Saturday, January 02, 2010

FILM: The Young Victoria

The Young Victoria presents an engaging story about Queen Victoria's early years, as a teenager and then as a young queen. For me, this was all new, as what I knew of Queen Victoria was mostly the length of her reign, her eponymous era and its morality, and the image of the corpulent old lady in the veil. It was fascinating to see her as the heir presumptive to the British crown, resisting attempts at control by her mother and her mother's lover, and warily keeping her head above the manipulation of others, including various royal uncles hoping to marry her off to various royal cousins. One of scene of Victoria playing chess with Prince Albert (then a suitor) provides a central metaphor for the film, as both of them are pawns in a larger game being played by the royal courts of Europe. (Albert's uncle, the King of the Belgians, desperately wants Albert to win Victoria, to cement an alliance between Britain and Belgium.) "You think I should find a husband to play the game for me?" she asks. "Not for you," he replies, "with you." It's charming to see the two of them develop genuine affection and admiration for one another, both of them willful and not particularly inclined to cave to the wills of their would-be manipulators. And of course the court politics is always a good soap opera. The film is not particularly a love story, a court intrigue, or a historic biography, but like real life, it's a melange of all of that. (On the historical side, I gather that it sticks fairly well to the facts, except for a fictional bullet wound.) And that keeps it all the more interesting to see how this unique couple works out their unique relationship issues (like what is a bright and passionate man to do when his only official job is "consort" to a strongly independent queen?). Emily Blunt presents a young Victoria both strong and self-controlled, and Rupert Friend is perfect as the lovelorn suitor and later the lover struggling to find his place. The cast is full of familiar faces from British stage and screen, including Miranda Richardson (as the controlling and controlled mother), Jim Broadbent (as a drinking and aging King William IV), Paul Bettany (the charming sometime Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne), and Harriet Walter (as the dowager queen). I enjoyed this portrait of an impressive queen and her impressive consort, and have new admiration for them.

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