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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Of all the different movie genres, costume dramas are by far my least favorite. When actors and actresses get dressed up in period clothes to traipse around castles, ride in horse-drawn carriages, and speak in prim-and-proper accents, I get a little nervous. This is not to say that I never like these movies; sometimes I do, but they have to be really interesting and relevant to avoid seeming like "Masterpiece Theater" on a big screen. The Young Victoria is a good example of a costume drama done right. The film isn't merely a biography of the former queen. Instead, it finds a compelling angle for its story, so that we are drawn in rather than put to sleep.

Emily Blunt gets her regal on in The Young Victoria.
Emily Blunt plays Victoria who, as the film opens, is in line for the throne. Partly because of her young age and partly because of their own self-interests, there are a number of people who want Victoria to sign a regency document - a form essentially turning her power over to someone else. The house manager Sir John Conroy (Mark Storm) - in conjunction with her mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) - practically tries to strong-arm Victoria into signing it. Meanwhile, her uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, sends Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) to woo her as a political ploy. Victoria has eyes for Prince Albert (Rupert Friend, not in a can) instead, and their mutual attraction poses a threat for all others who wish to influence the future queen.

I think the key word in the film's title is "young." While without the cotton candy colors and period-inappropriate pop songs that made Sofia Coppola's Marie Antionette so much fun, The Young Victoria nevertheless has the same kind of youthful, rebellious spirit. This is not a movie about a queen; rather, it is about a young woman who is trying to prevent the big bad adults from telling her what to do. Victoria's impetuousness is what spices up the story. All teenagers must, at some point, fight for the right to be - and to think for - themselves. This one just happens to be doing it in a different time period and with much greater stakes for her country. Taking this approach gives the plot a real drive so that it plows over the stodgy crumpets-and-tea clichés that many costume dramas fall prey to.

Emily Blunt was a terrific choice for the role. She always seems to me like someone who's got the wheels turning constantly. For this reason, we truly believe that Victoria is operating for herself and figuring out what she wants to do. Blunt captures that unique, contrasting quality of extreme self-confidence and extreme self-doubt that is a hallmark of being in your late teens or early 20's.

I also liked the love story. When you're young and in love, it only adds to the feeling that you can take on the world. Blunt and Friend have a nice chemistry together, showing us how Victoria and Albert become allies as well as life partners. They constantly infuriate Conroy and the Duchess of Kent, finding a strength together that they may not have had individually.

While it may not be as audacious as Marie Antoinette or as emotionally resonant as, say, Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence, The Young Victoria nevertheless is consistently engaging, with an appealing sense of relevance for today's audiences. Even if you think you don't like this sort of thing, give it a try.

( out of four)

The Young Victoria is rated PG for some mild sensuality, a scene of violence, and brief incidental language and smoking. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.

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