Movie review: A cinematic peek into Victoria’s royal secrets

Al Alexander

The love affair between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert ranks as one of the greatest and most tragic romances of all time. But it took a King and a duchess to finally bring it to the screen.

And for the most part, producer Graham King (“The Departed”) and the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, succeed in giving the regal lovers their due with a requisitely opulent but deeply human treatment in “The Young Victoria.” This is the Dowager Queen like you’ve seldom seen her: young, vibrant and a bit of a brat; sort of like Fergie, whose affinity for her ex-mother-in-law’s great-great-grandmother moved her to pitch the idea to King and his frequent collaborator, Martin Scorsese.

Most of the credit, however, must go to Julian Fellowes, who brings the same mix of intrigue and insight he brought to his Oscar-winning screenplay for “Gosford Park.” The thing is rife with plotters, backstabbers and sycophants all bent on taking advantage of the teen queen, as she navigates the dangerous political waters of the time. But what strikes you is how competently Victoria runs an empire at an age when girls today are overwhelmed planning for the prom.

This is a woman with moxie and a strong sense of self, despite being kept in isolation by her controlling, power-hungry mother before assuming the throne at 18. And who better to play her than Emily Blunt, an actress who has excelled at portraying strong, obstinate women in everything from “The Devil Wears Prada” to “Sunshine Cleaning.” Blunt also possesses the intelligence and, more specifically, the presence, to make Victoria’s fearlessness convincing, while providing glimpses of the vulnerability that made her so confused in matters of the heart.

And what confused her was the very real possibility that she could trust no one, not even her mother, the Duchess of Kent (a deliciously deviant Miranda Richardson), who unsuccessfully conspired with her consort, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), to trick Victoria into allowing them to be her proxy until her 25th birthday.

Victoria’s uncle King Leopold of Belgium was no less devious in his manipulations, dispatching his son Albert (Rupert Friend) to London to woo her, but not until he’d been well coached in Victoria’s likes and dislikes to help him nefariously win her hand.

In the middle of his charade, however, a funny thing happens when Albert starts falling in love with Victoria for real. So much so that he defies his father’s orders and refuses to pursue her any further unless summoned back to London by his beloved.

The rest, as they say, is history. But their romance is anything but smooth, which the movie focuses on in depicting how a queen devoid of trust in anyone but her closest adviser, Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), must learn to believe in her husband and share the throne equally.

The only problem is that director Jean-Marc Vallee (“C.R.A.Z.Y.”) never makes the romance as fascinating as the politics and all the scheming and dealing that goes with them. It’s a flaw made more obvious by Friend’s lackluster portrayal of Albert, a man who was so dynamic that Victoria spent the last 40 years of her reign grief stricken after his death at age 42.

If you’re going to carry a torch that long, the guy better be a little more worthy than Friend makes him appear. But he does share a chemistry with Blunt that makes it all work.

Still, you wish Friend’s Albert possessed even half of the dynamism Jim Broadbent brings to the pivotal role of King William IV, the cantankerous but gravely ill uncle from whom Victoria inherits the throne in 1838. If you think him to be a bit over the top, perish the thought, because William was every bit the character Broadbent presents him to be.

In fact, the entire production is almost slavishly accurate. But then the story is so juicy on its own, it doesn’t require the usual Hollywood accoutrements. You just wish it displayed a little more depth and detail concerning the queen’s relationships with her family, advisers, subjects and most of all, Albert.

Not only did they have nine children together, they also reformed the way the crown ruled, incorporating policies aimed at feeding and housing the poor, as well as several other social programs that no previous monarch dared approach.

It’s a philosophy that has since carried down through the ensuing generations. And that includes Sarah Ferguson, who is so much like Victoria (sans the long marriage) that it’s obvious why she identifies so closely with a ruler who was ruled by her heart.

The Patriot Ledger

THE YOUNG VICTORIA (PG-13 for sexual situations.) Cast includes Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent and Mark Strong. Directed by Jean-marc Vallee. 3 stars out of 4.