While encrusted with common period trappings, "The Young Victoria" is a consistent machine of scandal, heartache, and English monarchy power plays. Lavishly produced and dutifully written by Julian Fellowes ("Gosford Park"), the picture is a solid piece of drama, giving fans of the genre a ripe core of hesitation to sink their teeth into, while also bringing actress Emily Blunt to the forefront with an impressive depiction of uncertainty and immaturity thrust into the spotlight of uncontested power.
Raised as the only available heir to the English throne, Victoria (Emily Blunt) has been pestered for years by her extended family to sign away her powers, including dastardly Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong). On her 18th birthday, Victoria is crowned queen, taking command with little in the way of worldly experience. To her aid comes the manipulative William Lamb (Paul Bettany) and to her heart comes Prince Albert (Rupert Friend), a young man sent to charm Victoria for political gain, only to find genuine love. Hoping to make her own mark, Victoria is instead pushed around by the men in her life, stymieing her grand plans to rule on her own terms.
"Young Victoria" is actually two movies in one, starting off as a portrait of a teenager who comes to terms with the responsibilities of her budding power. The film depicts Victoria as a curious, playful soul smothered by the paranoid precautions of her elders. Being the sole future of English royalty, it's a significant chain of awareness placed around the young girl's neck as she attempts to develop her own opinion on matters of country, while those around her desire nothing more than her decoration, not her estimation. The strain of this uncomfortable war of manipulation creates an unusually compelling tension for the first half of the picture, highlighting the boundless will of an anxious girl staring down a constrictive future that has little use for her.
Also percolating within the film's early going is the tender romance between Victoria and Albert. Nurtured through flirtatious correspondence and longing, the relationship reveals surprising heat for a tea-n-rumor event, sweetly performed by Blunt and Friend, who work the excruciating moments of distance well, helped along by the soft touch of director Jean-Marc Vallee, who wonderfully tends to the material's warmth before riding off into colder matters of power.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) feels a little smoothed over, with expressive facial detail missing from a few key sequences, displaying some slight DNR work. Shadow detail is also pulled out of low-light sequences, with solid black blobs robbing the viewer of costume and set design nuance. Outdoor sequences fare much better, with bright light able to provide a more interesting BD experience, showing off the ornate costumes (yellows are especially vibrant here) and gorgeous locations with proper flair. Admittedly, it's a more flat viewing event than the film deserves, with only a few moments delivering sizable period pop the genre is known for.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is outstanding, bringing true dimension to the picture through a superb layering of dialogue and orchestral swells, with a crisp flow of scoring offering some directionality to the mix, filling out dramatic movements. Party sequences also envelop the viewer further, creating a pleasing circular environment of movement with intriguing atmospherics. Conversations are clear and direct, more frontal and true to the style of the film. It's a satisfying track throughout, buttressing the visuals expertly, but taking off into warm, echoed areas that maintain surprise.
English and English SDH subtitles are included.
"Deleted and Extended Scenes" (21:38) fill out the drama with some unnecessary padding, highlighting various moments of scheming and domestic contemplation rightfully cut to streamline the story. A little more with Jim Broadbent is interesting, as is an unfinished scene during the coronation, with a few glimpses of unexpected greenscreen work (after decades of watching costume dramas, I just assumed there were castle locations for every mood and need).
"The Making of 'The Young Victoria'" (5:42) interviews cast and crew for their thoughts on Queen Victoria and how her life still remains a curiosity all these years later. The conversation soon turns to the film and its dramatic drive.
"Lavish History: A Look at the Costumes and Locations" (7:20) talks to famed costume designer Sandy Powell, who took on the extraordinary challenge of suiting up a horde of eager actors, winning an Academy Award for her effort. Production designer Patrice Vermette takes over the second half of the featurette, describing the historical requirements of the locations and the quest to find the proper buildings to use for the picture.
"The Coronation" (2:46) talks to Alastair Bruce, the historical advisor for the film, who lorded over the key crowning sequence with his "eagle eyes."
"The Wedding" (2:35) brings writer Julian Fellows in for an interview, permitting him an opportunity to describe the structure of the love story, with producer Sarah Ferguson filling in with her thoughts on the emotional state of the characters.
"The Real Queen Victoria" (7:28) finally gets around to Emily Blunt, who talks about her research for the role, while excerpts from Queen Victoria's diary are shared to provide an intimate study of the women behind the crown.
A Theatrical Trailer is not included.
Politics arrive in the second half, breathless but ready for duty, as Victoria is crowned and immediately put to the test as queen. Showing some hesitation with stone-faced displays of palace operation, Vallee is forced to portray Victoria's developing pimp hand as queen. Again, Blunt is strong here, along with a skilled supporting cast, but the film deflates the further it walks away from Victoria's tentative steps toward control, becoming repetitive and lost. Vallee does get the film back on track later in the story with a few domestic irritants for Victoria and Albert, which is where the heart of the period piece feels most comfortable. The history books lavish attention on Victoria's political machinations, but "The Young Victoria" is at its finest when sensitive to her worry and accelerated maturity.