Friday, October 9, 2009

Film Review: The Young Victoria


KNOWN as the longest reigning queen of the United Kingdom, Queen Victoria actually held court for 63 years, ascending into the throne at the very young age of 18 and never relinquished it until her death.

Like Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, The Young Victoria does not focus on the Queen's entire life but only the crucial part of her ascension to the throne, the early turbulent years of her reign and her legendary romance and marriage to her cousin, Prince Albert.

As the Queen, rising English actress Emily Blunt is light years removed from her turn as the snooty, ambitious and often uptight secretary that served as Anne Hathaway's foil in The Devil Wears Prada. Her Victoria is initially confused, scared and very much way in over her head when she was handed something that she still wasn't ready for. She also has to deal with an overbearing mother (Miranda Richardson) and her scheming advisor (Mark Strong), an untrustworthy governess (Jeannette Hain) and a somewhat unpopular Prime Minister (Paul Bettany) that later became her own sole advisor. And yes, I repeat, she was just a debutante at 18.

Not totally lost in the middle of this is her romance with Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) who like her initially detests the idea of being manipulated into hooking up with a cousin who just happens to be an heiress to the throne. Circumstances eventually allowed them to warm up to each other and they soon became man and wife. Happily ever after didn't follow right away, though, as Victoria's overzealousness to serve her country is somewhat exploited by her trusted advisor, Lord Melbourne. But as well-meaning as Melbourne is eventually revealed, this did not exactly sit well with the Prince (who has royal makeover ideas of his own) as well as the Prime Minister's own political rivals who wants to portray the queen as somewhat anti-people or somewhat another Marie Antoinette or something like that.

Apart from its usually lavish production values, gorgeous photography and glossy look-and-feel, I'm not particularly big on period films, perhaps owing to my preference on faster pacing and shorter running times as well as my biases against the so-called "talkies" these yarns are usually categorized as. But because it concentrates only on Victoria's early years like Marie Antoinette, I find The Young Victoria to be nicely paced as it wisely trims off what I would say, the excess fat that historical chronicles (case in point: Oliver Stone's Alexander) are mostly notorious for.

A brainchild of Sarah Ferguson (yes, the original Fergie), The Young Victoria is produced by Martin Scorsese and Graham King (who were also both involved in The Departed) and directed by acclaimed French-Canadian Jean-Marc Vallee (C.R.A.Z.Y.) from the screenplay of Academy-award winner Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), The Young Victoria is wisely marketed as more of a love story rather than a straight biopic. And it actually works that way.

As the leads, Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend look great together and have a sizzling chemistry. And you can feel the tension early in their marriage as they struggle to treat each other as equals in the face of all that royal protocol, something that the former Duchess of York probably knows only too well.

The scene where Albert took a bullet intended for Victoria in a botched assassination attempt and what the queen did after was supposed to demonstrate their love for each other. While it was certainly more than sweet of Prince Albert to do that, that scene would probably look cliched and disastrous in the hands of a less skillful filmmaker, especially since it was far from historically accurate and never actually happened (according to Wikipedia, anyway). But somehow Vallee made it work and yes, it was quite a defining moment.

Well, I don't think I'm particularly good at reviewing these kinds of films. But I can tell you that I very much enjoyed The Young Victoria. Maybe my being pretty good in World History back in high school has something to do with it. Maybe it's the fine performances of the rest of the cast that got and kept my attention: the ever reliable Miranda Richardson and the increasingly versatile Paul Bettany are two of the more standout ones. Or maybe it's just my little schoolboy crush on Emily Blunt who looks drop dead majestic here.

Whatever it is, I'd say the film as whole works on a very, say, accessible level (I wouldn't call it an acquired taste) and does recall the kind of edgy tone that characterized both Marie Antoinette and even Scorsese's own, The Age Of Innocence. Given the involvement of Fergie, we also get an idea where that edge is coming from.

But unlike the young Coppola's work, The Young Victoria can stand on its own merits and need not need to resort to gimmickry like including a modern punk and new wave soundtrack to attract audiences who are not too big on these medieval types. Well, Sinead O' Connor did get to sing the end credits theme song but that's another story.

The Young Victoria is exclusively shown in Greenbelt 3 Cinema. Visit www.sureseats.com for screening times and ticket reservations.

Here's the trailer:

1 comment:

jay said...

I agree, Edwin. It's an anti-biopic which is much more cinematic. Aside from "Marie-Antoinette" we can also liken it to "The Queen" which also focused on one seminal event in Queen Elizabeth's life. Thanks for the review, man!