Thinking of checking out the new costume drama The Young Victoria? If so, you’ll learn important facts about the British Royal family, like: they are smart; they are funny; they are generous; and above all, the most wonderful human beings who have ever been born. You’ll also learn important facts about the British people, like: they’re a screaming, violent rabble who would run amok if not for the calm, guiding hand of the British Royal Family.
In case it isn’t obvious, The Young Victoria, which (and I bet you couldn’t have guessed this either) follows the life of the teenaged Queen Victoria as she becomes Queen of England, is propaganda. Well filmed, well acted, but propaganda through and through, a story suggested and produced by Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York herself. (True, Fergie is divorced from Prince Andrew, but you don’t just stop being a Royal, especially if you have kids.)
And herein, of course, lies the problem with the film, which, given its producer, nervously backs away from any chances or choices, painting history as a hasty backdrop, existing only to let Emily Blunt’s Queen Victoria beam a million dollar smile and charm everyone in her path.
Don’t worry, though: Blunt is effortlessly charming, sweeping through her role with poised grace and childlike glee. A scene where Victoria sternly explains to Parliament what type of Queen she will be shortly after ascending to the throne is followed by Blunt primly walking out of the room, quickening to a skip, then giggles of glee. It’s a pitch perfect moment, encapsulating everything that is interesting about shoving a sheltered eighteen-year-old into one of the most powerful offices in the world.
Unfortunately, Director Jean-Marc Vallee and writer Julian Fellowes can’t focus on moments like those for more than a scene. Is The Young Victoria a poltical thriller, full of court intrigue, and machinations? Sure, but only to the point that all of those machinations fizzle out and affect nothing. Is it a romantic comedy, pulling the Queen between the foppish, dorky Prince Albert (Rupert Friend), and the dashing, jock-like Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany)? There too, director and writer back off, never giving Melbourne anything more than a passing interest, and never fully explaining why Victoria is destined to be with the dorky Albert.
Yes, it’s history, but give it some context, some drama at least! Take some chances! Occasionally, Vallee’s camera will try some interesting tricks, freezing on action, or creating a super shallow depth of focus — things that indicate the possiblity of a more visually stimulating movie. But instead, with most of the movie filmed by the Merchant-Ivory playback, they just stick out like sore thumbs.
Emily Blunt will soon be a movie star, and is already an Actress with a capital ‘A’, a rare combination that is well on display here. I just wish she had a better platform.