Victoria’s secret

Historical drama reminds us that every Queen starts out as a princess

Princess Victoria; that just doesn’t sound right somehow. When most people think of Britain’s longest reigning sovereign (63 years) they envision the plump stern-faced matron of formal black-and-white portraits. Director Jean-Marc Vallee presents a precocious strong-willed attractive teenager living in a world far far removed from the pantheon of typical Disney princesses. As the sole surviving legitimate heir to her grandfather George III the princess is surrounded by food-tasters handlers and hand-holders while under enormous pressure to sign a regency order transferring her authority to her mother and her mother’s lover the dastardly Sir John Conroy. Her teenage rebellion consists of jumping on the grand staircase and her only companion is a lap-dog spaniel named Dash. Virtually everyone around her conspires to win influence and control. “A palace can be a prison” she informs us in the opening narration.

Emily Blunt ( My Summer of Love The Devil Wears Prada Sunshine Cleaners ) shines like a diamond in the title role front and centre in virtually every scene. Her performance is deep commanding and nuanced and in the starkest possible contrast to the Victorian stereotype (no photos of the monarch predate 1844 and the effect of bearing nine children on a woman’s figure is well documented). When Victoria becomes Queen after the death of her uncle King William IV less than a month after her 18th birthday Blunt is credible regal and entirely sympathetic.

Rupert Friend is effective as the lovestruck Prince Albert Victoria’s future husband and Paul Bettany as Lord Melbourne stands as a worthy rival. The enormous supporting cast is strong and balanced. The Young Victoria was produced by a strategic alliance that partners Hollywood royal Martin Scorsese with Sarah Ferguson Duchess of York. Deserved kudos should also be extended to Julian Fellowes for his understated script and delicate balancing of historical fact and the poetic license required for blossoming onscreen romance.

Like the young queen herself the film is not perfect. The swelling strings on the soundtrack occasionally push hard into the sappy envelope and undermine the understatement (we won’t even mention the incredibly cloying Sinead O’Connor song that underpins the closing credits). Some of the film techniques such as strobing slow motion and freeze frame seem as out of place as a helicopter shot in a Samurai movie. Still these criticisms are really only nitpicking.

The Young Victoria is a beautifully rendered historical drama and an intelligent love story that may be capable of winning over even diehard cynics. It is also a reminder of the cinema’s powerful potential to bring history to life and re-create history’s makers in vivid emotive three-dimensionality.