THE YOUNG VICTORIA: Blu-Ray (GK Films/Momentum Pictures 2009) Alliance Home Video
Intelligently scripted by Julienne Fellows and directed with appropriate sweep and intimacy by Jean-Marc Vallée, The Young Victoria (2009) is a compelling - if mercilessly truncated - portrait of the formative years of a youthful girl, navigating her way through governance of the British Empire that, at the time of her arrival, was not at all in an enviable state. In more recent times, the intimate life of England's second-longest reigning monarch to date has become the subject of much debate, and, as many docu-dramas. But in 2009, the resource was relatively untapped, allowing Fellowes his creative license and a fairly fresh palette of exploration besides. The real Victoria, whose reign lasted from June 1837 to January 1901 ushered in what can only be described as a golden age for the nation – or, as history denotes - the ‘Victorian’ era, nearly 64 mesmerizing years of industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military progress, to aggressively expand upon Britain’s influence at home and abroad. After the death of her father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn – and his, King George III, the young Victoria was sequestered by her domineering mother, and her comptroller, John Conroy. Inheriting the throne after the untimely death of Edward and three elder brothers, Victoria was only eighteen when she was expected to rule - a constitutional monarch, actually, who held little direct political power, but endeavored to influence government policy through ministerial appointments. Publicly, Victoria was expected to uphold the nation’s strict standards by exercising an even more stringent morality.
The Young Victoria is not particularly interested in what followed this foray into public life, stopping short after the Queen’s courtship with her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, whom she wed in 1840. However, for the record, it is worth noting Victoria’s familial links to virtually every royal house on the continent earned her the moniker, ‘the grandmother of Europe’ as 34 of her 42 surviving heirs intermingled with the aristocracy abroad, with current living descendants to include Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Harald V of Norway, Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, Margrethe II of Denmark, and Felipe VI of Spain. Alas, Victoria’s brood were also the harbingers of hemophilia, a condition to first afflict her youngest offspring, Leopold, and, would continue to plague two of her five daughters, Alice and Beatrice, resulting in the disease resurfacing in her great-grandsons, Alexei Nikolayevich, Tsarevich of Russia, Alfonso, Prince of Asturias, and, Infante Gonzalo of Spain. As the disease only afflicted Victoria's descendants, not her ancestors, some latter-day speculation has arisen that perhaps Edward was not her father. However, more than likely, Edward’s age – he was 50 when Victoria was conceived – contributed to her becoming the carrier of this condition.
The Young Victoria stars Emily Blunt as a teenager, with various brief and fleeting flashbacks of the princess' childhood, depicted by child actors, Grace Smith and Michaela Brooks. Through Blunt's voice-over narration we learn Victoria's mother, The Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) is a rather ineffectual matriarch, more enthralled by her behind-closed-doors relationship with the overbearing Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) than in raising the future heir of England. Conroy is determined to have Victoria sign over her authority to him, declaring a regency in England after the death of King William (Jim Broadbent). This, the strong-willed Victoria will not do, incurring Conroy's wrath and constant threat of physical violence. For his part, the King – while he lived – admonished The Duchess of Kent at every chance, condemning her mishandling of Victoria's youth and education and her isolation away from court. Meanwhile, King Leopold of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann) is frantic to gain England's financial assistance to sustain his monarchy. Leopold reasons the best way to control the future destiny of his own country is to sell one of his sons into marriage to the future Queen of England. To this end, Leopold dispatches two amiable suitors for a 'visit' - one of them Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). However, early courtship is marred by Albert's indoctrinated training to appreciate everything Victoria knows and loves. Despite not being exposed to this sort of mimicry, Victoria is not so easily fooled by Albert’s acquiescence and recognizes the rouse.
Gradually, however, Albert begins to trust his own instincts and speaks to Victoria from his own heart through a series of letters. These more honest revelations come at a time when Victoria is been pushed towards a possible alliance with the current Prime Minister, Lord William Melbourne (Paul Bettany). Although Melbourne effectively becomes Victoria's Secretary of State, he will never gain control as was earlier hoped. Instead, Victoria and Albert are wed and, after several early and brief hiccups in their marital bliss, a mutual respect is allowed to blossom. Indeed, Albert genuinely cares for his wife and will ensure her safety from all manner of court intrigues, designed to minimize and undermine her authority. Recognizing the toxic influences, she has thus far been plagued, Victoria exiles her mother and Conroy and moves into the newly erected Buckingham Palace to begin he reign as England's much cherished monarch. King Leopold realizes he will not control England through Albert's marriage. The movie concludes with Victoria and Albert arriving at one of the many balls they enjoyed during their ‘happily ever after’ 20-year marriage.
The Young Victoria is something of a fairy tale, not the least for eschewing the darker aspects of the Queen's life, and presenting her with the ultimate Prince Charming. Alas, Albert died of typhoid at the age of 42, leaving behind nine royal heirs. Victoria would go on to reign another 41 years in his absence, each evening, laying out Albert's clothes as though she might expect him to return. It is this sense of quiet, loyal passion Albert and Victoria shared throughout their marriage that is largely at the crux of Julienne Fellows' fancifully constructed screenplay, even though, for much of the film’s run-time, these two ‘fated to be mated’ companions are miserably separated by royal intrigues and deceptions that threaten to destroy their mutual happiness. Emily Blunt, an actress only briefly glimpsed in American movies at the time, and virtual unknown to American audiences still, Rupert Friend, have genuine on-screen chemistry here. The picture would, in fact, be nothing at all without their symbiotic friendship behind the scenes and their repartee on-camera, perhaps best exemplified during a game of chess from their early courtship. This, teems with a sort of burgeoning, cordial, but palpable sexual tension and foreshadowing of the future.
Superbly crafted and expertly played, The Young Victoria is magnificent, if modestly flawed entertainment that will surely impress. If the movie has a shortcoming, it remains that much of Victoria's youth, prior to her meeting Albert, is glossed over in vignettes. These pass in a forgettable succession as a not terribly engaging montage. Indeed, much of the first and third acts here seem rushed, as though someone is standing over Jean-Marc Vallée with a stop-watch, encouraging him to simply move on to the next pivotal moment in Fellowes’ screenplay. The middle act is where all the meaty resolve of Victoria and Albert’s great love affair resides, and, it proves the lynch pin that makes these book-ended ‘leftovers’ seem, if not entirely satisfying, then passably acceptable as mere connective tissue to usher the audience into ‘the good stuff’. The Young Victoria is not a grand epic, nor even a great movie. But it does offer the first intelligent and historically accurate account of the youthful Queen’s formative years as England’s beloved monarch. In the U.S. it received a very limited release, contributing to its rather lackluster gross of only $26 million on a $35 million budget.
Alliance Home Video's Blu-Ray transfer is quiet stunning, capturing all the sumptuous color and pageantry of royal court with breathtaking clarity. Scenes taking place in candle lit halls or at night are more softly focused as intended by Hagen Bogdanski's evocative cinematography. Flesh tones are natural. Fine detail is beautifully realized. This is a reference-quality disc with top-notch performances to boot. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and quite adequate for this largely dialogue-driven narrative. Extras are the biggest disappointment. Deleted scenes are about the best of the lot. The 'featurettes' are an utter claptrap of nonsensically thrown together clips from the film that fade into the briefest of reflections provided by cast, crew and Lady Sarah Ferguson - the Duchess of York. Bottom line: recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)