1837. Princess Victoria (Blunt) succeeds her uncle as monarch, but is caught up in a power struggle involving her mother (Richardson), her mother's mentor (Strong), Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) and Robert Peel (Michael Maloney). She is gently wooed by a German cousin, Prince Albert (Friend).
Queen Victoria has not been well-treated by the movies lately — depicted as a frumpy, near-absurd widow in Mrs. Brown and a cold-eyed mass murderess in From Hell. It’s easy to forget she was crowned as a teenager and was, by all accounts, the only sexy girl ever to rule Great Britain. Not the deepest thinker in Europe, she made one genuinely inspired decision in marrying Prince Albert — a visionary who was a prime motor of Britain’s 19th century cultural and scientific expansionism. It’s no wonder so many things in Britain and the former Empire are still named after this power couple, individually or together.
If you’re collecting British royal history by instalments in the cinema, you’ll know exactly how to place this on a shelf with Elizabeth, Restoration, The Madness Of King George and The Queen. It’s a slight problem that a happy marriage makes for less dramatic fire than mass murder, an armada, a bout of insanity or a pop-culture crisis, so Julian Fellowes’ sensitive screenplay salts the sweet courtship of two good-looking young people between court and parliament intrigues without getting to much of what Victoria and Albert achieved as a couple. Other crownsploitation pix sex up the story, but this plays down the pair’s rapport — and don’t look for details of the urban legend Prince Albert is most remembered for.
For the most part, this covers polite but exquisitely barbed conflicts as Emily Blunt’s put-upon princess finds she has no enemies but still has to fend off friends who press their own underhand interests — whether it be a would-be advisor (glowering Mark Strong) who hopes to rule in her stead while she grows up, or a silky-smooth PM (Paul Bettany) who glues her to his party masthead and plays dirty when voted out of office. Blunt shows the Queen’s firmness of will, but also her susceptibility to male charm — decades before Victoria was mocked as ‘Mrs. Brown’ she was taunted as ‘Lady Melbourne’. Posh frocks, royal pageantry and borrowed palaces are on their best behaviour, too — making for a quality production, if tailored to polite sensibilities rather than stoking the fires of history.
An elegant, entertaining, informative picture with a gallery of vivid supporting turns, this provisionally crowns the winning Blunt as a Brit-pic star - but it skimps a bit on the bodice-ripping, blood and thunder.