Despite being England's longest reigning monarch to date, Victoria has hardly proved a feature film favourite, her most notable depiction being ‘Mrs Brown’, in which Judi Dench painted a picture of the sour-faced, mourning widow she became in her later life. The ‘Famine Queen’ is portrayed as a woman so dependent on her husband, Prince Albert, that his death completely devastated her, severely hampering her ability to rule the country.
Hardly an image of female strength and autonomy. The Young Victoria aims to redress this image of the ruler as a needy, dependent woman, providing insight into her formative years as a princess and newly crowned queen.
Although a strange casting choice, Emily Blunt proves adept at re-inventing the protagonist’s image, infusing her with the youthfulness and sexuality with which she is rarely associated, while hinting at characteristics associated with her later life.
The film opens with the adolescent Victoria, describing her early life under the auspices of her over-protective mother (Miranda Richardson) and advisor (Mark Strong). It is under these circumstances that she first discovers the hopes a powerful nation have weighed on her young shoulders as the only living heir to the throne. Her two royal uncles, King William IV (Jim Broadbent) and King Leopold of Belgium, are adamant that she should marry the grooms that they have chosen, respectively. Albert (Rupert Friend), Victoria’s first cousin and nephew to Leopold is his choice for her. The princess remains resolute that she will rebel against the expectations of her family, and will not marry for her uncles’ political gain, and yet, against her better judgement, strikes up a friendship with Albert.
And so begins the long-distance courtship that leads to their marriage.
The film is very much a showcase for Blunt’s weighty performance as the monarch, but Friend is equally striking, conveying the measured nuances of a man who must learn to indefinitely take a back seat to his wife. Paul Bettany, playing a man much older than he is, provides a further stand-out performance as Lord Melbourne, summoning the appropriate maturity and persuasiveness required for the the role.
The script, by Gosford Park writer Julian Fellowes, is easy for non-historians to follow, despite the complicated relationships binding its main characters, and it is deftly handled by the reasonably unknown Jean-Marc Vallée.
However, at times the direction of the courtship feels a little lacklustre, developing as it does by way of endless correspondence. The act of letter writing lacks cinematic vitality.
Although at its heart the film is a romance, it attempts to cover a number of other themes such as the political history of the time and the unpopularity Victoria faced early on in her reign. However, these themes are visited and then set aside, never fully developed. Yet, it remains an enjoyable film, which not only succeeds in challenging popular perception of the monarch but also sheds new light on why she mourned the love of her life until the day she died.