January 03, 2010

MOVIES: The Young Victoria (Jean-Marc Vallee, 2009)

We cover about three years of Queen Victoria's life here, and eventful years they were, too. (And there will be no grumbling about spoilers here; this is history, for heaven's sake, and we all know how it turns out.) As we open, she is merely Princess Victoria, first in line to the throne. But she is only 17, and should her elderly uncle, King William, die before she turns 18, a regent will have to be appointed; depending on the circumstances, she may be forced to relinquish the throne to a regent for several years. William wants desperately to avoid a regency, because he doesn't trust Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, and trusts even less Lord Conroy, the politician who would likely be pulling the Duchess' strings.

There are several other politicians jockeying for a possible regency (much credit to screenwriter Julian Fellowes for laying out the various factions and contenders very clearly), and of course, Victoria is also being courted by members of several other European royal families. They all have political motives, but some of them also seem to have genuine romantic interest in her; chief among this group is Prince Albert, whose uncle is King of the Belgians.

(He's always referred to in just that way, incidentally -- "King of the Belgians" as opposed to "King of Belgium." I have no idea if there's some particular historic reason for that, but it struck me as odd.)

William holds on long enough (by a few weeks) for Victoria to become Queen without a regency; she marries Albert; and the first two years of her reign are marked by an assortment of political and social blunders. The movie ends with the birth of the first of the nine children Victoria and Albert would have before his tragic death at a young age.

So, there's plenty of drama available to the filmmakers here. Unfortunately, virtually none of it makes it into the movie, which is a flat, lifeless exercise. Much of the blame falls to Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend, whose Victoria and Albert have no romantic chemistry, and who are never convincing as confused young royals struggling to do the right things in the right way. The only performance in the movie with much life comes from Jim Broadbent, who brings more energy to his few moments as King William than anything else in the movie.

The Young Victoria looks pretty. Sandy Powell does her usual fine work with costumes, and Maggie Gray's sets are opulent and lavish. But no matter how gorgeous, a costume drama without the drama doesn't offer much to the viewer.

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