Friday, December 18, 2009

Blunt's sharp as THE YOUNG VICTORIA in Jean-Marc Valée's intelligent film

How good are Emily Blunt in the title role and Rupert Friend as the German royal fellow who quietly becomes indispensable to her in THE YOUNG VICTORIA, the new history-over-lightly film by Jean-Marc Valée (shown below)? Very, very. These two actors -- one under-rated (Mr. Friend) and the other usually given her due -- are so fine, separately or together, that they offer the moment-to-moment specificity and strength needed to bring to life M. Valée's pretty much by-the-numbers rendition of the early days of England's most beloved Queen.

I don't mean to put down Valée's work-
manlike but effective job. He does what must be done in 100 minutes to make his movie mainstream, Masterpiece Theater-level entertainment (the equally efficient screenplay is from Julian Fellowes). It looks good, features a host of fine actors all doing a fine job, and tells an interesting story -- selecting its moments wisely to put together a picture of why and how a young and not-just-sheltered but deliberately-repressed girl found the strength and smarts to begin her rule.

Valée comes from a much-loved but little seen (in the U.S.) French-Canadian movie called C.R.A.Z.Y., which, in the subject, time and tone, would seem about as far from The Young Victoria as possible. Which makes this director a very interesting choice. How did the producers realize that he could handle all this: the sets and locations, the actors, the story, the time-frame, the works? He's done it, I think, by hitting all the notes that make up the standard-issue bio-pic, but just hitting them a little better, sometimes harder, than usual. He uses certain cliches -- soaring music, for instance -- in a damn-the-torpedo manner that works surprisingly well. It would take actors as strong as Ms Blunt (above, right) and Mr. Friend (above, left) to compete with this sort of thing, but by god they do -- and win.

He has drawn superb performances from his two leads. Blunt is always first-class, and here she captures both the character's vulnerability and her slowly growing strength. "I'm stronger than I look," she says at one point, and, boy, do we believe it. Friend is a more versatile actor than he is given credit for being: a sweetie pie in Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, he switched to action hero for The Last Legion and a callow youth in Chéri. Here, as the smitten but uncertain suitor for Victoria's hand (and not the one favored by the powers-that-be) he's better than ever.

In the supporting cast, many shine: Paul Bettany, Miranda Rich-
ardson (center, in chartreuse), Jim Broadbent, Mark Strong (left), Harriet Walter and Thomas Kretschmann, to name a few. You'll pretty much know what you're in for when you sit down to watch The Young Victoria, but this does not mean that you won't be able to simply scrunch down in the chair, relax and enjoy every minute.

The new distribution firm Apparition (nice name!) is handling the movie. Over the past few months, it has given us Bright Star, Black Dynamite, the Boondock Saints sequel and now this one. Was ever a new distributor more diverse? We shall continue to watch this little company with much anticipation. Meanwhile, The Young Victoria opens in major cities across the U.S. on Friday, December 18. Click here and then insert your home zip code to learn if the film is playing near you.

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