold I’s nephew, the soft-spoken, sensitive and awkwardly charming Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). Their courtship, which consists of a series of his visits to Buckingham Palace, makes up the duration of the film, and it is to Blunt and Friend’s credit that they’re able to turn a more or less plotless script into an endearing love story. I’m not suggesting that nothing occurred in England during Victoria’s first year on the throne, only that the film shows little of it. A more appropriate title would have been “Victoria and Albert;” The rest is just background noise. If director Jean-Marc Valee and writer Julian Fellowes (GOSFORD PARK) really wanted to show us a young Queen Victoria, they could have lingered on her childhood for more than 30 seconds or included a more deeply evolved backstory. She was, for example, a native German speaker and never, in her whole life, really mastered the English language.
Luckily for Vallee and Fellowes, Blunt’s performance is much more complex than the role of the poor little rich girl I’ll wager she was handed, and Friend’s Prince Albert, maybe the most interesting character in the film, does more than just enter the room looking good in tights (though he does that, too). The really confounding thing is that after Victoria and Albert fall in love and get married and have loads of great sex, they suddenly succumb to the pitfalls of the husband and wife routine – bickering, slamming doors, etc. I suppose that’s bound to happen, but it’s unfortunate that Vallee takes the one irresistible part of the film – the romance – and allows it to disintegrate. Then he tries to recapture it by getting Albert nearly killed (a historical inaccuracy) so Victoria can suddenly realize how much she really does love and need him. An attempt at realism, perhaps? Whatever he was thinking, it’s a half-hearted gesture and makes for a disappointing journey. Why do you think Shakespeare killed Romeo and Juliet? No one wants to see them fight about whose turn it is to do the dishes.