Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Young Victoria

Lowdown: The young princess Victoria’s rises up to the challenge of becoming a monarch.
As I was watching 2009’s The Young Victoria I could picture the process that got the film makers rolling. I could see marketing people running amok, desperately trying to come up with ideas for a period drama that would appeal to women viewers and fetch money to the studio. “Give me a Pride & Prejudice, damn it!”, I could hear the department head shouting. Then, as everyone grew silent, the newest employee with nothing to lose whispered: “What about Queen Victoria?”
And thus The Young Victoria came to be: a period film designed to mix court politics, romance and beautiful period sets into something sellable. Something people would want to watch. Me, I wanted to watch it because it featured Emily Blunt, the actress that so very much impressed me recently with her performances in The Adjustment Bureau and Wild Target.
Blunt plays the young would be Queen Vicky, the sole descendant of the three sons and daughters of the previous English monarch. Victoria is protected and held, as if hostage, by her mother (Miranda Richardson) and her mother’s advisor (Mark Strong); however, she wants to grow to be her own woman. In parallel we see the would be Prince Albert, a member of a clan making up most of Europe’s monarchies (that same clan that brought you World War 1); Albert is also being groomed to be something he does not want to be, a political pawn. Can the two rise above their circumstances? Well, we know the story even without me providing any spoilers here already.
The real issue with The Young Victoria is whether this story and the elaborate period setup provides enough ammo to run a film with. I argue it doesn’t.
For a start, I couldn’t feel the least bit moved for any of the characters. Sure, Vicky has had her family issues. Big deal! She was still living in a palace with people wiping her butt for her at a time when three year olds were being groomed en masse to work as chimney cleaners with a life expectancy lower than my shoe size (as measured by American standard shoe sizes!). No, not even the inclusion of a Paul Bettany playing Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister and a potential adversary in Albert’s path to Victoria’s heart, could trigger the slightest interest.
Instead it all felt like a particularly boring movie version of something we’ve all seen many times before. Boredom is the key experience I took out of The Young Victoria: for all its elaborate settings and extravagant costumes, I could not avoid looking at my watch every couple of minutes to verify the world did not come to a halt yet.
Overall: Perhaps it’s my natural tendency to treat monarchy with contempt that’s at fault here, but I was bored shitless by The Young Victoria. 1.5 out of 5 stars.

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