Jean-Marc Vallée’s take on Queen Victoria’s late teen years is a strangely diffident movie despite its lush costumes, faithfully reproduced sitting rooms and all the usual pomp that necessarily overloads British pieces. There’s enough going on visually to keep you attentive. But a nice set of drapes and a striking ballgown or two are not enough to provide this interesting love story any serious heft or insight.
Emily Blunt plays the young woman who would go on to rule England for more than 60 years, and while she’s not exactly miscast, she seems almost too modern for the part. Nor does she display any of the ferocity Cate Blanchett brought to the similar role of Queen Elizabeth. Blanchett was believable as a fiery young queen; Blunt — so engaging in more contemporary roles — just seems like an actress in a crown.
Victoria’s blossoming as a woman and a monarch is further hindered by usually reliable screenwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Vanity Fair), who doesn’t provide us with many clues into her character. We get a crash course in British political intrigue (apparently having all your ladies-in-waiting from one political party is a bad idea). But we have no idea why this pampered, isolated young woman — who isn’t even allowed to walk down or up stairs without someone holding her hand — has at 17 the fire to refuse relinquishing power to her mother (Miranda Richardson) and her advisor (Mark Strong).
True to the desires of her uncle the king (Jim Broadbent), Victoria is duly crowned. But more intriguing than the palace politics that soon erupt is her budding romance with Prince Albert (Rupert Friend of Chéri), who sees something in Victoria beyond just the royal trappings but can’t propose to her because one always allows the queen to do the asking. Victoria is shrewd and recognizes a kindred spirit in the ambitious young man, and so, in a charmingly awkward moment, she asks.
The film is best in the scenes where tension ebbs and flows between Victoria and Albert as they adjust to a very public marriage — a difficult chore in itself — and learn to rule a nation without being swayed from their aims by such savvier politicians as Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany). Unfortunately, as the film begins to pick up narrative steam and their relationship deepens, it ends abruptly. Vallée tries to recreate the beginning of a magnificent era but doesn’t give himself enough time to do so effectively.
Cast: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent.
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée.
Screenwriter: Julian Fellowes.
Producers:: Sarah Ferguson, Tim Headington, Graham King, Martin Scorcese.
An Apparition release. Running time: 100 minutes. Mild sensuality, one scene of violence, brief incidental language. Playing at: In Miami-Dade: Sunset, South Beach; Broward: Gateway, Sunrise; Palm Beach: Delray.