Saturday, April 24, 2010

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 slightly truncated - portrait of the formative years of England's longest reigning monarch to date. The film stars Emily Blunt as the adult Victoria with various brief and fleeting scenes of the princess's childhood depicted by child actors Grace Smith and Michaela Brooks.

Through Blunt's voice over narration we learn that 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 she is with raising the future heir of England. Conroy is determined to have Victoria sign over her power 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 admonishes 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 own monarchy. Leopold reasons that 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 a general lack in being exposed to this sort of mimicry, Victoria is not so easily fooled 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 of her command as it was earlier hoped.

Instead, Victoria and Albert are married and, after several early and brief hiccups in their marital bliss, a mutual respect grows between the two. Victoria exiles her mother and Conroy from court and moves into the newly erected Buckingham Palace to begin he reign as England's much cherished monarch. King Leopold realizes that he will not control England through Albert's marriage. The film ends with Victoria and Albert arriving at one of the many balls they enjoyed during their 20 year marriage.

Albert died of typhoid at the age of 42, leaving behind nine royal heirs. Victoria would go on to reign another 41; each evening laying out Albert's clothes as though she might expect him to return to her. It is this sense of quiet, loyal passion that Albert and Victoria shared throughout their marriage that is largely at the crux of Julienne Fellows' melodic screenplay, even though the two are kept apart by royal intrigues and deceptions that threaten to destroy them both for much of the film's running time.

Emily Blunt, an actress only briefly glimpsed in American movies, and virtual unknown to American audiences, Rupert Friend, have genuine chemistry together; their repartee during a chess game in their early courtship, teeming with sexual tension, subtext and foreshadowing. Superbly crafted and expertly played, The Young Victoria is magnificent entertainment that will surely impress.

If the film has one shortcoming, it is that much of Victoria's youth prior to meeting Albert is glossed over in fleeting vignettes that pass in succession before us as not terribly engaging montage. Nevertheless, this is a great film - more historically accurate than most and worthy of renewed viewing.

In the U.S. the film received a very limited release contributing to its rather lack lustre gross of only $26 million on a $35 million budget. However, this reviewer would like to point out that it is not always the biggest grossing movies that endure the test of time. We should all be reminded herein of just two 'little known' classics...uh...Citizen Kane and It's A Wonderful Life...both disatrous financial flops when they originally premiered but have since more than proven their cherished weight in gold as stunning and much beloved pieces of film art! As for The Young Victoria: the Blu-Ray belongs on everyone's top shelf. Add this one to your collection today!

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 sound bytes provided by cast, crew and Lady Sarah Ferguson - the Duchess of York. Bottom line: recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
5

EXTRAS
2.5

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