The Young Victoria is a well-intentioned film with a talented enough cast and reasonably strong production value that still never quite comes together as anything truly memorable. It’s a film with many admirable individual parts that form a surprisingly forgettable whole. Despite stealing most of the films she's appeared in to date, star Emily Blunt is horrendously miscast and too much of The Young Victoria feels like it’s merely going through the motions, as if everyone has been tasked with providing a requisite holiday season period piece and that's what they’re going to deliver. Great period pieces find themes and emotions easily relatable to modern audiences, but, too often, the focus is on costume design and detail of the era, resulting in films that feel as musty as their settings must be today. Thanks largely to a highbrow script by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) and impressive design, The Young Victoria is far from a complete disaster, merely a forgettable chamber piece.
Jean-Marc Vallee's film opens with an 11-year-old Victoria immediately caught between the political machine run by her two royal uncles. The film flashes forward to the days before the 18th birthday of Princess Victoria of Kent (Blunt), a young lady caught at an unusual crossroads in history as she is the only heir to the throne of the dying King William (Jim Broadbent). Victoria has been kept from the world of politics and pomp over which she will soon reign by an overprotective and manipulative mother (Miranda Richardson) and her nefarious advisor (Mark Strong). Their logic is that if Victoria is kept from the court, she will listen only to them. In fact, if William dies before Victoria turns eighteen and the girl willingly signs a regency order, her mother and Conroy will rule the empire.
Of course, Victoria has a few other admirers, politically and socially. Her uncle, Belgian King Leopold (Thomas Kretschmann), realizes the importance of wielding his influence on his niece and sends Albert (Rupert Friend) to woo and wed the future Queen. Albert is trained in how to best convince Victoria to fall for him, but the two form an honest relationship – the love story at the center of the film. They communicate regularly as pen pals but both still feel like pawns in the machine run by their elders and Victoria refuses to marry him until she has come into her own as a Queen. One such elder is Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), another possible suitor for Victoria but someone far more concerned with the political ramifications of the young lady's imminent rule. Like her mother and so many other people in her life, he supports Victoria merely to curry favor with the court. Victoria comes to understand that Albert is the only one who truly asks for nothing but love from her.
The Young Victoria is a technically admirable film with a lovely score, fluid pacing, and a large cast of characters, but it never registers below the surface details of the story. The love story between Victoria and Albert is the most effective element of the film (although the always-good Bettany delivers as well), but even that feels somewhat hampered by the amazingly charismatic Blunt being asked to play a pawn in a political chess game. When Victoria starts asserting her own power in the final act, Blunt finally comes to life, but asking this actress to play wallflower for two acts was a mistake. She's never believable as a teenage princess. She's so clearly a queen.
Rating: TWO AND A HALF BONES
Reviewed by Brian Tallerico (MovieRetriever.com Film Critic)
Release Date: December 18th, 2009
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Thomas Kretschmann, Mark Strong, Jesper Christensen, and Harriet Walter
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Writer: Julian Fellowes