'The Young Victoria'
Which isn't to suggest that "Young Victoria" is sophomoric -- anything but. What filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee has done in this delicious historical romance is capture that hot blush of pure emotion that comes before kisses, sex and heartbreak. Vallee understands the power in the promise of things to come.
We've had so many Elizabeths and Henrys entertaining us in recent years, you might wonder if another costume drama on the British monarchy would feel tired. Again, the answer would be no. Much of the credit has to go to the film's two stars, Blunt and Rupert Friend as the equally young Belgian Prince Albert. They have been given a lot to work with since, despite the era, Victoria and Albert are a couple with modern problems. She has to ask him to marry her, rules of the court; she makes more than he ever will, perks of the crown; she wears the crown in the family, luck of the draw.
Blunt and Friend make the most of the inherent tension in their role reversals and their relative youth. It all plays out a bit like their first waltz in front of the entire court, so intent on each other you feel as if you want to be careful not to intrude, yet you can't look away. Vallee makes the most of that electricity, lingering at all the right moments, content to let things smolder. Even the brief hesitation as they walk up a staircase, looks exchanged, nothing said, is filled with portent.
Julian Fellowes' excellent script is inspired as much for what it doesn't do -- that would be long recountings of historical details to bore you and lots of bodice-ripping to tease you. Fellowes ("Gosford Park") reveals the humanity of his subjects, whether pawns or players in the high-stakes world of empire building.
That less-is-more sensibility proves to be one of the strengths of "The Young Victoria." For all the lush opulence of the period given us by costume and production designers Sandy Powell and Patrice Vermette, respectively, what we see through cinematographer Hagen Bogdanski's lens is beautifully spare -- great stretches of manicured lawns, palace hallways that seem to have no end -- a choice that complements Victoria's often solitary life.
As Albert was for his queen -- the smartest adviser and most loyal ally she would ever have -- Friend is for Blunt. He gives her enough space to create a star turn while holding his own. Their chemistry is such that you sense their passion and playfulness whether a romp in bed or on horseback, rain-soaked by a summer storm. Together they create a couple that could become like Tracy and Hepburn, one you'll want to see again. But until then, "The Young Victoria" was a great place to start.