Though the look and feel screams stylized 19th century poshness and elegance, there’s something all-too-contemporary about “The Young Victoria,” directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, written by Julian Fellowes, a historical drama that recounts how Victoria (Emily Blunt) ascended amidst great uncertainty to the British throne, married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg (Rupert Friend), and thus began a reign of 60 years that heralded the sun rising over the British Empire.
The film utilizes to great effect the ceremony of court life, the posh residences, and the fabulous costumes. Even the topiaries and the dresses complement each other. For all its grand visuals, Vallee doesn’t want us to pay too much attention to the setting because he’s more interested in telling us a riveting story about the Machiavellian machinations that attended the princess’s coming of age. Staging it as a sumptuous but stately drama with very high stakes, Vallee has created a fascinating look at empire-building politics, fueled by performances that can best be described as regal.
Blunt’s charming, cheeky, at-times-floundering Victoria is a strong-willed young woman whose beauty, confidence, and stubbornness make us like her all the more as she wages battle on three fronts. First, her battle to thwart a regency (she co-rules, until the age of 25) led by her mother Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and the dastardly Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong). Second, her struggle to consolidate her authority amongst her veteran, not necessarily well-meaning Privy Council. Third, her struggle to win the hearts of her people, an effort whose success is not guaranteed as shown by an early historically inaccurate assassination attempt. Blunt serves up a brilliant performance, showing both strength and vulnerability, charm and ruthlessness, making us wonder if she’s going to succeed, even though we already know the story.
It’s clear that she’s up to the task but it’s also clear that she can’t do it alone. Her task – and part of the enjoyment of this intriguing drama – is figuring out whom she can trust. She has many suitors – European royal family members, of course – who are more interested in political gain than marital bliss. She also has many advisors, each of whom only wants to protect their various interests. From the start, when she meets Prince Albert, who, with dubious motives, was originally a puppet-suitor, it’s clear that only he had her interests at heart. A memorable scene shows them playing chess, under the watch of her mother, his brother, and a slew of people eagerly expecting them to announce their engagement after a checkmate. Albert tells her it’s not a matter of playing or not playing the game, it’s more a matter of outwitting everyone, which is precisely what they proceed to do, through the coronation and the early period of her rule.
Friend is superb in the role of a sensitive young prince not prey to the politics and royal intrigues that surround the arranged marriage of a princess. Loving her for the right reasons, he saw her through her rough patches, proved that he was an honorable man, and opened her eyes to the social ills of her country and all of Europe. Too bad he died so young.