Saturday, 23 May 2009

The Young Victoria (2009)

Playing at royalty

Before Queen Victoria was a size 50 matriarch, formidable Grandmother of Europe and the most powerful empress Britain had seen, she was an unremarkable princess whose tragedy was being the under-aged heir apparent to her uncle’s throne, and hence a powerless pawn in an aquarium of power-hungry monarchs, politicians, royals, and ambitious men.

The historical drama is 3 parts politics, 1 part romance. The intricacy of portraying power politics of Europe, the royal politics of British monarchy, and the popular politics in parliamentary Britain is tempered by the courtship of Victoria and her cousin and eventual prince consort Albert. As an impoverished minor royal, the prince is yet another pawn in the Great Game, and in a case of real life playing like a good story, the two meet, fall in love, marry, and solve their political problems.

The director's approach is commendable; in the age of trashy, sexed-up, more fictional than historical royal dramas (The Tudors, The Other Boleyn Girl) that The Young Victoria hews to decent storytelling and a reasonable level of historical accuracy. Julian Fellowes's script is respectful to its subject, and displays an ability to carry several simultaneous sub-plots coherently, a skill he last displayed to better effect in Gosford Park.

Alas, The Young Victoria is not the best that it can be. Fellowes may have turned in a competent script, but one does not attract praise for its middling performance: where the movie is a romance, it is not a captivating romance; where it is a political drama, it is not a riveting or engaging political intrigue.

This may not be the worst costume drama ever, but the researchers do make complete amateur-level howlers in their depictions of Victoria's coronation ceremony and royal protocol in the first 10 minutes of the film. In a movie where none of the actors end up speaking in an American accent, everyone speaks in too modern an English accent - and everyone except for the foreigner mispronounces the name of Lord Melbourne. This is disappointing, given that the co-producer is Fergie, Duchess of York. It's perfectly understandable why Queen Elizabeth II kept wincing during her premiere screening of the movie.

The Young Victoria is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who turned in a brilliant C.R.A.Z.Y. a few years ago. It's clear that the costume period drama is not a forte of the director, and we wish him the best in his future endeavours.

An earlier version of this review was published at incinemas on 21 May 2009

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