January 14, 2010

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The Young Victoria (PG)
Get your corseted, repressed-emotions fairy princess romance fix in the macaron-light The Young Victoria, a sweet delight starring Emily Blunt.

By the time poor Princess Victoria is old enough to be played by Emily Blunt, she’s suffered through a childhood that is lonely, strange and full of pressure about the royal position that she’s set to inherit. Her mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), and the manager of her mother’s household, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), who is also probably her mother’s boyfriend, are forever trying to control her in hopes that she’ll sign over a regency to them, essentially making Conroy (via the Duchess) acting monarch until Victoria comes of age. Their plan, however, only makes her hate them and, when her uncle the king finally goes to that great throne room in the sky, spunky Victoria is all about telling her mother to back off. And, double-backfire, she heads straight to the counsel of Conroy’s political enemies, led by Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), with whom she agrees politically and who is — and hasn’t this always been helpful in politics regardless of what system your country operates under — dreamy.

But Victoria’s rubberband snap away from her mother’s influence might just be a little too much — a monarch, after all, can’t be completely beholden to one party. Oh what to do. “Believe in yourself” is the advice of the handsome young German royal Prince Albert (Rupert Friend), who has been coached by his family to be the perfect mate for her. When they meet, however, ta-da! — he finds he really likes her for herself, not just her title and the benefit to his family and all that. And they fall in love and live happily ever after.

Until World War I.

But this movie is about the early 19th-century happy part, not the early 20th-century all-her-grandchildren-try-to-kill-each-other part. It’s all carriages and hats and blush-inducing letters here. This movie more or less has to succeed or fail completely on Blunt. Well, if you’re going to have your one actress make the movie, she’s — in this situation at least — the one you want; casting her was a perfect choice. She’s charming — the right amount of smart and human. We like her, we want her to be her own woman and we want her to be happy. And when it happens — as absolutely expected and unsurprising as it is — it really is a joy to watch. (And no, I didn’t spoiler alert anything here — I would hope that sixth-grade history class had already spoiled the outcome for you.)

This movie isn’t great; it doesn’t have the epic sweep and Shakespearean drama of, say, Elizabeth. But it is greatly enjoyable to watch and solidly worthwhile as an entry in the “romantic movie” genre. Ahem, Leap Year, this is how you do it right. B

Rated PG for some mild sensuality, a scene of violence and brief incidental language and smoking. Directed by Jean-Marc Valle and written by Julian Fellowes, The Young Victoria is an hour and 44 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Apparition.