Monday, January 11, 2010

Review: The Young Victoria

The Young Victoria

The Young Victoria probably just isn't my cup of tea. There's nothing really to hate here, and even a few things to like, but, alas, I find it impossible to work myself up about this piece. It's rather nice, but completely pointless.
The Young Victoria chronicles the early life of Queen Victoria (Emily Blunt), the second to last of the English Hanoverian line. The film details her early struggles with an attempted forced regency, aka giving up the throne for purposes of age, health, and experience, and later, her romance with potential suitor Albert (Rupert Friend). Together they experience many fan-waving, tea-swilling, and throne-sitting shenanigans. Which is all very well and good, but here is the signature problem for me, I suppose: I am not an Anglophile. I believe history can be incredibly interesting, or incredibly dull, depending on the treatment thereof. I simply don't have any vested interest in young Victoria going into the film, and director Jean-Marc Vallee doesn't see fit to provide me with any interest either. His touch is reverent, serious, and staid, except for a few moments in which he, for reasons unknown, decides to lift stylistic tips from music video directors. So, The Young Victoria, tonally speaking, alternates between the Victorian Recreation Skit club and Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance." While this sounds fun enough on paper, in practice it's very, very difficult to compellingly realize. Sophia Coppola chose to follow a similar pseudo-hipster music video track with Marie Antoinette. Coppola, however, had the guts to aim for straight-out anachronism, whereas Vallee's Victoria spends too much time attempting to please historical purists. What results is a strikingly uneven film.
Admittedly, Vallee doesn't get much help from the screenplay. Writer, Julian Fellowes, whose Gosford Park is one of the best screenplay in recent memory, seems at a loss for any sense of depth or interest here. Instead, he force-feeds the audience with characters explaining to the nth degree things that everyone around them already knows, whilst liberally spicing the film with nauseatingly ham-fisted symbolism ('why, they're...They're...Playing Chess!'). The Young Victoria desperately needed a script doctor, though one suspects that any visit to the doctor would result in the cinematic equivalent of euthanasia.
Films of this period can normally boast lavish technical details. Not so for The Young Victoria. The production and costume design is nice enough, I suppose, but hardly feels inspired. There's no evidence of the wicked creative flair that graced the costumes of last year's Victoria equivalent, The Duchess, nor do the sets ever feel more than hallowed locations, or, heaven forbid, community theater backdrops. The film's overall look is also rather pedestrian. And we have yet to mention the music, which is, lightly put, overbearing ('is the audience not crying yet? Turn up the STRINGS! Make them play LOUD! The STRINGS are LOUD because THIS IS SAD.').
And yet, the film doesn't fall flat on its face due to wonderful turns from the two principles, Rupert Friend and, most notably, Emily Blunt. Jim Broadbent also turns in a fantastic performance in a role that is little more than an extended cameo. Blunt and Broadbent are wonderfully talented actors, and deserve all credit for their proficiency, as I doubt the director gave them much to work with.
So there you have it. Not great. Rather disposable. Disappears immediately after viewing. There's no real reason to seek this one out, but, if you must, I suppose you won't hate it.

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