Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Young Victoria (2009)


With an overbearing and controlling stepmother (Miranda Richardson) and caretaker (Mark Strong), both seeking to control her future queenship, Victoria (Emily Blunt) finds unlikely allies in Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) and suitor Prince Albert (Rupert Fiend).

I've often felt that period films get a bad rap as existing solely to attack the best costume design, and appeal to the whimsical fascinations of young women. Yet more often than not there's a lot of depth, and insight, into the struggles of a growing women, and in that respect The Young Victoria is no different. As life's go Queen Victoria's was unarguably a very difficult one, often kept from knowledge of those around her all of whom are seeking something, she had to learn how to be Queen in spite of her relatives. Thus the task of her formative years lay in the hands of Fellowes and Vallee, both of whom must find a way to cram a inordinate amount of information into such a short running time.

For the viewer this is great in that it gives great depth to the decisions that shaped Victoria (extra points for strong accuracy in narrative). The Young Victoria retains its romantic heart, especially towards the latter half, but only in so far as the events help to shape Victoria the person, and Victoria the Queen. As such the film is riddled with political talk, important historical characters, and a good look at how Victoria deals with life's different challenges. The film does dramatize certain events, but never to the point of excess, and as such we get a rather good portrait of the early life of Victoria. For that I feel I must commend the film, especially since it would be far easier to simply remove so much for runtime.

Unfortunately though I can't help but feel as if the film's runtime is its greatest flaw. Clocking in at 1 hour and 40 minutes, Young Victoria is one of the few instances where I would say the film needed to be about 20 minutes longer, if not more. Vallee's eye for beauty, characters, and the romance, is caught behind flawed transitions, forced to jump years at a time in order to reach key events. As well certain characters come and go in almost the blink of an eye, and yet are meant to maintain a strong sense of importance upon us. Jim Broadbent's King William amounts to two scenes, but his impact in the film is of grand importance to the shaping of Victoria. As such when his character appears and then suddenly leaves we're left with a sense of disappointment.

Though it always helps when you have a strong cast to carry the film. Blunt is perfectly suited for the leading role, showing the perfect combination of strength, social awkwardness, and emotion you'd expect. While Rupert Fiend breaks through molds as the distant lover, forced to be apart by tradition, while hoping the women he loves feels the same. Of course the film's real unsung heroes may lie in the seasoned skills of Paul Bettany, Mark Strong, and Miranda Richardson. Few actors play the modern villain as well as Mark Strong, and while it may not lead to long term success, he perfectly captures the oppressive John Conroy. While Richardson is in a sense the torn mother, caught between family obligation, desire for the thrown, and the want for a good life for her daughter, something we don't get to grasp until the final act. Then of course there is Bettany who must play the seasoned politician, one seeking to use, love, and gain from his relationship with Victoria. Bettany's stead fast character is a great counter to the romantic Fiend, and emotional Blunt, all of whom are trying to work their way through a series of political webs cast upon them.

A political web with which the director, the writer, the characters, and the audience must all travel through in this films runtime. This is where Fellowes' persistence at accuracy comes right in handy. Never clogging down the plot with unnecessary details, or pushing upon the viewer less than they need to know, we're really given a treat and sharp insight. A notion of which is often lost on many period films.
Don't be so quick to judge this period film as nothing more than a romance, as it is a sharp look into the early life of Victoria, that while packed in, works as a solid character study.

7 better thoughts:

DEZMOND said...

a lovely review, Ryan ;), as lovely as Emily herself.

Alex said...

Wow, it's great to hear such a positive review of this film. I haven't seen it yet, but I've been looking forward to it since I first saw the trailer, as I enjoy period pieces for the pretty dresses as well as the portraits of young women's difficult positions in past eras. But I've heard some bad things about The Young Victoria so I wasn't sure what to expect. I'm a bit more optimistic now!

Chase Kahn said...

Yeah, I think I'm going to get to this sometime in the next week or so.

Here's one hoping it's better than "The Duchess".

Univarn said...

@Dezmond thanks but let's be honest Emily Blunt has me beaten several times over.

@Alex I was really intrigued, but I'm a bit history fanatic and was glad it balanced historical politics with the romance, worked well for me. Just be forewarned it crams a lot of information into the run time :).

@Chase It's definitely better than The Duchess.

Andrew K. said...

Wow. Surprised you liked this so much. I mean I gave it a B- and all but still. I still don't think Emily deserved that GG nod, but whatever.

PS. Miranda was her stepmother? Anyhow, that scene where Rupert gets shot and they cut to Miranda: favourite scene.

I am glad you liked it though.

Sam Turner said...

This has been out for a while on DVD over here and I should get a chance to watch it over the holidays I think. Looking forward to it.

filmgeek said...

Love it - one of my favourites of the year

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