Sunday, March 21, 2010

Film review: The Young Victoria

Crowning Glory

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent
Rating: ***1/2



Whenever films have been attempted on the Queens who ruled England - Mrs Brown, Elizabeth or The Queen - they have almost always made for a sumptuous and often riveting viewing experience. Besides the insatiable desire most of us have for these rose-tinted, elaborate period dramas that offer a peek into English royalty, there is also the added interest of seeing a woman at the absolute helm of affairs.

The Young Victoria concerns itself with the Queen's early life - it portrays her overly sheltered childhood till she is coronated. Her early years of rule are not the easiest, given her youth and inexperience. However, good instincts and a great choice by way of a husband, helps Victoria tide over most of her troubles as she settles into her role.

When the film begins, you see the young Victoria regarded as rather precious because she is tipped to be Queen after King William IV. As none of her uncles have children, she becomes the natural heir to the throne. Her mother, the Dutchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and the latter's private secretary, rumoured to be her lover, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) want to exercise regency and allow them to rule instead of Victoria, till she turns 25. But Victoria's willful determination to assume her rightful position sees her through. She's also delighted to be free at last and not be dictated by her mother. For all these years, Victoria is not allowed to walk the stairs without holding someone's hand. She resents this all along, and the moment she is declared Queen, she coldly refuses to comply.

But there are other troubles that besiege Victoria. Her closeness to the Whig Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne ( Paul Bettany) is resented by the opposition parties. The Queen does not budge from her postion on Melbourne, which prompts her aunt to comment that she may be 'confusing stubborness with strength'. But a timely marriage to her German cousin, Albert ( Rupert Friend) proves invaluable.
Both ruled England for 20 years and had nine children, until Albert died of typhoid at age of 42.

The film is a faithful bio-pic and almost all the episodes have a mention in history. Of course, Victoria was known to be exceedingly short and tubby - both of which Emily Blunt isn't. But much of the other drama - King William IV's strong hatred towards Victoria's mother - the public outcry over her attachment with Melbourne - the assassination attempt on her - all are fairly accurate happenings in her early life.

The Young Victoria is an enchanting visual feast, with its impeccable art design, great costumes and gorgeous sets. Director Jean-Marc Vallée says his story in a straight-forward way, with the right amount of class and flair. It's a nicely laid out film, which knows what it's doing. The only underwhelming segment is the one involving Lord Melbourne and Victoria. From the script point of view, Melbourne is meant to seem like a rival to Prince Albert, in that the Queen leans on him heavily for political advice. This is asserted by the story, but not really felt. Paul Bettany comes across as too intimidating and in fact, is too much a hunk to suit the role of a political mentor. On the other hand, the Albert-Victoria romance touches a chord. Albert, as the soft-spoken, earnest man is the right foil for the Queen, who in her earlier days seems very possessive of her power, and unwilling to share it in the slightest even with her husband.

Emily Blunt makes a wonderful Queen, getting all the nuances of her character right. She's especially successful in bringing out certain key facets of Victoria. She was a woman who always wanted to rule and never shied away from it. Her decision to marry appears a pragmatic one, though some passion and immense respect was visbily involved. All these emotions Blunt portrays admirably. Rupert Friend too is excellent.
All in all, at 105 minutes, The Young Victoria is a pleasant film, with the right mix of document and drama.

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