Sumptuous period picture offers the best romantic-comedy of the season
The Young Victoria delivers something woefully few movies have lately--a believable and engrossing love story. It chronicles the early life of Queen Victoria (Emily Blunt) from her sheltered childhood to the early years of her reign, which began when she was just 18. But the heart of the story is not politics or the intrigues of court but the slow burn romance between her and Prince Albert of Germany (Rupert Friend). It is the twists and turns of these two people finding each other and navigating a life together in the public eye that make The Young Victoria so mesmerizing.
Gosford Park and Vanity Fair scribe Julian Fellowes once again proves his talent for warts and all views of times gone by. Victoria, the only heir to her uncle King William IV, was destined for the crown from a very young age. In the movie, her mother (Miranda Richardson) and her advisor Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) keep her under constant watch. She is not allowed to read novels, interact with other children, or even walk down the stairs without holding someone’s hand. Their hope is to keep Victoria totally under their sway, ruling England by ruling her. But they are not the only force pulling on her once she gains the thrown. The Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) wishes to advise her in all things and her uncle King Leopold of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann) wants to influence her by marrying her to his nephew Albert.
What none of these people counted on was Victoria’s will. Blunt brings a spiritedness, vulnerability, and even sense of fun to the famously stubborn monarch, making her a worthy successor to Cate Blanchett’s Queen Elizabeth. Unlike Elizabeth, who had to remain unmarried to keep her power, Victoria only truly comes into her own when she partners with Albert, who loves her for who she is and wants to help her rather than control her.
We’ll leave it to historians to argue about how accurate this interpretation is--certainly the movie presents Victoria as having far more power than the crown had during that period. As a movie, though, The Young Victoria is a complete success. Albert and Victoria’s romance is sweet, funny, and well-developed--making it, in some way, the best rom-com I’ve seen in years. Friend, whose model good looks are obscured by a mustache and mutton chops, is wonderfully understated as Albert. He shows expert comedic timing in Albert’s awkward attempts at wooing Victoria and wrings real emotion from forbearance--he has no power in his relationship with Victoria, she is the queen so he must wait for her to choose him. Their struggle to find harmony while thwarting traditional gender roles is not just compelling, but very relevant today.
Director Jean-Marc Vallée’s vision of England in the mid-1800s is lovely and opulent filled with gray skies, saturated colors, and sumptuous gardens, palaces, and gowns. His lone misstep is a ballroom scene where Victoria appears to float through the room to Albert. It is an uncomfortable flight of fancy in a movie that’s strength and beauty comes not from the fairy tale aspect of the Queen and her prince but the reality of two people falling in love.