Monday, January 18, 2010

Review: The Young Victoria

This past Saturday evening I went to see The Young Victoria with friends. According to DC, it was a "gaygasm," and surely anyone with a sense of aesthetic appreciation for the sumptuousness of period-piece films focusing on art, music, history, costumes, and romance like this one will have to agree. Co-produced by Sarah, Duchess of York, who has taken an active interest in sharing information about Victoria and Albert through books and other media, a film with some semblance of an official royal touch does make it feel more authentic somehow. That said, the Duchess is no longer official royalty since she's divorced from Prince Andrew, and so it stands to reason that historic authenticity is sacrificed at times for sensationalism, which does happen occasionally in this film. But really, it's so good, you won't care.

Emily Blunt stars as Victoria, the heir-apparent to the throne who at age 17 struggles against her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and her mother's companion Sir John Conroy, who demand she sign over her right as monarch, placing power with her mother (and Sir John) as regent. Victoria resists, and upon the death of her uncle King William IV in 1837, she became at age 18 Queen Victoria. The movie at this point could have become just another love story, as much of the plot revolves around the arranged meeting with her cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (a German provincial kingdom before there was a Germany), whom she does eventually marry. But framing the love story with the politics of the day was a brilliant plot device. It carried with it a weight of verisimilitude. As a young virgin queen, Victoria could have chosen 2 different monarchs to emulate. On one side was her formidable predecessor Queen Elizabeth I, the so-called Virgin Queen who never married (reigning 1558 to 1603). On the other was the largely ineffectual Queen Anne, who did marry and had 17 pregnancies, although none of her children survived childhood (reigning 1702-1714). Victoria did one better: she took the best from both worlds, becoming a powerful leader of one of the largest empires, while presenting herself as just another middle-class wife with 9 children (all of whom effectively parented the monarchies of Europe thereafter). At nearly 64 years on the throne, Victoria still holds the record for the longest-running monarch in British history (although Elizabeth II is not that far behind her). The film returns us to British politics of 1837, where her ascent to the throne and support of the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, are quickly overturned when he is voted out and she challenges his successor, Sir Robert Peel. This leads to chaos and an attempted assassination on her life. Into this foray comes Prince Albert, who as a foreign prince could have done little to ingratiate himself into this world, but instead he did take an active interest in British society and culture. He helped revitalize the arts and enact social reforms for the working classes. All of these things are brought into the movie, which gives it a more well-rounded feel as both historic drama and a romance.

But in the end I imagine what we really want is a story about a beautiful princess and a dashing prince. Blunt as Victoria is charming and conveys a sense of precocious innocence that makes her quite believable as she finds her way as the new queen. But when Rupert Friend enters the room as Albert, one can sense Victoria's heart start to flutter, and that's because the viewer's heart is fluttering too. Yes, I fell in love with Albert too. There's a scene where he walks in with two greyhounds that...well, for someone like me who loves dogs, combined with historic dress and accents, let's just say it was like a dream come true. It isn't even so much that Friend is attractive, which certainly he is. But his version of Albert has a determined charisma that is paradoxically subtle, patient, and well-mannered. He wants to be there for Victoria. He does love her, and he wants to marry her. But he also wants to do something with his life, and as her partner, the Prince Consort, he is able to bring about change in Victoria's name that made her popular with the people. All that said, he's also just downright sexy. The costumes for this movie are fantastic (I so would love to dress like this on occasion), and designer Sandy Powell on the movie's official website notes that it was easy to make Albert sexy because men's clothing from this period was well-tailored and very tightly fit, all of which help make this dashing prince look fabulous.

Blunt was nominated for a Golden Globe but lost, which is not surprising as this was her first major dramatic role. Blunt is good, but I wouldn't say her performance stands out like, say, Cate Blanchett's did in Elizabeth. And while I must say that as much as I appreciated the conscious attempts to accurately represent people like William IV, Albert, Peel, the Duke of Wellington, etc., as they truly looked in life, no one's performance stands out in this movie as an Academy award nomination. The movie is, truly, an ensemble piece. The writing is solid, the cinematography is beautiful, the musical score is delightful, and as I noted the costumes are exquisite. But in the end the film is really just a great period-piece drama, and anyone with a taste for such movies should not pass this by. And then there's Albert. Gaygasmic, indeed.


Carolyn said...

I've always wondered whether Sir John Conroy was a relative...

Jackie Sanders said...

just love this clothes! more like sexy costumes for me! I wanna be an emperor! :P