Young Victoria, The (2009): Biopic of Queen Victoria as Young Woman, Starring Emily Blunt

Supremely mounted in terms of production values and well acted by Emily Blunt as the lead and Rupert Friend as Prince Albert, The Young Victoria is nonetheless a dramatically bland biopic of the early years of Queen Victoria who holds the record as the longest-serving sovereign.
As produced (by Scorsese, among others), scripted by Julian Fellowes (Oscar winner for Altman’s “Gosford Park”), and directed by French-Canadian Jean-Marc Vallee (who made an impression with his gay feature “C.R.A.Z.Y.”), “Young Victoria” assumes the shape of a pleasant and enjoyable but not-too-deep or exciting chronicle of the main events in the first two decades of the monarch’s life, focusing on the early turbulent years of her reign and on her legendary romance and marriage to Prince Albert .
As it stands, this “Young Victoria,” which served as the closing night of the 2009 Toronto Film Fest, is only one notch above “Masterpiece Theater” and the Merchant Ivory tasteful and restrained literary adaptations.   The market for this theatrical fare has recently shrunk, and though the film played well in the U.K. and other European countries, when it bowed in the spring, commercial prospects in the U.S. are only average.
Though smoothly directed, this survey-like movie is made for viewers who know nothing (or very little) about Queen Victoria and want to spend a nice, undemanding evening at the movies. In scope, this upscale intimate feature will fit very well into the frame of the small screen. In fact, it would have made more sense to present it as a mini-series, so that the tale shed more in-depth insights into Victoria as a monarch and a woman.
Nominally, the text and its events are not without interest, but as presented, they lack fresh approach and genuine drama, even when touching upon such intriguing issues as the unusual romance between the British girl and the German prince, the endless mother-daughter strife from early childhood, political intrigues on both the domestic and foreign fronts, civil unrest and even assassination attempt, in which Albert almost sacrifices himself for the Queen.
Thus, overall, “Young Victoria” is yet another well-meaning biopic that falls into the trap of decorum and manners of the rich and famous, or what could be called the Queensxploitation sub-genre, now that we have seen Helen Mirren alone in the superb HBO miniseries “Elizabeth,” and then in a well-deserved Oscar turn as Queen Elizabeth in Stephen Frears’ 2006 “The Queen,” not to mention Cate Blanchet’s double play (and duo Oscar nominations to match) for “Elizabeth” (1998) and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (2007).
 The saga begins with a short chapter, in which Victoria (played by Michaela Brooks), age 11, is introduced as sort if a product-victim of her position, caught as she is between the intrigues of two strong royal uncles, each with his own agenda.  With a good measure of resilience and stubbornness even as a girl, Victoria begins to prepare herself for her future responsibility.
The story proper begins in 1837, just days before the 18th birthday of Princess Victoria of Kent (now played by Blunt), who in the absence of any other heirs of King William (Jim Broadbent, overacting) is next in line to the throne. In voice-overs and letters, Victoria herself doubts the obstacles and implications of her youth and lack of experience upon her position. Meanwhile, as King William is dying, and she is fated to be the next monarch, everyone is vying to win Victoria’s favor.
Except for her overbearing mother, The Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and her ambitious advisor Conroy (Mark Strong), who keep Victoria from the court, its mores and its politics (both in front and behind closed doors). You don’t need to be a Freudian psychologist to realize that Victoria’s hatred for both mother and Conroy inevitably shapes her personality and would define her style of power.
Indeed, in her first manifest act of defiance, the underaged Victoria refuses to sign a regency order, according to which, the duchess will be able to rule in her name and Conroy will rule through his connection to the duchess.   At that time, her only friend is her doting governess, Lehzen (Jeanette Hain), but she too is smothering and overprotective of a girl who clearly wishes to be more independent.
Things change, when Victoria’s handsome cousin, Albert (Rupert Friend), is invited for a visit by her mother. Albert is also the nephew of her Uncle, King Leopold of Belgium (Thomas Kretscmann), who is plotting to get his nephew to marry Victoria for political convenience. Some light, humorous scenes detail Albert’s preparation for the visit, how he coached to win her heart and hand by reciting her favorite composer (Bellini), opera (“I Puritani” Vs. “Norma”), books, and poems. Indeed, when the two meet, first in the presence of others, and then through walks in the gorgeous forests, the impressionable and virginal Victoria, who has never been in love before, takes immediate fancy to the lad.
When she becomes queen at age 18, in a glorious ceremony, Victoria still feels unprepared to commit to marriage before establishing her own authority. Which allows Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) to exert power and even manipulate—up to a point. All along Albert remains patient and continues to court her in the most gentlemanly mode, until she relents and a spectacular wedding between the two lovebirds (who share similar age) takes place in 1840.
After playing lead roles in small U.K. and U.S. indies (last year’s “Sunshine Cleaning”), and supporting roles in Hollywood’s big pictures (“The Devil Wears Prada,” as Meryl Streep’s first assistant), it’s encouraging to see Emily Blunt essay the lead with such commanding force and skill. If the movie is embraced by viewers at the box-office, it has the kind of part that could turn Blunt into a Hollywood leading lady of the first rank.
In an amazing piece of casting, Friend bears strong physical resemblance to the real Albert, though his performance goes way beyond that and a convincing German accent. Blunt’s accent is more problematic as Victoria’s first language was German and according to historians, she never assumed full command of the English grammar.
However, more importantly, Blunt and Friend benefit from strong on-screen chemistry, which is crucial to the intimate scale of the picture in terms of its small number characters; most of the plot revolves around them. It’s a pleasure to see them play chess under watchful eyes of their elders, sneak a look and an embrace, challenge each other with their literary likes and dislikes—and finally consummate their relationship on wedding night, shortly after which Victoria gets pregnant.
Playing an older man than he is, Bettany invests his parts with nuance and shadings to the point where he transforms convincingly from a negative or unappealing to a sympathetic character, and his last speech to Queen indicates dignity and.   (His performance almost helps erase the creepy turn he was asked to play in “Da Vinci Code”).
The female supporting cast is just as accomplished and eloquent, and you wish they were given more than just brief scenes of one or two sentences. As Victoria’s manipulative but ultimately suffering and punished mother, Miranda Richardson hits the right, conflicting tones of love as well as resentment and indignation. As her aunt, Harriet Walter registers slightly stronger, perhaps she is given sharper lines.  
Sandy Powell’s lush costumes, which turn Emily Blunt into quite a beautiful woman, and Super-35 wide screen cinematography (with some striking candle-lit sequences) by the ace German photographer Hagen Bogdanski (who had shot “The Lives of Others”) accounts for a lush production that’s pleasing to the eyes (if not to the ears, due to the overwhelming score), but lacks poignancy and gravitas.
Queen Victoria – Emily Blunt
Prince Albert – Rupert Friend
Lord Melbourne – Paul Bettany
Duchess of Kent – Miranda Richardson
King William – Jim Broadbent
King Leopold – Thomas Kretschmann
Sir John Conroy – Mark Strong
Baron Stockmar – Jesper Christensen
Queen Adelaide – Harriet Walter
Baroness Lehzen – Jeanette Hain
Duke of Wellington – Julian Glover
Sir Robert Peel – Michael Maloney
Ernest – Michiel Huisman
Lady Flora Hastings – Genevieve O’Reilly
Duchess of Sutherland – Rachael Stirling
Victoria, Age 11 – Michaela Brooks
A Momentum release of a GK Films presentation. (International sales: GK Films, Santa Monica, California.)
Produced by Graham King, Martin Scorsese, Tim Headington, Sarah Ferguson.
Executive producer, Colin Vaines.
Co-producers, Denis O’Sullivan, Anita Overland.
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee.
Screenplay, Julian Fellowes.
Camera, Hagen Bogdanski.
Editors, Jill Bilcock, Matt Garner.
Music, Ilan Eshkeri; music supervisor, Maureen Crowe.
Production designer, Patrice Vermette; supervising art director, Paul Inglis; art directors, Christopher Lowe, Alexandra Walker.
Costume designer, Sandy Powell.
Makeup and hair designer, Jenny Shircore.
Sound, Jim Greenhorn; sound designer, Martin Pinsonnault.
Historical adviser, Alastair Bruce of Crionaich.
Stunt coordinator, Rob Inch.
Visual effects supervisor, Marc Cote.
Assistant director, Deborah Saban.
Casting, Susie Figgis.
Running time: 104 Minutes.