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The Young Victoria

Sarah Tierney finds a new respect for royalty

Published on March 12th 2009.


The Young Victoria

“I can't marry the man they want me to marry,” a contrary Queen Victoria tells one of her ladies-in-waiting about half way through this film.

She's talking about Prince Albert who her uncle, the King of Belgium, is desperately trying to manoeuvre into her heart and her powerful household.

But we all know that she does marry Albert. And we know that their partnership was a happy one with plenty of babies to carry on the royal lineage. Which makes you wonder where the story is in this regal romance? Whereas most young lovers on celluloid have to overcome all manner of barriers before they can be united, Victoria is introduced to Albert – the man they want her to marry – and very conveniently falls in love.

It means that rather than heartbreak and hysterics, we get a gentle, quiet love story which will either bore or beguile you, depending on your disposition.

I was beguiled. There's something refreshing about watching an on-screen romance based on friendship and mutual respect rather than sparring and sexual chemistry (though whether the lovers, played by Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend, intended it that way is unclear).

With his floppy hair and whispy moustache, Friend makes a boyish and utterly unthreatening Albert. Earnest, grounded and goodhearted, he's a safe haven within the sea of sharks surrounding Victoria. The kind of man your mother would choose for you – if she wasn't the Duchess of Kent.

Because although Victoria may not have a turbulent romantic life to deal with, she has got the family from hell. Her mother, the aforementioned Duchess, is a weak-willed meddler who won't allow her daughter to walk down the stairs unaided but is quite happy to let her be pushed around by the power-hungry Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong).

He's just one of a gaggle of men out to manipulate the young head of state, with the Prime Minister Lord Melbourne the most successful at bending Victoria to his will. Played by a suave, charismatic Paul Bettany, he charms his way into her confidence. He's the biggest threat to her relationship with Albert, and with the people of Britain: they don't appreciate such close links between Parliament and the Palace.

Whereas the romance between Victoria and Albert is admirably mild and crisis-free (you never actually believe she's going to choose the older PM over him), the political drama is much more pacey. Victoria is plotted against, heckled, and even shot at by one of her subjects, prompting Albert to leap in front of the bullet to save her. Apparently, this last part – Albert's heroic dive – didn't actually happen. Its misguided inclusion is a sure sign that director Jean-Marc Valleé was worried his film (and his leading man) weren't exciting enough without it.

I'd disagree. This isn't an exciting film but despite its watery narrative, it is enjoyable. The publicity posters of a bare-shouldered Victoria suggest we'll be led into the sex-heavy, strongly-plotted territory of the BBC's The Tudors, but there's little action here – four poster or otherwise.

Instead, we get our entertainment from watching an initially uncertain girl learn how to use her power and make a success of her marriage and her role. It's not the stuff of great drama but it does capture what made Victoria a great queen.

6/10

The Young Victoria (PG) is on general release now.

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