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Victoria's Secret

The Young Victoria (2009)

Liam Daniel/Apparition

“The Young Victoria” breaks no new ground in the realm of period pieces. It’s concerned — as have been many of its predecessors with royals as subjects — with the burdens of monarchy such as the pressures to produce an heir, confront complex palace intrigue and find a way to connect with the outside world.

Yet it’s a work of high, refined craft from director Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriter Julian Fellowes. With an appropriate emphasis on the quieter drama beneath the magisterial splendor and Emily Blunt’s terrific, empathetic performance as Queen Victoria, it achieves the challenging feat of making a narrative set in the early 19th century seem wholly contemporary, without needless stylistic quirks or anachronisms. Ms. Blunt’s performance succeeds because she makes the ultimate icon relatable, playing the longest reigning British monarch with the vulnerability and unease of anyone forced into a difficult position before he or she ready.

The film begins with her coronation in 1837, spurred by the death of King William IV (Jim Broadbent) and his adamant refusal to authorize a regency through which her mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), and her adviser John Conroy (Mark Strong), could rule as the teenage Victoria matured. From there, it depicts the conniving, backstabbing and complex blend of feelings and personalities that comprised her court during its earliest years.

The movie takes a low-key approach to the drama, forgoing the bombast of Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth” for a restrained portrait without show stopping monologues, heightened deviousness and a painterly, melodramatic aesthetic. Light pours into Buckingham Palace, which seems less like a collection of archetypes than a living, breathing residence/place of business. Only during Victoria’s coronation does the filmmaker employ the characteristically rousing, low-angle long shots that depict the majesty and spectacle inherent in employing, arguably, the world’s most important position.

The romance that develops between Victoria and Prince Albert (Rupert Friend), her cousin and eventual husband, has a similarly earnest, restrained quality that’s spurred by the sincerity both actors ably project. They don’t seem to be putting on airs or engaging in games of willful deception. Whatever extra motivations play into Albert’s initial drive for Victoria fade as the tenderness of first, true love develops between them. That relationship at the picture’s core further underlines the movie’s fundamental appeal: its convincing depiction of regular people trying to live ordinary lives in the most extraordinary of settings.


Opened on Dec. 18 in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée; written by Julian Fellowes; director of photography, Hagen Bogdanski; edited by Jill Bilcock and Matt Garner; music by Ilan Eshkeri; production designer, Patrice Vermette; produced by Graham King, Martin Scorsese, Tim Headington and Sarah Ferguson; released by Apparition. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. This film is rated PG.

WITH: Emily Blunt (Queen Victoria), Rupert Friend (Prince Albert), Paul Bettany (Lord Melbourne), Miranda Richardson (Duchess of Kent), Jim Broadbent (King William), Thomas Kretschmann (King Leopold), Mark Strong (Sir John Conroy), Jesper Christensen (Baron Stockmar) and Harriet Walter (Queen Adelaide).


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