"Even a palace could be a prison," declares the woman about to inherit the throne of what was about to become the most powerful empire on earth.
As the recent films about one of her predecessors, Queen Elizabeth I, showed so well, life isn't easy for the female monarch — especially the young female monarch. Court conspirators see them as easy marks, advisers are always pushing them toward marriage and thus loss of independence, and few take their ideas seriously. Yet both women had minds of their own, resisted everyone's attempts to tame them and ended up giving their names to the eras they shaped.
"The Young Victoria" opens with teenage Victoria (Emily Blunt) anxious to become queen. It's not that she craves power or additional income — she wants freedom. The heiress's father is long dead, and her mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), and her mother's rumored lover, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), have devised a set of infamous rules known as the Kensington system to keep her under their thumbs. Victoria must spend every night sleeping in a bed beside her mother's; she can't even walk down the stairs without someone holding her hand. The rules are ostensibly for her own protection — her uncle King William IV (a delightfully bilious Jim Broadbent) is near death, so she's about to assume the crown — but the duchess is pushing Victoria to sign over her crown and make her mother regent.
Two men in Victoria's life encourage her independence — to a degree. Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), the prime minister, becomes her closest adviser once she assumes power. Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) knows what it is to feel like an outsider in your own life — though in real life, it seems it was his good looks that really won the queen's heart.
"The Young Victoria" is the luscious period production you'd expect it to be — especially with Martin Scorsese and Sarah, Duchess of York, attached as producers. Miss Blunt is convincing as both a girl falling in love for the first time and a steel-willed woman insistent on being in charge of her own — and her people's — destiny. She has great chemistry with Mr. Friend, who forcefully brings to life one of history's underrated figures.
"Gosford Park" screenwriter Julian Fellowes has cleverly constructed the script to educate the audience through educating Albert. It's not entirely accurate — but these sorts of films never are. It's also not clear why Albert speaks German to his family but Victoria does not — in reality, she did speak German to her mother.
The best lines, though, belong to Lord Melbourne, played with rakish charm by Mr. Bettany. Victoria tells him she wants to help her people. "Never try to do good, your majesty," he advises. "It always leads to terrible scrapes."
TITLE: "The Young Victoria"
RATING: PG (some mild sensuality, a scene of violence, and brief incidental language and smoking)
CREDITS: Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee. Written by Julian Fellowes.
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
WEB SITE: theyoungvictoriamovie.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS