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Sumptuously Anemic

By Dustin Rowles | Film | December 29, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | December 29, 2009 |

Full disclosure: I don’t typically care for period pieces, nor can I claim with any honesty that I can’t take that bias into my review of The Young Victoria. I didn’t like it — in fact, I rather hated it. But if you like Victorian period pieces, then you might feel differently, assuming that one excellent performance, great cinematography, and lots of pretty costumes are enough to satisfy you. The Young Victoria, in that respect, is more than competent — fans of watching British actors titter and scowl while wearing uncomfortable clothing will no doubt come away pleased.

But if you put a lot of stock in script, pace, drama, or tension, then you’ll come away from The Young Victoria as disappointed as you’d be, perhaps, in Avatar. The Young Victoria is a visual feast of frill — your Granny’s toilet doilies have nothing on this movie. It’s lush and extravagant period porn, glamor and sumpt rendered exquisitely enough to give you sympathetic pinching pains around your fat rolls.

But it is also painfully dull, and about as empty as a bulimic’s tummy after a festive afternoon upchuck. Save for Emily Blunt’s charismatic performance as a Young Queen Victoria (and four or five minutes with Svengalian Mark Strong (as Sir John Conroy)), The Young Victoria is inert and lifeless through the first two acts. The third act, unbelievably, is even worse — it’s tortuously slow, so much so that I briefly grew nauseatingly bored and had to look away for a few minutes, lest Jean-Marc Vallée’s draggy costume drama slow my heart rate to a halt.

Those familiar with Queen Victoria — the longest reigning monarch in the history of the British Empire — may not be particularly familiar with the details of her life preceding her coronation, but undoubtedly, anyone with even a passing interest in seeing The Young Victoria knows how it will end, which completely removes the possibility of suspense or dramatic tension. The Young Victoria picks up shortly before the Queen’s coronation — she’s not quite 18, and her uncle, King William (Jim Broadbent), is trying to hold out long enough so that she doesn’t need a Regent to manage the empire in her stead before she comes of age. In that regard, Sir John Conroy and Victoria’s mother attempt manipulate control of the situation for their own gain, and put themselves in control of the kingdom.

Meanwhile, King Leopold (Thomas Kretschmann) over in Belgium is aiming to romantically insert Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) into the life of Victoria and somehow combine the two powers politically, for his gain. However, Paul Bettany’s Lord Melbourne — the British P.M. — is also exercising a major influence over Victoria. Victoria’s coronation also coincides with the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the change in dynamics between the Crown and Parliament, which sees the Monarch’s influence begin to fade in England.

Through all the scheming, tittering, overlong dance numbers, and the occasional campy outburst, Prince Albert and Victoria eventually do come together in a very flat and unromantic manner (see also: your history book), but Julian Fellowes’ (Gosford Park) script seems less concerned with their blossoming romance and more focused on Victoria’s attempts to gain independence from both her husband and her advisors and rise as a leader in her own right, which is noble and well-intentioned, but lacks the sort of epiphanic event or occasion that might work enliven a spirit-less film.

Indeed, The Young Victoria, unlike the Queen it wants to apotheosize, is too proper and glum, and I think even the most hard core costume drama whore will have some difficulty overlooking the soggy narrative and the overwrought fussiness — despite Blunt’s beguiling turn as the Queen — to fully immerse him or herself in the beautiful costumes and set pieces, This is a movie that could’ve used zombies. Crazy-cakes fast zombies in frilly dresses, corsets, and wigs with posh British growls and a love of Schubert.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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