The Young Victoria (2009) dir. Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Mark Strong, Jim Broadbent
By Alan Bacchus
The relationship of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert is one of history's great storied romances, which makes for a decent period wig and costume film. Having Dutchess of York Sarah Ferguson listed as Executive Producer gives it the smell of a royal puff piece, but Jean-Marc Vallée (a Canadian) manages to sufficiently capture the romance of the age and the complicated politicking which Victoria faced in those early years.
A great montage scene introduces Victoria with elegance at the top. We learn about the ungodly attention Victoria received in her childhood, to the point of having someone literally hold her hand up and down stairs and virtually everywhere she went. The picture joins her in her teenaged years when Vic starts to exert some desires to be independent of her dotting mother the Dutchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and her snarling hardline watchdog Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong). Since Vic is of marrying age a number of suiters line up including young German prince Albert (Rupert Friend), who angles on behalf of his greedy family back home.
As it usually goes, despite objections from her mother, Vic wants to marry Albert (they were actually first cousins but, whatever). She shows some political guile by aligning with Liberal PM Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) for support. Of course, as we know from history Vic gets her way and marries Albert and takes control of the monarch from the assigned ‘Regent’ who had been running the show until now. But with great power means some male envy from Albert who tries to overexert some authority in lieu of his emasculation as the lowly Prince Consort and thus #2 in the household.
'The Young Victoria' doesn’t establish too much new ground or stray too far from the period costume genre. Jean-Marc Vallée, the award-winning French-Canadian director of the stylish masterpiece C.R.A.Z.Y. employs a formal style and doesn’t do too much to rock the boat. If anything his most significant creative contribution is his distinct editing rhythm which eases some of the stodginess these films tend to suffer from.
Saying that, there was a great missed opportunity to catapult the film above the familiarity of the genre. Jean-Marc Vallée initially had the fine progression art-rock band Sigur Ros do a full original score for the film, but unfortunately the producers exercised their authority and opted for a traditional score. New composer Ilan Eshkeri actually does deliver some wonderful music, but the potential of Sigur Ros plugged into this material will be added to the 'what if' list of rejected film scores (ie. Daniel Lanois’ rumoured magnificent score for Billy Bob Thornton’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’).
Unlike the 'Elizabeth' films, there's isn't a war to follow, or the grisly threat of beheading, so to follow to elevate the stakes, writer Julian Fellows (‘Gosford Park’) amplifies the complexities of the politics. It gets a little confusing at times following who is aligned with who and for what reason. But if you get confused with that, the love story between Victoria and Albert is simple and uncomplicated. The performances of Blunt and Friend generate genuine sympathy and love for their characters even though they are two of the most privileged people in the history of the world.
“The Young Victoria” is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Alliance Films in Canada