Without reservation, Jean-Marc Vallée’s fanciful costume drama is a visual pleasure in nearly every frame, taking viewers along the path of Queen Victoria’s ascent to the throne, marriage and early days learning the tangled ropes of the British monarchy and its complex relationship with Parliament.
Much of the fancy comes from writer Julian Fellowes’ royal embellishment of the facts, touching up historical events with exaggerated bravery to provide himself and his capable colleagues with a climax befitting the subject if not the truth.
Seen just a few days after In the Loop, the long tradition of those in power vainly clinging to it at any cost is more understandable than ever (cross-reference below).
As Queen Victoria, Emily Blunt is appropriately radiant, radical and righteous even as her gowns, crown and gleaming petticoats reinforce the high office with style, glitter and panache. Kudos to production designer Patrice Vermette, supervising art director Paul Inglis, set decorator Maggie Gray (and the long-suffering British public for permitting the opulent palaces to be erected, filled with art—inside and out—and largely maintained) and costume designer Sandy Powell. As excellent as their combined work was, it would have counted for naught if lesser talents than cinematographer Hagen Bogdanski and editors Jill Bilcock and Matt Garner had been engaged.
Accordingly, much of the film can be enjoyed with the sound down (the content of the straightforward dialogue could mostly be guessed at from the facial expressions of the cast as they reveal the obvious pleasure/discomfort of their privileged characters), but that would also lose the additional bonus of Ilan Eshkeri’s original score and the many command snippets from the likes of Donizetti, Dvorák and Schubert.
With the black-and-white characterization of the main players (Rupert Friend makes a dashing, determined Prince Albert; the politician extraordinaire of Lord Melbourne is just the right mix of wiliness and slime thanks to Paul Bettany’s convincing work; Jim Broadbent is a regal hoot portraying King William; Sir John Conroy—Mark Strong—and co-conniver the Duchess of Kent—Miranda Richardson—begin with evil promise but can’t find the range to sustain their manipulative actions), the production is forced to rely on the spectacle of these storied lives rather than the deep passions and ambitions that fuelled such a colourful time in history.
Nothing much new will be learned, but the journey along the way is beautiful to behold. JWR