If people today think of Britain's Queen Victoria at all, they probably picture the dumpling-faced matron of old photos, the prudery forever associated with her name, and her best-known quote, "We are not amused."
But the young Victoria, the subject of the new film directed by Canadian Jean-Marc Vallee, was something else entirely: feisty, social-minded, even a bit of a feminist. Victoria (Emily Blunt) was a charmer who defied her powerful mother (Miranda Richardson), her mother's advisor, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), and much of the rest of the royal establishment, choosing her own path on becoming queen at age 18 in 1837.
The teenaged Victoria is so sheltered that she's not permitted to go up or down stairs without holding an adult's hand. In fact, her first act on becoming queen is to go upstairs on her own. Blunt plays Victoria's delight at finally being free -- to the extent that she was -- with gusto tempered by subtlety.
The film centers on the courtship of Victoria and her cousin Prince Albert (Rupert Friend), son of Belgium's King Leopold. Albert is encouraged to woo and marry the princess, and he's coached on what to say to her. But despite the manipulation, the two begin to see each other's virtues, and Albert becomes Victoria's husband and the love of her life.
Still, the film (script by Julian Fellowes) doesn't gloss over the problems inherent in a marriage in which one partner holds all, or most of, the power.
The early scenes with Albert are intercut with scenes depicting Victoria's relationship with her advisor Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), whose motives verge on the shady. The machinations of the court and of English politics of the time aren't always clear, especially since the film's sound is sometimes murky -- or was in the print I saw.
But "The Young Victoria" is redeemed by such scenes as a lavish banquet, beautifully edited with long shots down the banquet table to close-ups of the participants (and the food!), as well as its glorious costumes and sets.
Whatever you do, leave before the closing music, a piece of modern schmaltz totally out of keeping with the film's subject.