'Young Victoria': Her Majesty, Mrs. Bland

Emily Blunt in 'The Young Victoria' i i

hide captionA Queen Or A Pawn?: Victoria (Emily Blunt) is crowned queen of England at just 18 years old, and attempts to assert control over the many players tugging her in different political directions.

Emily Blunt in 'The Young Victoria'

A Queen Or A Pawn?: Victoria (Emily Blunt) is crowned queen of England at just 18 years old, and attempts to assert control over the many players tugging her in different political directions.

The Young Victoria

  • Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
  • Genre: Drawing-room drama
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

Rated PG: Court intrigue and royal snuggling

With: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Jim Broadbent, Miranda Richardson, Mark Strong

So many actresses, so few queens: With The Young Victoria, an attempt to show that the crusty monarch was once a passionate young woman, Emily Blunt joins an exclusive club of living players cast as one of England's few female monarchs. Since Judi Dench portrayed that queen as a passionate older woman in Mrs. Brown, this new look into the lady's life is less than startling. But then the movie is not meant to surprise, just to lightly tickle fans of the lushly appointed, swooningly nostalgic genre some call "Queensploitation."

Co-produced by Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York — and featuring a cameo by her daughter, Princess Beatrice — the film could hardly be a slap at the monarchy. It's barely a slap at anyone, in fact; the piece's villains are treated almost as gently as the queen herself.

Blunt, who was memorably duplicitous in My Summer of Love and The Devil Wears Prada, makes a lively Victoria if not a revelatory one. In part, that's because she's shackled by Julian (Gosford Park) Fellowes' script, which is literate but hackneyed. "Even a palace can be a prison," we're told. So can a period costume drama, if it's going to insist on obvious insistencies like that.

French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee begins with Victoria's 1819 birth, then hops around in time a bit before settling on two storylines: the new queen's declaration of independence from her mother; and her romance with her first cousin, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend, in another of his boy-toy roles).

As King William IV (an amusingly impolitic Jim Broadbent) dodders toward the grave, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) plans a regency so she can control her teenage daughter when she becomes queen. The king, who's Victoria's uncle, loves the girl as much as he loathes her mother and her top adviser, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong, who plays another sort of Victorian knave in the upcoming Sherlock Holmes).

Although just 18 when crowned, Victoria refuses the regency, spurning her mother and Conroy's guidance. For political counsel, she relies instead on the prime minister, Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), and enjoys the time she spends with Albert, who's been sent from Saxony by their uncle, Belgium's King Leopold (Thomas Kretschmann), to sway Victoria toward support for Leopold's ambitions.

After marrying Victoria, Albert becomes bored with his limited role. But once he saves his wife from a heavily fictionalized assassination attempt, she begins to see his usefulness.

Emily Blunt and Jim Broadbent in 'The Young Victoria' i i

hide captionKing William IV (Jim Broadbent) loves his niece Victoria (Emily Blunt) as much as he loathes her mother.

Emily Blunt and Jim Broadbent in 'The Young Victoria'

King William IV (Jim Broadbent) loves his niece Victoria (Emily Blunt) as much as he loathes her mother.

Melbourne informs the queen that the reform-minded Albert is "a good man," and advises her to "let him share your work." An end note reports that the queen and her prince consort reigned together for 20 years. (As monarchy buffs probably know, Albert died at 42, while the sturdy Victoria lived to 81.)

Perhaps Albert was a good man, in fact, but Melbourne wasn't; he was notorious for his infidelities, as well as an alleged taste for whipping the orphan girls brought into his home as servants. The movie is equally inattentive to less scandalous matters of history: Albert is shown practicing his English so he can converse with Victoria, yet German was actually her first language. (Although born in London, the future queen spoke German with her mother.)

Such footnotes aren't essential, but their exclusion typifies this biopic's blandness. It's true that "Victorian" has become a synonym for "prim," but The Young Victoria is stuffier than the people and period it portrays.

That needn't be the case with Hollywood's next visit with a British queen, of course. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Boadicea, anyone?

Correction Dec. 21, 2009

This review initially confused Leopold I, King of the Belgians, with his son Leopold II. The text has been amended.

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