We Are Amused
The Young Victoria fashions an iconoclastic picture of a legendary woman. So, Victoria’s secret is out. “The longest reigning sovereign in English history -- to date” actually had a life beyond the popular image. Her name and its adjectival form conjure up a medal for military valor, horse-carriage, Commonwealth holiday, Jubilees, India and Empire, outsized unmentionables, widow’s weeds, and a half-century-plus of golden literature, overstuffed furniture and stuffy moral insistence.
The large, larger-than-life Queen of Great Britain and Ireland must at one time have been a girl -- indeed, was a mere eighteen on assuming the crown -- with perhaps an adolescent’s dreams and rebelliousness and awakenings. Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée’s film covers the years 1836-42, concentrating on the months prior to and following her ascension and on her marriage to Belgian first cousin Albert, Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, subsequently Prince Consort and even in death the major influence on her life. Only the birth of the first of their royal nine children is included, but above the pomp, politics and personalities, the manipulations and maneuverings that hedge them, Victoria and Albert (Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend) are a young woman and man in love. Her schooling in responsibility as well as prerogative is pictured but is back seat to the emotional and physical emergence of passionate womanhood, not cheapened by cinema’s usual descent to sex steam.
Even before it becomes manifest that outspoken uncle King William IV is near the end and that his niece will succeed to the coronation chair, infighting has begun, earliest with her mother, Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), and the woman’s oily advisor, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), kept somewhat at bay by possessive governess Baroness Lehzen (Jeanette Hain).
Seeking support for the independent unity of his kingdom, another uncle, Leopold I of the Belgians (Thomas Kretschmann), has nephew Albert coached for a planned courtship. Chafing at others’ pushing and pulling him, too, Albert nevertheless journeys to England. The two young people giggle under their elders’ glares, and Albert leaves infatuated though hampered by the protocol requirement that she the Queen, and not he, propose.
With the story advanced against the two’s voiced-over, often vetted correspondence, shifting social and political sands are also indicated. That these are not made crystal clear for the non-expert, is of little importance, for, in changing depth-of-field focus, they are but background impression to a love story that goes beyond mere era.
Accents falter from time to time, bright white court and green gardens -- “Is it always [rainy] like this?" -- are darkened by period-appropriate interiors, so that flowers in the Queen’s hair or bodice are so much the more telling. Riding a swell of national goodwill, Victoria leans so heavily on handsome realpolitiker Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) that Albert returns home, his plans for social amelioration shelved.
The widowed Dowager Queen Adelaide (Harriet Walter) is perceptive in motherly advice, but it takes the vicissitudes of politics, the parliamentary fall of Melbourne to opponent Sir Robert Peel (Michael Maloney), and a public backlash to bring the young Queen to admit her inexperience and dependence on, and feeling for, her princely suitor.
Restoring the monarch’s popularity, their love match will soon exhaust its honeymoon on the sticky wicket of who controls what and whom. Outside the royal couple’s private chambers, scheming goes on, some proving surprisingly loyal subjects and friends while others fade or are banished from the circle.
The love at the center of The Young Victoria is not in and of itself startlingly new. Under the purple, queens, too, are women and, in intimacy behind the pageantry for public viewing, may have the same heart’s stories as milkmaids. The national and international future is condensed into end-titles but preceded by a hundred minutes of the lasting love between Victoria and Albert.
(Released by Apparition and rated “PG” for some mild sensuality, a scene of violence and brief incidental language and smoking.)