The first Queen Elizabeth has been the It Girl of the British monarchy in recent times in Hollywood. Queen Victoria now gets royal treatment with a fresh film biography starring Emily Blunt as the empire's longest-reigning ruler in her early years.
"The Young Victoria" is good, old-fashioned period drama — not terribly lively, not terribly insightful, but rich in pageantry and fine moments of drama, the whole show hinging on a beguiling performance from Blunt.
We've see Blunt as a very modern (and often very funny) woman in "Sunshine Cleaning," her scene-stealing turn in "The Devil Wears Prada" and other films.
She's just as engaging as queen bee of the corset crowd, bringing endearing zest, impetuousness and imprudence to this woman who eventually would grow into a symbol of sober, imperious widowhood for much of her time on the throne.
Working from a crisp, straightforward screenplay by Julian Fellowes ("Gosford Park"), director Jean-Marc Vallee introduces Victoria at age 17, shortly before the death of her uncle, King William, (Jim Broadbent, pricelessly raving against the schemers jockeying for power in the coming succession of his niece).
Chief among the palace plotters are Victoria's insufferable mother (Miranda Richardson) and her opportunistic counsel, Conroy (Mark Strong), who's angling to be named regent while the heir-apparent grows into the job of queen.
As Victoria ascends to power, Blunt captures a nice balance of ambivalence and backbone, a teen raised in wallflower isolation taking her first lessons in absolute power — and recognizing that she's got a knack for it.
These machinations are paralleled by ploys from afar as Victoria's uncle, King Leopold of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann), grooms his nephew and her cousin, Albert (Rupert Friend), to woo the future monarch.
If this were a fictional romance, Albert would be the unctuous pretender, a politically expedient candidate that the lady rejects in favor of true love with some dark horse suitor.
But Victoria and Albert met, clicked and fell in love, on their own terms. Blunt and Friend present a picture of quiet affection and devotion, a deep passion that plays out with stately restraint in public and playful ardency in the bedchamber.
The marriage is complicated by Victoria's dependence on Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), the young prime minister who insinuates himself into the role of key adviser to the young queen, initially for his own self interests, gradually out of respect and fondness for her.
The sets, costumes and landscapes are gorgeous. The pomp of Victoria's coronation is so exhilarating you may wish the filmmakers had lingered longer on the ceremony, which comes and goes quickly.
It would take a couple of miniseries to capture something approaching a comprehensive dramatization of Victoria's 64-year reign. With a team of producers that includes Martin Scorsese and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, who has made her own scholarly studies about Victoria, the film stands as a sturdy opening chapter.
Cate Blanchett has done the youthful and middle-aged Elizabeth I in two films. There's a lot of ground left to cover in Victoria's life, and it would be a welcome reprise if Blunt came back to carry on the story.
"The Young Victoria," an Apparition release, is rated PG for some mild sensuality, a scene of violence, and brief incidental language and smoking. Running time: 104 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.
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