I watched The Young Victoria recently and I absolutely LOVED it. As a Brit, someone who loves reading the history of the British royal family and as someone who loves a good classic this film was perfect. It has a very good cast, with Emily Blunt (from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’) in the title role and Rupert Friend (from ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – also, he’s Keira Knightley’s other half, just so you know) as Prince Albert, the love interest.
The story centres on Queen Victoria’s life during the year before her coronation and the first few years of her reign over England. It’s not so much a love story about Victoria and Albert (which is what it’s advertised as), but really about the struggle for control of Victoria as the monarch and sovereign of Great Britain, how she dealt with it and how her relationship with Albert was important in this respect. It focuses on her personal strength in resisting her mother, uncle and the politicians of the day, as well the general belief that she was unfit for her position due to her age and gender.
What I liked:
1) The Kensington System, which was put in place to protect the young princess Victoria, is mentioned and explained early on and featured throughout much of the beginning of the film. I think that understanding the Kensington System – a series of rules governing her life, like that she wasn’t allowed to sleep alone, or walk downstairs by herself, and that she had to have someone taste her food for her, etc – is crucial to understanding who Queen Victoria was, why she was that way, and why she was so fiercely independent.
2) The cast was stellar and their performances were excellent. Emily Blunt’s portrayal of the young Queen made her feel accessible and human. Rupert friend’s Prince Albert was likeable, which is an accomplishment, because I never liked Prince Albert - he always seems so severe. Friend, however, manages to depict the Prince’s shyness, reserve and a certain sense of helplessness as a younger son being used in a power game, which endeared him to me. I also enjoyed Paul Bettany’s performance as Lord Melbourne – he demonstrates the conflict of being both a politician, keen to take advantage of the young monarch’s inexperience, and a friend and advisor who cares for her and admires her strength. I could keep going on about the cast, but I won’t.
3) I particularly liked and appreciated the way in which the three key political figures of the time (Lord Melbourne, the Duke of Wellington, and Sir Robert Peele) were introduced, using Albert in Germany.
What I didn't like:
1) There is a huge jump between Victoria’s issues with her mother’s advisor and the sudden death of the king. It kind of confused me a bit.
2) Also, her 18th birthday – which was crucial to her ascension to the throne – was completely skipped. This is especially strange considering that the King mentions that he wants to live long enough for her to reach this milestone. I think they could have mentioned that she’d turned 18 at some point before the King’s death.
3) Of course, it’s not 100% accurate: Lord Melbourne was cast too young – he was in his 50s or 60s at the time, which Paul Bettany clearly isn’t. Queen Victoria’s relationship with her mother remained distant, the film leads you to believe that there was some kind of happy ending in this respect. There wasn’t. And, I’m sorry, but I still reckon that Prince Albert was a bit of a controlling git. But none of this is crucial to the film.
Overall, I thought it was an intelligent film set against a backdrop of difficult issues and concepts – the Regency Order, succession, the link between the different royal houses of Europe, and the connection between a British monarch and Parliament – and I think it manages to explain them all well enough. But then, I’m British. I’ve studied the Kings and Queens of England in History lessons in primary school so I know, or have heard of, a lot of this stuff anyway, and I did wonder as I watched the film if people abroad (especially in North America) would understand it. I think my answer is that, although Emily Blunt is (deservedly) nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, the film was only released in limited cinemas in the US and then went straight to DVD. As such, I would only recommend this film to people who like period dramas or are into British history or the royal family.
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