The Young Victoria

Starring Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany and Miranda Richardson. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee.
Rated PG (infrequent mild violence).  104 mins.

Here is a worthwhile period drama and glance back at English heritage.  It has beautiful and regal settings (including the interiors for Buckingham Palace), attractive locations, lots of regency costumes and everything to delight audiences who relish the look of a film.  But, it has a lot more for those whose appreciation of detail is more 'big picture' and cursory.  It takes us back to the late 1830s and someone we have rarely met or even know about, the young Victoria.

The film also has the advantage of a solid performance by Emily Blunt who takes us inside the mind and feelings of the young princess and the young queen.  She is nicely matched by Rupert Friend as Prince Albert (after his somewhat wooden performance as the effete hero of Stephen Frears' Belle Epoque film, Cheri), bringing him alive as a person and not merely a consort let alone the person who lingered for forty years as a memory in Victoria's life.   And the fine acting extends to the supporting roles, Paul Bettany as a youngish Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (the actor being almost twenty years younger than Melbourne was at the time), Miranda Richardson as Victoria's dominating mother and Mark Strong as her Svengali-like companion, the ambitious Sir John Conroy who plotted for Victoria's signing an agreement for a regency by her mother.  She didn't sign and William IV dies just after she turned 18 and she assumed the throne.

Jim Broadbent does a very interesting cameo as William IV and Harriet Walter is Queen Adelaide who seems to have given Victoria better advice than her mother.

The literate and historically grounded screenplay is  by actor and writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Separate Lies) and the director is Canadian, Jean-Marc Vallee (CRAZY).

The film-making background is quite impressive – and, at 95 minutes, the film is not likely to outlast its welcome.

So, what is it telling us about this Young Victoria?

The first thing is that she was so protected from real life as she grew up that it is difficult to know what her true personality was at that time.  She could not go anywhere in the house unaccompanied.  She had little social life.  She was not allowed to read novels until she was 16 (and read Sir Walter Scott).  She was the victim of a life of observing protocols.

Apart from her grief in losing her father when young,she did not rate so highly in her mother's affections, despite protestations on the part of her mother that she did.  Her mother was under the control of Sir John Conroy who was determined that Victoria should sign a concession to regency document before she turned 18, allowing her mother to rule (and Conroy to rule her).  Whatever it was in Victoria, she refused to sign.

Another issue was her marriage.  With the family interconnections amongst the 19th century rulers of Europe, there was always an eager eye for a profitable arranged marriage.  Leopold of Belgium features largely in the film, eager for a marriage that would supply him with British support should he experience trouble.  This was made known to a cousin in the Saxe-Coburg family, Albert.

When Albert visited Victoria, they became friends, he a perfect gentleman and she an independent but susceptible young woman.  The film suggests at least affection at first sight but the love gradually grew through correspondence and Victoria's difficulties in the first years of her reign, over-reliance on Melbourne, a clash with Prime Minister, Robert Peel, the management of her household and some unpopularity with the people.

The film makes the relationship between Victoria and Albert something of a tender blossoming of love, shared interests (although a clash when Albert felt that he was being sidelined in affairs of state and Victoria treated him with a heavy hand followed by reconciliation) and the final information about their 20 years' marriage, their children, Albert's death and the queen's devotion.

Obviously, Victoria was able to develop a personality and a character.

Out 27th August 

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


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