I love British period dramas and adore Emily Blunt, so put the two together and I expect an enjoyable movie experience. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. Not only is it a gorgeous movie to look at, but also believably-acted by both Emily in the title role, as well as Rupert Friend as Albert.
A bit of a background on the period where the movie is set: The year is 1837, when 17-year-old Victoria is the object of a royal power struggle. Being the heir to the throne her dying uncle, King William, Victoria is sheltered from the court by two people she despise: her domineering mother The Duchess of Kent, and her appointed regent Conroy (whose task is to administer a country because the monarch is a minor). The one person she relies on is her doting governess Lehzen, who also practically smothers her.
Ever since she was little, Victoria always felt imprisoned in her own palace, and it’s easy to see why. She can’t even come down the stairs without an adult holding her hand. So she lives a lonely life with a huge burden on her shoulder that her time to rule England is soon approaching. Miles away, her cousin Albert, the nephew of Victoria’s uncle King Leopold of Belgium has been constantly coached to win her hand. Given her upbringing, the young queen is naturally reluctant to the idea of marriage, weary of being under someone else’s control again. Albert shares that sentiment, as he too is controlled by those in power around him. Perhaps it’s that understanding that lead to an unlikely friendship between the two, and allows Victoria to be honest to Albert about her feelings and grievances. The scene when the two are playing chess together shows how Albert doesn’t seek to be the husband that ‘play the game for her, but instead to play it with her.’ It could’ve been a sly line Albert’s been versed to say all his life, but it’s delivered in such an earnest way that we the audience, along with Victoria sitting in front of him, take his words to heart. It doesn’t hurt that Friend, with his mild-mannered demeanor and convincing German accent, is so darn appealing in a wholesome kind of way.
When King William finally dies and Victoria is crowned Queen of England (in a breathtaking coronation), Victoria takes no time to banish her mother and Conroy to a remote apartment near Buckingham Palace. But it doesn’t mean she’s ‘free’ now as she immediately cuddles up to the charming but rather self-serving Lord Melbourne, England’s PM and sole advisor. For a time, the people loved their new queen, but not too long later, a conflict with Melbourne’s opponent Robert Peel painted her as being against the public’s will. That’s the time when Victoria realized how much she needed Albert’s support.
Amidst all that volatile political happenings, the heart of the film is the sweeping love story, as the poster tag line says: She was the queen of an empire, but her heart belonged to one man. She’s obviously more lucky in love than her distant cousin Queen Elizabeth I who’s known as the Virgin Queen (more recently played by Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth). The best part is, she need not have to wait for Albert to ask for her hand, as being the ruler of an empire means she gets to do the proposing!
It’s to be expected that any kind of Hollywood biopics usually take liberty with the historical facts, and this one is no different. In fact, this Telegraph UK article reported that the Queen isn’t amused by the inaccuracies depicted in the film, especially regarding the assassination attempt as the newlyweds were riding through the streets in a carriage. I can’t help wonder if the fact that this movie was co-produced by the Duchess of York (a.k.a Fergie) — along with Martin Scorsese — has something to do with the Queen’s feelings towards the movie. In any case, this extra dose of dramatization adds some vigor and suspense to an otherwise plodding pace, but also reminds us that this movie is more of a romantic drama than a historical narrative.
The script by Julian Fellowes (who won Oscar for Gosford Park) is able to make the slow-burn romance and background story quite engaging as I wasn’t bored at all the entire time. When there’s not much action going on, I can feast my eyes in the beautiful cinematography of posh palaces, blinding jewels and sumptuous costumes. But all in all, the movie works largely due to Emily and Rupert’s enchanting performances, as the movie’s pace practically picks up when the two are together on screen. Emily at the age of 26 looks amazingly believable as a teen with her radiant face and flawless skin. She also makes the young queen relatable and someone regular folks can actually empathize with — she’s strong but vulnerable, no doubt a daunting task for any actress. Rupert as Albert shows a nice balance between being agreeable and resolute, as despite his meekness, he reasonably demands to be treated as his wife’s partner and equal.
The largely British cast are also fabulous all around, most notably Jim Broadbent as King William, Miranda Richardson as Victoria’s mother, Paul Bettany as Melbourne and Mark Strong as Conroy. But having seen Strong as the sneeringly evil Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes, I feel he’s in danger of being typecast in villainous role (He’s reportedly in talks to play yet another villain in The Green Lantern). It’s too bad if that’s the case, as I quite like his whimsical side in Rocknrolla.
This marks the second movie about Queen Victoria I thoroughly enjoy. The first one is Mrs. Brown, starring Judi Dench and Billy Connolly. That movie takes place after the death of her beloved Albert, causing her to disappear from the public in mourning. That is until her Scottish servant John Brown helped nursed her back to life. Dame Judi Dench delivered a superior performance that no doubt merit her Best Actress Oscar.
4 out of 5 reels
What are your thoughts about this movie?