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Friday, Dec. 25, 2009
' The Young Victoria'
God save the teen queen
"The Young Victoria" may be about a queen who lived some two centuries ago, but the film displays a very modern sense of schadenfreude. Whether it's Britney or Michael, Tiger or Amy, the only thing we love more than ogling the celebrity lifestyle is evidence that they are more messed-up and dysfunctional than the rest of us.
Britain's prim imperial queen — best known for giving the world "Victorianism" with its prudish and puritan values — hardly seems a candidate for scandal. Yet the film reimagines her as a ripe young teen, waiting for a dashing young man to sweep her off her feet and rescue her from her hellish home life.
Talk about dysfunction: the young Victoria was dominated by her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and her scheming lover Sir John Conroy, who hoped to rule as regents by forcing the girl into signing over her rights as monarch. Victoria's life was controlled so tightly that she had to spend every night in the same bedroom as her mother, had no contact with other children, and was not allowed to climb the palace stairs without someone holding her hand. Meanwhile, her uncle, the king of Belgium, was plotting to get her married off to his son, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, in order to secure Britain's military backing.
Emily Blunt ("The Devil Wears Prada") plays the young royal as a willful, resourceful young teen, who — ascending to the throne at age 18 — learned as she went along. It's a fine enough performance, but rather wan when held up against Keira Knightley in "The Duchess," or Natalie Portman in "The Other Boleyn Girl," but then again, their lives were far more dramatic.
"The Young Victoria" 's main problem is finding some drama — once Victoria escapes Conroy's clutches upon becoming queen, the film struggles to find obstacles for her to overcome. Her love for Prince Albert (Rupert Friend, looking like he sat on a pole) is never really in question. Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) uses his seductive charm to manipulate the queen for political ends, but never really emerges as a rival to Albert. On the plus side, the film does do a good job at showing what brought Victoria and Albert together, and the tensions they had to overcome.
Director Jean-Marc Vallee ("Loser Love") doesn't really help matters by frequently slipping into cliche, whether it's Victoria breathlessly running down the stairs as the postman arrives with a letter from Albert, or Albert's brother sagely advising him, "it's your life, Albert — live it." (Perhaps it would sound less trite in Belgian.) Those who know their history might also be surprised by the scene he's included that has Albert taking a bullet intended for his wife, a complete fabrication.
Fans of the royal biopic genre will find pleasure enough here, with sumptuous costumes by Martin Scorsese's regular designer, Sandy Powell, and locations that include Belvoir Castle, Westminster Abbey and Arundel Castle. Less royal-obsessed viewers, however, may take solace in the fact that they're running low on queens and consorts to make films about.