movies

God Save the Queen

The Young VictoriaA friend threatened the other day to send me royal paraphernalia as a birthday gift this year. It seems that I have inadvertently exposed myself as a bit of a connoisseur of royal history, perhaps owing to my 20+ year interest in the end of the Romanov dynasty of Imperial Russia. Truth be told, I have little interest and no small amount of disdain for current European royalty, particularly the Windsors of Great Britain. That a royal family seems archaic and unnecessary in our modern world probably goes without saying, but nonetheless, the history of these families remains a source of endless fascination. Were it not for the interactions (and subsequent inter-marrying) of the ruling houses of Europe, many of the geographical and socio-political boundaries that existed in the past, and indeed continue to exist to this day in many cases, would be vastly different.

Nowhere is this more true than in the case of Queen Victoria, the matriarch of a large clan of nine children and the ruler of Great Britain and all its holdings in the 19th century. Born Alexandrina Victoria in 1819 to Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent and his wife Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld,  she was the only surviving child of the sons of King George III, and as such was the heiress to the British throne.

Upon the death of her predecessor, King William IV (her uncle), Victoria ascended to the throne. This is the period chronicled in The Young Victoria. It is while Victoria is young and untested that she meets and falls in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who was her first cousin.

Victoria would go on to become the longest reigning ruler in history, on the throne for over 63 years until her death in 1901. Certainly, there are many stories to be told about her rule, but The Young Victoria focuses on the loneliness and isolation that Victoria felt as she began her rule, and the love that grew between her and Albert. As such, the film has an intimate feel that is complimented by the lush visual treatment it receives. Quite simply, this is a beautiful film. This is true in its casting as well, with Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) giving a fine performance as Victoria, Rupert Friend (most memorable as the dastardly Wickham in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice) charming audiences as Albert, and Paul Bettany, who portrays the British Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (a.k.a. William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne) who became a great friend and mentor to the young Victoria.

Emily Blunt is naturally the centre of the film, and she makes the most of it, giving a charming and deft performance. One particularly illuminating scene comes late in the film, after Victoria and Albert have married and he is struggling to find his place in her life, under her rule. When Albert asserts himself, it cannot come without stepping on his Queen’s toes, and their subsequent falling out is a wonderfully acted scene by both but particularly by Blunt, who conveys the conflict Victoria feels between establishing her own control and allowing her husband to establish his with great conviction. Blunt’s deft handling of the role along with her luminosity transcend the film.

Victoria and Albert’s nine children and their subsequent progeny became the rulers of most of Europe, including Russia (in fact, it is from Victoria’s lineage that her granddaughter, the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna — formerly Alix of Hesse — passed on haemophilia to her only son, the Tsarevich Alexei), Germany, Romania, Belgium, Norway, (the former) Yugoslavia,  Denmark, Portugal, Greece and Spain. Certainly, there is much for filmmakers to mine in Victoria’s personal story as well as those of her descendants, and on that front, The Young Victoria is unfulfilling. But while there is nothing controversial about The Young Victoria, it serves as a satisfactory introduction to the rich, often tumultuous history of European royalty.

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