Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Young Victoria

The Queen

The cinematic interests in the British monarchy continues with Queen Victoria (1837 to 1901), after having seen in recent years, the efforts with Keira Knightley's The Duchess, Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth films, and Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman's take on the Boleyn sisters with The Other Boleyn Girl. More contemporary stories would include Helen Mirren's award winning portrayal of The Queen on the current reign of Queen Elizabeth II at the turn of Princess Diana's death.

Each of the films mentioned featured stunning actresses with acting gravitas (ok, so some may dispute Johansson) or were the flavour of their moment, and each film had a definitive moment in their historical character's legacy that it becomes a no brainer to have those events featured, and in fact Elizabeth had enough to span two films. However, The Young Victoria, as the title already suggests, is a lite-version of the young queen's life, and if you're looking for that definitive event, or the staple political intrigue that plague all royal households and their dealings with shady, self-serving politicians, unfortunately there's nothing of depth here.

That's not to say The Young Victoria is without. Directed by Canadian Jean-Marc Vallee (best known for C.R.A.Z.Y.) and written by Julian Fellowes, this film chronicles in very plain terms, ,the life and times of Victoria (Emily Blunt, soon becoming the new It girl) when she was a child, the troubles she faced before Coronation such as the eagerness of her mom The Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and her advisor Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) to appoint themselves as joint-Regent to her throne, as already planned for by reigning King William (Jim Broadbent). As if that wasn't enough, the political power play enters the picture with Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) being a Prime Minister-in-waiting trying to gain the trust of the new Queen, and subtly plants his own trusted allies into positions within the palace. On one hand you'd understand the need for a young, and new Queen to have trusted people in key positions, but on the other, are they really acting in her interests, or in the interests of others?

Even this angle of intrigue creeps into her romantic story with Prince Albert (Rupert Friend), where their relationship forms the bulk of the second half of the film, and pretty much everything already included in the trailers. For both, they've been brought up under the influence of others, and told each step of the way exactly what to do. Even their union may seem like a firm registration of an alliance, if not for both lovers recognizing their common need to establish their own grounding, and to do so with the help of each other. Instead of being pawns, there's this constant search and probing of opportunities to break out of stifling, and at times absurd, rules and regulations. Trust also becomes a much valued commodity, and loyalty too can be traded for wanting to set the slate clean.

However, all these themes become but a breeze through the narrative, from childhood to romance, marriage and children. In fact, there's so much fast-forwarding here, especially the last few minutes filled with inter-titles, that it actually leaves the audience wanting for more, and room of course for another movie, which I suspect would probably not see the light of day, but perhaps a television series might pick up on the film's response, and come out with a mini-series or such. It's a pity that all the effort here in ensuring the gorgeous costumes, sets and art direction would be confined to a film that's quite lightweight in theme and brief mention of issues, that they don't really challenge the protagonists in order to allow for some overcoming of character-defining adversary.

With its star-studded cast, one would expect more, but one would be left wanting more instead. Recommended for those who are ever curious about Kings and Queens in the British Monarchy, only as a complement to other more engaging stories available in the other films already mentioned.

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