Sarah Ferguson, the ex-wife of Prince Andrew, had a hand in the making of "The Young Victoria." And it shows.
Victoria says something about how a palace can be a prison. You could imagine Ferguson saying something like that. You could also sense the latter-day duchess' wistful admiration of the perfect match Queen Victoria found in Prince Albert.
Perhaps she even yearned for the Victorian era, an era that valued morals and protocol more than we do now. Perhaps Sarah wondered how she herself would have done, in a different time, under different stars.
The romance between Victoria and Albert is at the center of this beautifully filmed and acted movie, and it is what makes it worth watching. Panoramic shots of Buckingham Palace, gardens and countrysides are all well and good, but not as much fun as this love affair.
The Victoria/Albert romance began as an arranged match, under the eyes of many. Prince Albert is briefed on Victoria's likes (Bellini operas) and dislikes (Schubert, whose music he loves).
It's hilarious to see Albert begin to court the princess. When he says he enjoys "I Puritani," it rings false. After a series of missteps, he takes a deep breath and decides to be himself. "I . . . I like Schubert," he declares. "I hear that you do not."
She looks up. "I don't mind Schubert," she smiles.
That is when they click.
A few measures of Schubert's smoldering "Serenade" subsequently weave their way in and out of the movie. Not enough, to tell you the truth. They could have made a stronger statement with this heart-stopping music. But so often, watching other period movies like the recent "Bright Star," about poet John Keats, I have wondered why they make so little use of the music of the time. "The Young Victoria" makes an effort.
There are magical moments. A glimpse of Albert walking in, handsome as the day, with two sleek, graceful German dogs in tow was breathtaking -- you could hear people sigh. And when the pair decide to get married, it rivals any other proposal I have seen, in "Much Ado About Nothing," say, or "Emma." This is high praise. I am a connoisseur.
Rupert Friend is a ringer for Albert and radiates the loyalty and intelligence the German prince seems to have had in real life.
Emily Blunt, while more beautiful than Victoria was in real life, captures the queen's presence -- not an easy thing to do -- and has Victoria's sweet, pretty features. Near the end, her profile has the softness, the touch of a double chin, that make you foresee the matronly monarch.
There is only one problem with Victoria and Albert's romance, and that is that it makes everything else seem like so much frou-frou. The machinations of Lord Melbourne grow tiresome. So does Victoria's controlling German mother, the Duchess of Kent, played by Miranda Richardson.
Historical facts are oversimplified, and, I suspect, bent. I have a problem with historical films: I no longer trust the filmmakers to tell me the truth. They always have an agenda. In the case of "The Young Victoria," there is a lot of talk of reform, the poor and the homeless. They actually use that phrase, "the homeless." I know Prince Albert supported the arts, and that he and Victoria were concerned with the poor. Still, it all sounds just too slick, modern and liberal.
There is just one more sin but alas, it is a big one. At the end of the movie, after all that atmosphere, they blow it all with a silly pop song. It's out of place and a heinous artistic mistake.
Where is Schubert when you need him? Where is Mendelssohn? He was Victoria's favorite composer, and one of his shining melodies would been perfect.
I suspect that the Queen, wherever she is, is not amused.
THE YOUNG VICTORIA
3 stars (out of 4)
STARRING: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Jim Broadbent, Mark Strong
DIRECTOR: Jean-Marc Vallee
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
RATING: PG for mild sensuality, a scene of violence, and brief incidental language and smoking.
THE LOWDOWN: A dramatization of the turbulent first years of Queen Victoria's rule.