Special Photo: Apparition. Emily Blunt portrays Queen Victoria, right, and Rupert Friend portrays Prince Albert in a scene from "The Young Victoria."
The Young Victoria
2 out of 4 stars
All one needs to do to figure out that this film isn't a full-blown biography of the world's longest-reigning female monarch is to check out the title.
In a manner akin to that of the Oscar-winning movie about Elizabeth II ("The Queen"), "The Young Victoria" covers only a scant sliver in the life of a woman that survived multiple assassination attempts, gave birth to nine children and lived to the ripe age of 81.
The last British Monarch to have any real clout regarding foreign and domestic policy, Victoria, like Elizabeth II, had the crown thrust upon her at a tender age yet despite some early turbulence became quite skilled as a political wrangler and horse-trader.
None of Victoria's many administrative accomplishments are mentioned in director Jean-Marc Vallee gorgeously framed but largely hallow new film that suggests a dry episode of "Masterpiece Theater" by way of a high-gloss daytime soap opera.
Easily the prettiest of the nearly 100 women to portray the plain-Jane Victoria in movies or on TV, the immensely talented Emily Blunt gets her real first shot at a solo leading role, but it's clear Vallee cast her for her looks and not her considerable wit and edge.
In "My Summer of Love," "Sunshine Cleaning," "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Charlie Wilson's War," Blunt displayed tremendous range and a visual shorthand that is far beyond the capabilities of most actresses. Here, Vallee hamstrings Blunt to such a degree she hardly registers. Given the low aspirations of the story, edge is probably the last thing the filmmakers wanted.
Even though she was personally adored by her uncle, William IV (Jim Broadbent), the King showed little faith in Victoria's future governing abilities and saw to it she would be "handled" after his death. To that end, William chose the brash and scheming Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) to delegate from the shadows, but William, Conroy, Victoria's estranged mother (Miranda Richardson) and scores of Prime Ministers all underestimated Victoria's iron will and steely resolve.
As in real life, the film version of Victoria's husband and first cousin Albert (Rupert Friend) is given little to do. Attractive in his own way as Blunt but an acting lightweight, Friend ("Cheri") pouts a great deal while delivering his few lines in a pathetically lame Belgian accent and looks like a 19th century Abercrombie & Fitch model.
Given equal time with the political subplots is the courtship of Victoria by Albert and it goes hand in glove with the rest of the film. It's nice to look at but is sorely lacking in substance. Based on what's been written about them, the couples' marriage like most royal couplings was at least partially arranged and was severely lacking in steam or passion. Perhaps without trying or intending to do so, Vallee presents this portion of the story with amazing accuracy.
What would make for a far more interesting movie or HBO series is the years following Albert's early death at 41 and the far more colorful lives of Victoria's children and grandchildren, one of whom later became the wife of Czar Nicholas II of Russia. (Apparition)