Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Love: The Young Victoria

It's hard to find an outright bad historical drama that's based on the life of any number of British monarchs. Just take a well respected British or Australian actor, make things look pretty, and you're guaranteed a formula for Oscar success.

The Young Victoria is no exception, getting just about everything right, the cinematography striking and beautiful, with soft lights and lush colors and fabrics. Starring Emily Blunt in a role she can finally soar in, the film begins with Victoria's 18th birthday and moves through the intrigue and issues that surrounded her eventual rise to the throne and her famous marriage to Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). As the young Victoria herself laments, she's moved like a chess pawn by a variety of parties as she finds her footing and her voice as one of Britain's most influential rulers.

While this moving around the chess board is fairly typical territory, it is the development of Victoria's relationship with Albert that makes the film slightly more interesting. I confess: I have a degree in history with a specialization in the Victorian era, so I'm a bit attached to these figures. Despite their many flaws as rulers, Victoria and Albert were some of the first leaders devoted to improving civilization for their people. They left their legacy in the arts, in public health and education, and in Victoria's conservative views and mourning culture after Albert's death. But these things are only briefly hinted at during the film.

It is fairly well established that Victoria and Albert were not only madly in love, but held a level of respect for each other not usually seen between monarchs in arranged marriages. Even if it did occur behind the scenes, their's was certainly one of the best known. Blunt and and Friend have just the right type of chemistry to do the famous pair justice, the proper mix of restraint and desperation. It's a different love, not usually shown on screen, especially in this sort of film. It's encouraging to finally see a relationship in which man and woman are on a equal playing field.

But we don't get to see that love enough. While the filmmakers try to fit the affair amongst the political trappings, it doesn't quite build up the sort of momentum needed to keep the tension high. Also, without delving into the more advanced important public work of the pair, things feel a bit in limbo, superficial instead of intimate, and sometimes confusing. It's not as big an issue during the film, but afterward, the effects wear off rather quickly and you find yourself trying to remember what you just watched, despite the perfect performances by the leads, most noticeably Blunt who even captures the famous monarch's expressions. 

For as much as it tries, Victoria succeeds on many levels but lacks that certain sparkle that would take it from solid to classic.

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