Most costume dramas featuring kings and queens are about power struggles. This one is also about love — not swooning infatuation, but the love of two people deciding to face the world together.
Have You No Regency?
PG for some mild sensuality, a scene of violence, and brief incidental language and smoking
Victoria (Emily Blunt) is 17. Her uncle William (Jim Broadbent) is King. Victoria is the only plausible heir, which has her caretakers treating her very carefully. She’s not even allowed to descend the stairs without taking someone’s arm.
If the king dies too soon, Victoria could be too young to take the throne, and her mother would rule as regent until she comes of age. Neither the king nor Victoria wants that. Her mother (Miranda Richardson) is controlled in turn by an ambitious man (Mark Strong, playing the only one-dimensional character in the film).
A young prince of Belgium, Albert (Rupert Friend), visits young Victoria in part to be the eyes and ears of his uncle, who has family ties to the English throne, and in part to be offered as a potential suitor for the young princess. Albert is exactly the right man for Victoria; he sees her strength and encourages her independence. All the other men in her life tell her to doubt herself and let them do the thinking for her.
It’s Reigning Men
But Albert has to return home before the topic of marriage is introduced. And then the king dies and Victoria becomes queen. She banishes her mother’s manipulator and restricts her mother’s access, but she still is under the thrall of ambitious men.
Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) becomes her secretary. He’s a member of parliament who plants his loyal supporters in Victoria’s household as ladies in waiting. Under Melbourne’s guidance Queen Victoria makes some political mistakes that turn the public against her.
Meanwhile, Albert has been trying to get back to England to the woman he fell in love with. Victoria will need Albert’s liberating support — ironically — to step out from the shadows of men, win back popular support, and become her own queen.
As love stories go, The Young Victoria is refreshingly unconventional. The lovers don’t have a passionate, swept-off-your-feet love affair, but rather a meeting of the minds; they share ideas, and not just hormones. I’d like to see more movie romances go that deep.
Rupert Friend’s Albert is a decent, honest, and devoted man. Victoria, played by Emily Blunt, is proud and can be hot-tempered. She isn’t snobbish — the movie even opens on her expressing a measure of humility. But Victoria’s concern for the poor, whether grounded in fact, plays a little contrived.
The Young Victoria doesn’t do much to stand apart from other costume dramas. The casting is not flashy, there are no emotional explosions, no juicy gossip. It’s so even-keeled that I have to wonder why the producers (including Martin Scorsese and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York) thought Victoria’s story should be relevant to audiences in 2009. Even days later I can’t find an answer to the question “why now”?
So put The Young Victoria on the pile with the other costume dramas featuring great English actors playing bygone royalty. If that’s your cup of Earl Grey, hie thee to the cinema.