Sunday, December 20, 2009
Sunday Movie Review: The Young Victoria
screenplay by Julian Fellowes
directed by Jean-Marc Vallee
Produced by Graham King, Martin Scorsese, Sarah, Duchess of York, and Tim Headington.
Emily Blunt as Queen Victoria
Rupert Friend as Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Miranda Richardson as Princess Victoria, Duchess of Kent
Mark Strong as Sir John Conroy
Jim Broadbent as King William IV
Harriet Walter as Queen Adelaide
Paul Bettany as William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne
Thomas Kretschmann as King Leopold I of Belgium
Jeanette Hain as Baroness Louise Lehzen
Julian Glover as Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
Michael Maloney as Sir Robert Peel
Michiel Huisman as Ernst II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
I've been waiting it seems like forever to see this film. And I'm not the only one. Evangeline from Edwardian Promenade (where you can see the trailer), as well as Heather from the Duchess of Devonshire's Gossip Guide and Susan from Writer of Queens have been waiting eagerly as well. The film was out when I was in the UK in March and I badly wanted to see it. Instead, I read Kate Williams dual biography of Princess Charlotte and the young Victoria. I almost bought the DVD from Amazon.co.uk but my region free DVD player broke recently, so I decided to wait and see it in the cinema. So on Friday, I went to the movies with two writer friends Hope Tarr and Leanna Renee Heiber who are also the founders of Lady Jane's Salon (the only reading series for romance in New York). When we got to the theater, we were given a copy of a new biography of Victoria and Albert called We Two by Gillian Gill. How cool is that? I'm dying to dive into it so that I can post a review. Hopefully I will get to it in January. Afterwards, the ladies and I retired to Telephone Bar and Grill in the East Village to eat Stilton fritters and discuss the film.
So was it worth it? Our general consenus was, in a word YES. Note: Spoilers Ahead. This film is probably one of the best historical biopics that I have ever seen. The film opens with Victoria's coronation and then flashes back to the previous year when she is still the young Princess Victoria who has been kept under tight control by her mother, The Duchess of Kent and her mother's advisor Sir John Conroy, an ambitious man who seeks to rule England through Victoria. He tries to force her to sign a document that will allow her mother and him to act as regents if her uncle, William IV dies before she turns 18.
Victoria narrates the early section of the film detailing how her mother and Sir John have kept her away from other children, how she and her mother share a room, and how she is even forced to hold someone's hand to go up and down the stairs just in case of an accident. But the young princess is stronger willed than Sir John Conroy and her mother realize, and she refuses to sign the document. Victoria's cousin Albert and his brother Ernst come to England to visit. Victoria is aware that her mother and her Uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians (widower of Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV) want her to marry Albert and she teases him. They strike up a tentative friendship. After he leaves, Victoria goes to Windsor for her William IV's birthday, where he insults The Duchess of Kent because she has taken over more rooms in Kensington Palace, who leaves the table. William IV manages to live long enough for Victoria to turn 18, and then kicks the bucket the next month. Victoria soon asserts herself, banishing her mother to another bedroom. Victoria develops a tiny crush on her first Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (as played by Paul Bettany who wouldn't?) and becomes overly reliant on him. Albert comes back to Britain to woo her and they fall in love. The film ends with the birth of their first child Vicky.
The difference between this film and the biopic of Amelia Earhart that came out earlier this fall is the script. Julian Fellowes (who wrote Gosford Park and Vanity Fair) allows Victoria to be three-dimensional. She's not perfect, she's stubborn and willful, she doesn't always take people's advice. She grows in the film from the tentative young monarch who is not sure that she has the experience or the capability to be Queen to a more assured woman. Emily Blunt looks nothing like Queen Victoria, she's taller and thinner for one thing, but she makes you believe that she is Victoria. She's nothing short of astonishing, it's hard to believe that this is the first film that she's carried. Her scenes with Paul Bettany as Melbourne (who should play the role again if they ever do a new biopic of Lady Caroline Lamb) are just magical.
Of course, she's surrounded by some of Britain's finest character actors from Jim Broadbent as William IV, Harriet Walter as Queen Adelaide, Miranda Richardson as the Duchess of Kent, and Mark Strong as Lord John Conroy. Julian Glover who plays The Duke of Wellington is made up to look so much like him that it's like Wellington's portrait come to life. The biggest revelation to me was the performance of Rupert Friend as Albert. Friend played Wickham in the Keira Knightley/Matthew MacFadyen Pride and Prejudice and I didn't think he was particulalry good or memorable. He impressed me in this film, he plays Albert as a man who provides Victoria an anchor. He's shy, and awkward but he also doesn't flatter her unduly. Some of the most memorable scenes are when she begins to rely on him as not just her husband but also as someone who can shoulder the burden of power. There is one scene where Victoria and Albert have an argument, he doesn't raise his voice but he manages to get his meaning across. There are so many wonderful scenes, particularly when he is learning to waltz because she loves it, and when she realizes that he has been coached in her likes and dislikes. Blunt and Friend share a lovely chemistry and the viewer totally buys that this is a love story. There are some truly sexy and romantic scenes in this film.
The film isn't perfect, there are a few historical inaccuracies. Victoria was actually left-handed not right-handed. I would like to have seen some more scenes where Victoria deals with her other suitors besides Albert and her other cousin George. The film makes it seem like Albert was the only option. Also Leopold of the Belgians wasn't quite as pushy and selfish as they made him out to be, although he did send Victoria letters of advice. He was actually her favorite uncle. I found it odd that there weren't any scenes of him visiting England which he did with his family. Also, it would have been nice if they could have mentioned that Victoria had an older half-sister who she was particularly close to.
Albert never attended the Queen's coronation the way he does in the film, the Coburgs were not invited. And he traveled to England on all his visits to England with his brother. In the film he makes 3 visits to England, but in reality there were only two, once for Victoria's 17th birthday and then three years later when she proposed to him. The film makes their courtship much more romantic than it actually was. There's a scene at the end of the film where Albert takes a bullet meant for Victoria, which never happened, although there was an assassination attempt made on Victoria's life. Fellowes has said that he wanted to make Albert more heroic and to show that Albert was willing to give his life for Victoria.
I also have to give a shout out to the costume, hair and make-up designer for this film. The costumes were stunning, particularly a lavendar and black dress that Victoria wore when she was in half-mourning. And the hairstyles, well let's just say that looking at the huge white meringue on poor William IV's head made me glad that I live in the 21st century. It's very different seeing the hairstyles that you've seen in portraits in reality on someone's head.
So a big two thumbs up for this film. If you love historical films, particularly biopics, with a great cast, go see The Young Victoria. It's in limited release right now but it should open across the country in the next week. Glad to see that Emily Blunt was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance. FYI: If you are a royalty watcher, Princess Beatrice, the daughter of The Duke and Duchess of York, is in the coronation scene at the beginning of the film.