Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Young Victoria

This movie took me admittedly by surprise. I went into it expecting yet another period piece about "how fabulous it is to be a rich woman in pre-Industrial Britain". But, thankfully, that turned out to have little to do with The Young Victoria. Consequently, this film now ranks as my favorite period piece about a well-to-do woman in England's colonial times.

Growth and Confidence

The Young Victoria is the story of, well, the young Queen Victoria of Great Britain, how she came to the throne, her early reign, and her romance-then-marriage with Prince Albert. What makes this a compelling film is how this journey is depicted, how well the actors/actresses fit their roles, and how Victoria is truly one of the most impressive role models for a strong and empowered woman that I have ever seen.

Victoria's youth was tumultuous, and the chaos of her younger years is clearly evident within the film. When her father died without a male heir, Victoria was immediately regarded as inferior and inexperienced. Very few people considered the possibility of her ruling without destroying the country. As a consequence, two blood relatives of the late king decided to compete and see if they could force Victoria to sign away her powers to them, to allow them to act as regents in her stead.

One can't emphasize enough how terrible this situation was for her. Her mother was among those who wanted her to sign away her powers, and her mother's servant was among the most intimidating and ruthless in trying to force Victoria to do so; he came close to physically attacking her a couple times. Victoria's father is gone, her friends limited due to a sheltered youth, and she is constantly pursued by a number of men seeking to woo her in order to gain her power. While she seeks counsel from advisors, she also has difficulty trusting them given her own inexperience; she fears that they will seek to control policy through her, and thus she has to keep one eye open on everyone at all times.

Despite the odds and despite the urge to run away from all of the conflict, intrigue, and responsibility, Victoria takes it all upon herself, defying all of expectations of her. She encounters obstacle after obstacle, and yet pulls herself through with grit and determination. It is easy to see in this film why Queen Victoria turned out to be one of Great Britain's most influential and important leaders; she takes the stereotype of weak-willed, subservient woman and breaks it over her knee, refusing to give up even in the darkest of hours.

Depth of Character

What makes the movie memorable is the way it makes the characters multifaceted without shirking from their bad decisions and questionable moments. Victoria makes a number of poor choices throughout the movie and, instead of making us dislike her, it creates far more believability and sympathy with her actions. We feel that Victoria is human, not some royal immortal without a fault. This humanizing is important to note, as it is so easy to depict major historical figures as legendary, almost mythic characters unable to do wrong.

This depth of character applies to everyone in the movie. Her mother and her advisor are unlikeable characters, and yet events in the movie show us that they aren't entirely self-motivated, balancing our opinion of them. Similarly, Prince Albert, while a caring and intelligent individual, also creates some conflict with Victoria as they try to work out how to wield power between them. Unlike other movies, where a conflict such as this is a tool to make the final reconciliation between the two lovers more romantic and pure, the differences between Victoria and Albert are crucial to understanding who they are and how they managed to get along. It is an element of realism that thankfully was not swept under the rug, and it shows us how they became one of the most successful duos Britain has ever seen.

Prince Albert bears special mention. Like Victoria, he was an individual pressured by elders to go in one direction then another. This is depicted brilliantly in a way that allows us to see precisely why they were attracted to each other, their commonalities, and how their similar experiences affected their personalities. Prince Albert is similarly a man who makes a good role-model, a man who is both decisive and humble, romantic and sensible.


I am very glad that I ended up watching this movie, as it helped to push aside stereotypes I had formed about this genre of period-piece romantic dramas. It has been very easy to see how the romantic mystique of living in pre-Industrial Britain has affected the aspirations and dreams of women everywhere, and I found this to be a bit disturbing. Pride and Prejudice shows us an independent girl who waits for love and resists arranged marriage, but it glosses over the fact that Mr. Darcy was not normal for a man of his time period. It also does not mention how, if Mr. Darcy had not been around, the main character would likely have become a shunned, old spinstress for the rest of her life. The movie and the book have had the unintended consequence of casting the time period in a rosy light that isn't entirely accurate, and I think that this has gone over the heads of those who have embraced it.

By contrast, The Young Victoria shows us the world of a young queen which is full of peril, manipulation, and responsibility. It shows us her triumphs and her failures, carefully showing us what happens when she slips up. Victoria thus becomes a powerful and romantic figure, yet one that is also steeped in reality, making her victories resonate all the more. Thus do I highly recommend The Young Victoria for all viewers. This is a story that is not to be missed.


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