Friday, April 23, 2010

Movie Review: The Young Victoria

I'm a sucker for a few things in life, one of which is romance and the other is history as its presented in popular culture. For example, I once wrote a paper examining the historicity of "The Archbishop" episode of Blackadder. Needless to say, it was a fun paper to write (and it got an A). I'm tickled when I watch The Tudors. So when I found myself walking past Redbox today at the grocery store and seeing that The Young Victoria was out on DVD, I jumped at the chance to see it (I had wanted to see it in theaters in the fall, but never got the chance). Knowing that R would most likely not want to watch this movie, Friday afternoon seemed like the perfect time to delve into the past.

I should be up front and say, however, that I haven't studied too much of Victorian Britain. My study of British history goes until about 1689--I can go to 1700 if you push it, but after that I'm lost. Between Henry VIII and James II I can rattle off monarchs and their reigns, etc., but before and after that things get a little hairy for me. Such is specialization. I was interested in seeing this movie, though, because I don't know much about Victoria and what little I do know involves her deep love for Prince Albert. Indeed, my popular culture knowledge of Victoria and Albert has been limited to their portrayal by Jim Broadbent (who, incidentally, portrays William IV in The Young Victoria) and Miriam Margolyes as Queen Victoria (another interesting tidbit-Miranda Richardson who plays Queenie in Blackadder Season 2 is the Duchess of Kent in The Young Victoria). So what did I think?

I loved this movie. I found it engaging and visually stunning (and I don't usually get excited about walking around old Victorian houses to look at couches). I think most folks think of Victoria as an older woman dressed in black, and of a society steeped in the Victorian "morality code," so to speak. This movie shows Victoria as a young woman as she steps into her role as Queen of England. The "bad guy" of the movie, John Clayborn, is made out to be positively evil. I mean, I really loathed this guy as I watched the movie, and he never does anything to redeem himself. The mother (Miranda Richardson) shows a more complex figure, one who seems to be in the pocket of Clayborn but at other times looks for reconciliation with her daughter. The Baroness and Victoria's relationship with her could, I think, have been brought out more, particularly as her eventual dismissal is a pivotal point in the early marriage of Victoria and Albert. What's very intriguing about Victoria in this movie, now that I think about it, is her isolation. We see her growing relationship with Albert, but she has no friends to speak of.
The story of the love between Albert and Victoria serves as the focal point of the film and is so beautiful. I had a smile on my face every time they were together. Rupert Friend and Emily Blunt did an amazing job portraying the young couple, and I was entranced as I watched the independent, headstrong young queen fall for the soft spoken prince.

The only real downside I found to the movie was a slight emptiness after the wedding. We do see the couple start to figure out how this marriage thing is going to work, but at that point there's only about 20 minutes left in the movie and I was left wondering where they were going to go. I think this movie could have done with another 30 minutes or more of post-wedding development. Then we could see how Albert figured out what his role would be, and how they emerged as the power couple they would be. Apparently the assassination attempt at the end is historically inaccurate, but as I didn't really know about it beforehand that didn't bother me too much. I guess now that I know, I would prefer that it had been more truthful but I'm not going to raise a stink about it.

One hint: read the Wikipedia entry for Victoria (or some other easy access short overview of her) before watching the movie. I paused a couple of times to read through the entry so that I would know who was who. Maybe that's just because I'm an American so I don't have all of this royalty business figured out (for example, Victoria was heiress to the crown after her uncle William IV, as opposed to her father). It helped me just get a general overview of things so that I could focus on the story.

Overall? Watch it if you love history, or if you love love stories (or both). It's a great film and definitely worth your time. The score is also wonderful-any excuse to listen to Handel's Zadok the Priest several times is a good one in my opinion!

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