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Victoria (Emily Blunt) is surrounded by schemers, but she holds on to the power as well as the crown.

2 out of 4 stars


The Young Victoria

  • Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
  • Written by Julian Fellowes
  • Starring Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany
  • Classification: PG

Really, Young Victoria is just a lot of costumes in fond search of some drama. And finding precious little. Of course, the movies have always had a love affair with England's long-reigning female monarchs, but it's the first Elizabeth who gets the lion's share of the attention, and for obvious reasons: She kept company with swashbucklers, sparked racy doubts about her virgin queen status, shared her historical moment with a pretty good playwright, and lived through truly bellicose times. Victoria enjoyed few of these advantages. Worse, her name is synonymous with stern moral rectitude and her figure, well, those later photos could definitely do with some 'shopping - she looked like a black teapot with a doily on top.

So in this case, the material may be regal but the rep is awfully dour. How to spice it up? Clearly, catch up with her when she's young and, apparently, bears an uncanny resemblance to the lovely Emily Blunt. Then bring in an unlikely director like Canada's own Jean-Marc Vallée, who spun such a lively coming-of-age tale in C.R.A.Z.Y . After that, just add a bit of family dysfunction (and this is a family whose roots spread incestuously through much of Europe), blend in the inevitable love story with an equally young Albert, and the spice quota should be satisfied. Right?

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Sorry. The strain shows even in the establishing scenes, with their poor-little-rich-girl take on the teenage Victoria. "Even a palace can be a prison," she whines, clasping the hand of a keeper whose sole job is to escort her safely down a common staircase. As for her ascent to the throne, it's imminent - King William (Jim Broadbent in a scenery-chewing cameo) is badly ailing when he's not madly raving. Her protective German mother (Miranda Richardson), aided by a scheming Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), are pushing Victoria to sign a "Regency order" that would give the teen the crown but them the power. Such is the script's desperate quest for drama that push literally comes to shove. Conroy is seen to manhandle the poor girl, but she refuses to wield that quill pen. The order remains unsigned.

Meanwhile, over in Germanic territory, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) is keen to become her kissing cousin. He pops in for a flirtatious visit and, comparing prison notes, they hit it off immediately. Alas, marriage must wait until two years after her coronation, giving him time to polish his waltzing skills and work on his pick-up lines. He: "I should so like to be useful to you." She: "I know you would, but not yet." Now history records that Albert would eventually become "useful" to the tune of nine children, but the royal bedchamber gets scant play here.

Instead, the film is reduced to seeking its heat in tepid political doings, like the temporary tumble of Robert Peel's government, brought down when Vicky falls too much under the sway of charming Lord Melbourne (a deliciously cynical Paul Bettany). Oh, but her people are angry then, giving rise to an actual assassination attempt. Surely that makes for drama. A bit, yet only because the attempt is fictionally embroidered - Albert never did take a bullet to save his lady love. However, the good Prince did introduce cost-saving efficiencies to the royal household, and doesn't the screen just smoulder when he does.

Still, the gowns are undoubtedly colourful (a vast improvement over that black teapot of her dowager years), the bowing and nodding are bowed and nodded with aplomb, and Blunt's performance is engaging. Nicely blending head-strong imperiousness with girlish vulnerability, it's the one jewel in the picture's otherwise barren crown. Better yet, in certain angles, Blunt suggests that the young Victoria possesses a facial likeness to her great-great-granddaughter - yes, the young Elizabeth II, who, if she hangs on until the fall of 2015, will claim the prize as Britain's longest reigning monarch. A century later, the movies will surely embrace her in countless period pieces. There will be costumes; maybe, then, there will even be drama.

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Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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