This is my third review for the 2010 Period Drama Challenge hosted by Lights, Camera…History!
“Some people are born more fortunate than others,” says Victoria (played by Emily Blunt) in a voiceover at the beginning of the film, but she doesn’t feel fortunate. The teenage Princess is controlled by a strict set of rules implemented by her mother, The Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), and her household comptroller Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong). These rules forbid her from sleeping in a room without her mother and from walking down a flight of stairs without an escort to hold her hand. Despite Conroy’s attempts to force the seventeen-year-old Victoria to sign a regency order, which would allow the Duchess of Kent to reign for her underage daughter, Victoria stubbornly refuses to sign away her crown. When she reaches her eighteenth birthday the order becomes obsolete and upon the death of her Uncle King William IV (Jim Broadbent), she is crowned Queen.
Victoria initially delights in the new freedom that being Queen brings, refusing to see Sir John Conroy and having the Duchess’ bed moved from her room. Although pressure is placed on her to marry, she is unwilling to give up her newfound independence and delays a decision, turning instead to the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), for advice. Victoria’s unwillingness to lose Melbourne turns public opinion against her though and the Queen decides that she is ready for a partner who will “play the game with” her. This partner is Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Rupert Friend), with whom she falls deeply in love. Both have been pawns in their families’ political aspirations though, and both are strong-willed, resulting in an inevitable clash of character.
Victoria really did interfere with politics by refusing to appoint Tory-affiliated ladies of the bedchamber. The “bedchamber crisis”, as it was dubbed, occurred when Lord Melbourne, the Whig Prime Minister she had become close friends with, resigned from government. Sir Robert Peel, a Tory, was given a chance to form a government but the Queen had appointed Melbourne’s choices as her ladies of the bedchamber, all of whom came from prominent Whig families. She refused to let some of these ladies be replaced with Tory choices, citing her royal prerogative to retain ladies regardless of their political affiliations. Peel believed that this refusal meant he did not have the Queen’s confidence and refused to form a government. The result was that Victoria kept Melbourne in government as her Prime Minister but was criticized mercilessly by the press and hissed at by the people, who called her “Mrs. Melbourne”.
The Young Victoria also depicts King William’s speech at his birthday dinner in which he denounced the Duchess of Kent for her behaviour and for keeping her daughter away from court. Not only is this true, but some of the speech is quoted word for word from what the King reportedly said! The difference lies in the aftermath. In the film the Duchess storms out and Victoria just appears upset, but in reality, Victoria burst into tears and the Duchess remained in the room, sitting next to the King at that so one imagines it made for an awkward meal!
On a lighter note, there is a brief scene in which the Duke of Wellington uses a yo-yo. Much to my surprise, the Duke was reportedly an enthusiast of the toy, although it was then known as a ‘quiz’ or a ‘bandalore’ rather than a ‘yo-yo’.
Although The Young Victoria portrays him as a seducer, it’s worth noting that Lord Melbourne was forty years Victoria’s senior, an age few would guess at in the film given Paul Bettany’s youthful makeup and costuming. Victoria never knew her father and Lord Melbourne had lost his child so it is likely that their relationship was more paternal than romantic.
The only large change comes in an assassination attempt made late in the film that I suspect was added as a dramatic way for Albert and Victoria to reconcile after an argument. Albert is shot defending his wife in the scene and Victoria tearfully reaffirms her love. Although many attempts were made on Victoria’s life throughout her sixty-three year reign, Albert was never wounded during one.
Additionally, Leopold, King of the Belgians, is depicted as a rather one-note schemer. While he certainly did train his nephew to woo Victoria, he was also Victoria’s favourite Uncle and a great influence on her.
My mother, the Grammarian, kindly went to see the film with me even though she doesn’t share my passion for history and she enjoyed it. Part of The Young Victoria‘s appeal is that it has something for everyone. Yes it’s a romance and a period piece, but it also has politics and characters who are relatable in the modern age. It’s largely historically accurate and features stunning costumes and a great cast. Some have criticized Emily Blunt for not looking enough like the Queen, but she has Victoria’s stubbornness and her charms completely. In my opinion, it is Rupert Friend who is the real star of the movie though. His Albert is a Prince that any girl would be glad to have by her side and is obviously loving, but also displays human flaws, showing frustration when he must wait for Victoria to choose him and at her dependence on “Lord M”.
The Young Victoria is a wonderful film that I would recommend to anyone.