Monday, November 29, 2010

THE YOUNG VICTORIA (2009): “We are Not Amused!”

The Young Victoria is another expensive looking movie.  Without the pageantry, colorful wardrobe, the pomp and circumstances and the royal setting, it would be a dull piece of historical revisionism.  Thankfully, at 105 minutes it’s rather short for a modern film.  Sadly, there’s little enough substance as it is even for that short space of time.  There are many, many period pieces that have been shown in the cinema and most of them fail in the same manner as Young Victoria (think of Out of Africa or Amadeus).  Gone With the Wind or Doctor Zhivago succeeded in part because you had either the American Civil War or the Russian Revolution as backdrops.  Maybe one shouldn’t ask why the story of a queen, that reigned during the greatest imperialistic expansion in British Empire history and who was so inhibited that she refused to recognize that such a phenomena as lesbianism even existed, is transformed in Young Victoria into Queen Victoria's quest for passionate romance.  The typical admirers of this movie are by no means young teenagers but rather college educated individuals that perceive themselves as being sophisticated viewers.  We complain about high school pupils not receiving an adequate education, but what about those that graduated from college some twenty or thirty years ago?  How can they not at least recall enough about Queen Victoria to avoid getting sucked into this portrayal?   I could blame it on the filmmakers that refuse to deliver anything better.  But really it is in most part due to the fact that moviegoers in general - be it at the art houses or the theatre at the mall - want to be swept away by illusory charm depicted as historical fact.  These same audience members are grown people that continue to rapt nostalgic with childhood memories of Cinderella.

To be fair, there is at least a skeleton of truth in the events portrayed in Young Victoria.  Victoria without a doubt was subjected to an extremely sheltered childhood that she grew to resent, and this played a part in her refusal to allow Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) to become her Personal Secretary and also led to the banishment of her mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), to the far end of Buckingham Palace after Victoria became Queen.  And yes, despite Victoria’s rather austere reputation, she probably was somewhat smitten by her husband-to-be, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) from the House of Saxe Coburg and Gotha in Germany.  And Albert was the father of all nine of her children.  So it would be unfair to suggest that their marriage was completely arranged for little more than political purposes.  Nevertheless, Victoria was not quite the fairy tale princess as portrayed by Emily Blunt.  Even popular image denotes Victoria to have been a bit of a prude.  Nor was her love for the people probably so pronounced as shown here, though Prince Albert was known as a progressive thinker that sought reforms in education.  There were reasons why there were a number of assassination attempts upon her life (only one of which is depicted in the film and for which Prince Albert suffers a fictional wound).   At the end of Young Victoria we root for Victoria and Albert as they attempt to transfer the nation’s welfare system into one that will give the poor at least a chance to survive.  Probably, those in Ireland and India that were subjected to British rule would suggest that her concern for poverty did not extend beyond the borders of England (if that).  And, as we are told, she dressed in black after Albert’s death in 1861 and continued in mourning until her own death in 1901 thus suggesting she never loved another man.  (The movie never addresses the mysterious Mr. Brown that became the subject of another movie about the older Victoria called Mrs. Brown.)

Emily Blunt plays the part of a stubborn and determined young woman convincingly when considering that the character (and appearance) in no way resembles that of the real Victoria.  Rupert Friend projects almost no charisma as the husband of Victoria, but then I suppose this was somewhat intentional.  The other gadflies in the film add little other than to make us understand there was much intrigue surrounding the royal setting.   Emily Blunt provides the character of Victoria with the right amount of sensuousness for a mini-series appearing on public television and probably more passion than what the royal family in England would be comfortable with.  In actuality, Ms. Blunt provided too much of either quality for a portrayal of Victoria and too little of either quality for smoldering romance.

We are reminded again and again in the film that we need to feel sorry for this woman who otherwise lacked for nothing.  “Pity the rich” is a common theme in Hollywood, despite all of the so-called populist leanings of most actors and directors.  For those that only like to look at movies and never pay much attention to the story or what the dialogue consists of (outside of listening to scandalous gossip), Young Victoria will make for enjoyable viewing.   It’s directed by Jean-Marc Valée who is now in the process of directing a film entitled Lost Girls and Love Hotels.  His direction doesn’t add a great deal of vibrancy to Young Victoria.  The movie is not a controversial one and certainly could have been improved upon with some biting commentary or even humor.   The film does not even come close to being compelling.  Perhaps the real life Victoria was not interesting enough that we can make a full featured film about her without lying.  (But if I was to complain about that too much I would be forced to disqualify more than ninety percent of all bi-op pieces released by the film studios.)  Victoria’s legacy was probably due to her strict sense of protocol and the fact that her descendents would populate most of Europe (with many of them as royalty playing a great role in misunderstandings that led to World War I).  However, even a character study portraying this legacy or one showing a powerful figure easily alarmed by any impropriety or indiscretion would be more interesting than the one that we are provided with in Young Victoria.

January 26, 2010 
© Robert S. Miller 2010

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