The Young Victoria | Jean-Marc Vallée
By now, whenever I hear about a royalty costume drama, I can tell what the major plot points will be. There will be a power struggle, a forbidden romance, a love triangle, a birth, and an assassination attempt. So, when I see a movie of this kind, I don’t necessarily judge it based on its ploy, unless it completely gets in the way. I like to judge it in terms of the quality of the filmmaking, from the script, to the makeup. Looking at the last costume dramas that have won the Oscar for Best Costume Desing, I’ve only liked two of them. Marie Antoinette was very creative in its production design and costumes, and it featured a great performance from Kristen Dunst. The Duchess while it had a less interesting story, the darker mood, the lavish production, and the performances from Kiera Knightley and Ralph Fiennes make it worth watching. As for the others, Elizabeth: The Golden Age was as dull as it could be and was a disappointment given the greatness of the first movie. And The Young Victoria was also a disappointment given what I had hoped Emily Blunt would do with the role.
The Young Victoria, as you might have guessed it, takes on the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. The movie starts some time before she becomes queen. She is almost 18, but her mom (Miranda Richardson) and the controller of her state (Mark Strong), want her to sign a form of Regency, which would allow her mom to rule the kingdom until Victoria was ready, but in reality he would be the one ruling. Then there is her uncle the king of Belgium who wants to have the English armed forces at his disposal, so he trains his nephew (Rupert Friend) to woo Victoria so that he can get what he wants. What follows is a power struggle, a love story, a child birth, and an assassination attempt.
The reason why this movie failed to reach my expectations mostly comes from the script. Jullian Fellow wrote the wonderful Gosford Park but here he delivered a very by-the-numbers script where none of his characters or his situations are well developed, in fact I did not care about what would happen to any of them. Jean Marc-Vallée’s direction didn’t help either. He sticks to close to the script most of the time, so when he tries to add some style, it feels out of place. Then there is the production. The art direction is nice, but unoriginal. The score and the cinematography are of the cookie-cutter kind. And Sandy Powell’s costmes are not as good as one would hope from a movie such as this. The seem rather bland. She did not deserve to win an Oscar the same year that Bright Star, Coco Avant Chanel, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus were nominated. Hopefully the Academy will listen to Powell’s acceptance speech and start nominating and rewarding more contemporary costumes.
As for the performances, there are only three worth mentioning: Jim Broadbent, Rupert Friend, and Emily Blunt. Broadbent seemed to have a lot of fun in his role, and he inject some needed energy to the dull first part. Friend easily give the best performance in the movie. He is very convincing, and I did believe his emotions, despite the fact that the way the character was written should not have allowed me to do so. From Blunt, I was expecting a break-through performance a la Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth but she did not deliver. She is not bad, but she did not command the screen in the same way that Blanchett did. Hell, she didn’t even command the screen as well as she did in The Devil Wears Prada.
The Young Victoria offered an interesting story, but the script did not allow it to rise above failed costume dramas. It is not horrible, but it seemed that not even its actors were very interested in the project. Let’s hope this year’s batch of costume dramas deliver more than this did.