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Originally published December 24, 2009 at 12:06 AM | Page modified December 24, 2009 at 11:35 AM

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Movie review

'The Young Victoria': Portrait of a princess on the verge

A review of "The Young Victoria," in which Emily Blunt plays a real, resourceful princess.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

'The Young Victoria,' with Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Thomas Kretschmann, Mark Strong, Jesper Christensen, Harriet Walter. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, from a screenplay by Julian Fellowes. 100 minutes. Rated PG for some mild sensuality, a scene of violence and brief incidental language and smoking. Several theaters; see Page 15.

It's London, 1838, and a coronation; a camera zooms among a vast hall of robed nobles to a monarch seated in a grand throne, receiving a jewel-encrusted crown. She looks nervous but poised; the weight of that crown conveying the weight of responsibility being placed on her. And the camera moves, and we see her feet: tiny, wrapped in dainty satin slippers, not touching the floor.

Queen Victoria (Emily Blunt), England's longest-reigning monarch, was crowned while still in her teens, and Jean-Marc Vallée's "The Young Victoria" shows us those turbulent years just before and just after her ascension to the throne.

She became queen at 18, succeeding her uncle William IV (Jim Broadbent, with fine bluster) and following years of smothering protection — for example, she was not allowed to go up or down a staircase without a hand to hold. "What little girl does not dream of being a princess?" asks Blunt in rhetorical voice-over, early on. Her voice drops just a bit: "Some dreams are not what they seem."

A chameleon who looks and sounds different in every role (compare her in, say, "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Sunshine Cleaning"), Blunt is an inspired choice for young Victoria, making the character both petulant — in a very real-life teen way — and endearing. On the staircase, she ever-so-slightly- defiantly jumps off the last step; in a quiet hallway, after being named queen, she does a happy little skip. And we watch her blush prettily, all queenly pretension melting, as she falls in love with and marries her cousin Albert (Rupert Friend).

"The Young Victoria" is, in fact, relentlessly pretty; the sort of lavish period film in which you notice that Victoria's green gown coordinates perfectly with the wallpaper of the room she's in. (One strange anachronism, in otherwise careful period detail: Victoria oddly zooms toward Albert at a ball, through camera sleight-of-hand, as if she's riding a Segway.) But it's also something unexpected: an intimate, small-scale story of a young woman's struggle to be independent of her scheming relations and to find equality in a very unequal marriage.

And it's filled with performances that give pleasure: Harriet Walter, that crinkly-voiced master of the gimlet eye, as Victoria's aunt, the dowager queen; Miranda Richardson as Victoria's shrill, easily dominated mother; Paul Bettany as adviser Lord Melbourne; Friend as a lovable but never saintly Alfred; and most of all Blunt. Her posture subtly changes throughout the film, as she grows up before our eyes; a resolute princess who finds both her prince and her purpose.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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