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The Young Victoria (2009)

  • Review: ** ½ (out of ****)
  • Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Thomas Kretschmann, Mark Strong, Jesper Christensen
  • Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
  • Screenplay: Julian Fellowes
  • Length: 100 min.
  • MPAA Rating: PG for some mild sensuality, a scene of violence, and brief incidental language and smoking.

British monarchs have long been fascinating subjects for films. From Henry VIII to Elizabeth II, the Royal Families of the United Kingdom are gold mines for intriguing stories and clashing wills. Why, then, is The Young Victoria so adventureless?

The story follows many aspects of young Princess Victoria’s (Emily Blunt) life. It displays her unhappy childhood and the machinations that kept her from associating with anyone other than those who her mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), or her lover Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) deemed appropriate. It examines her turbulent relationship with Prince Albert of Belgium (Rupert Friend) and documents further the political intrigue surrounding Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) and his attempts to control Victoria and hopefully earn her hand in marriage.

Many of the problems with the film come from its inability to convey complex social situations with more than perfunctory anger. Tension, discord and other elements that have often made these stories so interesting, are muted and stretched seemingly to fill time.

It’s as if director Jean-Marc Vallée wants to hold our hand through history and slowly explain everything that’s going on. He presents everything fully in advance without allowing the audience to discover what’s going on. We are aware of all the plot twists and turns before they arrive. It’s a rather disappointing way of presenting the material considering what wonders Vallée produced in C.R.A.Z.Y. It’s almost like he never made that wonderful film. Instead, we have another lifeless royal cluttering up the big screen.

That’s not to disparage Blunt’s work in the film. The limited screenplay from Julian Fellowes doesn’t give her much to do, but what she does is done amiably and ably. And if Blunt is good, but not exceptional, it will come as little shock that the rest of the cast pales in comparison. Richardson hasn’t been very visible lately and although there are moments you like what she’s doing with the Duchess of Kent, the end result lacks emotional depth. Bettany and Strong both present one-dimensional villains, and Friend lacks the charm to carry such an important role.

And we all know these actors are better than this, as we’ve seen them perform more adequately in other projects. The material is so dry and matter of fact. The direction is lazy and uneventful. It’s as if we’re watching a drama-tinged documentary of Queen Victoria’s early life.

It’s so hard to muster up my enthusiasm for a film like The Young Victoria. The film shares a number of similarities with Bright Star released earlier this year. You have strong central female characters and weak romantic interests. You have long passages of stilted dialogue and historical references, but no push to move the story along. It’s a style of filmmaking that doesn’t work well in today’s fast-paced environment. And, I’m not criticizing films for getting where it needs to go slowly, but when an hour and a half feels like three, your pace and structure need significant revisions to break up the tonal flatline of your final product.