Friday, December 25, 2009

Oh to be young, gifted and royal

Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend as royals in love.

The Young Victoria -- a look at the early years of the famed British queen who ascended to the throne at the age of 18 -- mixes pageantry and palace intrigue in ways that keep a generally tasteful historical drama from sagging under the weight of its own costumes. Nicely directed by Jean-Marc Valle and equally well-acted by Emily Blunt (as the title character), The Young Victoria centers on simmering conflicts over who would follow an ailing King William (Jim Broadbent) to the throne. William died in 1837.

Though respectful of the monarchy, The Young Victoria does suggest that family values -- especially royal family values -- aren't always exemplary. Victoria's mother (Miranda Richardson) and her pal, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), tired to take over the empire by urging the underage Victoria to sign her powers over to them, thereby establishing a regency and marginalizing Victoria's role.

Victoria may have been young, but she wasn't stupid. She resisted and ultimately chastened her mother and sent Conroy packing.

In addition to learning how to wear the crown, Blunt -- familiar from The Devil Wears Prada -- also shows how the queen discovered love. Blunt plays a touching duet with Rupert Friend, who appears as the liberal-minded and always supportive Prince Albert. Early on, King Leopold of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann) encourages Albert to marry Victoria so that he can expand his sphere of influence. But Albert and Victoria -- who were first cousins -- trip everyone up by falling in love and trying to work out their respective roles as husband and wife and subject and sovereign.

I recently looked at a picture of Queen Victoria, and, not surprisingly, her resemblance to Blunt was slight to nil, but Blunt's convincing as a lively and engaged teen-ager who chooses to navigate treacherous political waters, a young woman who gradually becomes less reliant on her prime minister and trusted advisor (Paul Bettany).

Nicely acted by a large cast -- with special cheers for Broadbent's portrayal of an addled, angry William -- The Young Victoria is a smart costume drama that stops short of tackling what might have been the more interesting part of the story -- Victoria's long and much-discussed reign. Here's one movie that I thought ended too soon.

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