It’s a well known fact that I have a great weakness for costume dramas, particularly those that take place in Merry Ol’ England. Annemarie is also among those who know quite well that Queen Victoria is my favorite monarch. Actually, if you read this site even semi-regularly, you may know that as well, based on our writings about Victoria Sponge. If you didn’t know, now you do.
So, when Jean-Marc Vallee’s The Young Victoria came up at Afternoon Tea — our beloved monthly tradition at the Alamo Drafthouse, we had to go. (Shout out for tea always being amazing, but honestly, no Victoria Sponge at The Young Victoria? Opportunity missed, my friends.) And to my great delight, it was Annemarie’s first time seeing it! So, AM, kick us off with the standard analysis, did you love this movie? What did you know about it before we went in? Are you ready to swear fealty to Queen Victoria?
AM: First of all, it’s great fun to see movies for the first time on the big screen with a cup of hot tea, especially British movies and especially those featuring royalty. See, we heathen Americans don’t have a queen or king and while that’s by design, it leaves us with a feeling of not knowing who to fawn over and who to gossip about. We have Hollywood as a back-up, but there’s no mistaking the real thing. And Victoria was the most real thing ever. I now know exactly where the “YAS QUEEN” meme really originated from, and it’s this woman.
I didn’t know that this movie was almost 10 years old and I barely knew it starred Emily Blunt. But should come as no surprise that I loved her and I loved this movie, even if it wasn’t totally faithful to the life of the legendary monarch. According to our tea-brewing pal Gretchen, Queen Elizabeth II had two qualms with this film: Albert was never shot protecting Victoria, and the English military uniforms looked too “German” to her. Even with those two details to tussle over (I can’t speak to the German influence on military uniforms so I’ll trust that the Queen knows what’s up), I so loved this look at Victoria’s life (focusing mostly on the years leading up and immediately after her coronation in 1838) that I am indeed ready to swear fealty. Because of badass queens, because of cake and because of Emily Blunt.
Questions back to you, Brooke! I know your knowledge of Victoria far exceeds my own, did you find this portrait of her teen years to be missing any key real-life information? Can we nominate Jim Broadbent to be our slightly deranged and definitely drunk honorary uncle from now to eternity? What did you think of Blunt as Victoria? And finally (for now), do you have a favorite outfit portrayed in the film? You get on that, I’m going to Wikipedia to learn more about Victoria.
B: I’m betting it will come as little surprise to you, AM, that The Young Victoria kicked off my love of Victoria. How surprising and wonderful it was to see a real woman, who even at such a young age and in challenging circumstances, displayed such gumption, toughness and agency. Yes, Victoria was a queen with a capital Q, to be sure. This picture is definitely a compressed portrait, and it’s built to serve the love story between Victoria and Albert, which is ultimately quite sweet, even if he didn’t take a bullet for her. But, by necessity it does accelerate this time in her life to only hit on those points most essential to this narrative. For a similarly luxe, but longer form look at this stage of her life, I cannot recommend the series Victoria enough.
Re-watching this movie as I watched that series has definitely given me the sense that someone involved kept really detailed diaries. Some of the moments and conversations that crop up in both representations are so similar, I’m not convinced there wasn’t a direct transcription at hand. I will say that The Young Victoria did not give me quite as much a sense of the political apparatus in play beyond the Queen herself. I didn’t understand how the Parliament of the day worked (I still don’t fully) and I didn’t get as full a view of the public examination of her every move. If anyone has a recommendation for a good written account of her life and times, I’m all ears, I would love to go Full Ravenclaw on this. For now, I’ll just say I find some omissions (like her choice to be rename herself Victoria and her possible buzzedness at her coronation dance) surprising, but not damaging.
Jim Broadbent is the most wonderful drunk uncle of all. He can come to all of our parties. I’ll make sure to prompt him with topics that send him into a fiery rage. Emily Blunt is exceptional in this role. It’s one of the earliest examples of Blunt simultaneously conveying utter badass, resilience and innocent vulnerability (see Sicario for an evolution) all in a single package. And she’s exquisite at it. I could watch her bring Victoria’s entire reign to life quite contentedly, even the mundane bits.
I don’t have the proper vocabulary to do my favorite dress justice, so I’ll just drop a photo of it in here. BEHOLD:
Tell us, AM, which look was your favorite? Would you have been wooed by Albert, or would one of the others have turned your head? What would 18-year-old Annemarie have done if suddenly given sovereignty over one of the biggest empires in the world?
AM: I quite loved all the dresses in the film, with a special shout-out to her coronation outfit for pure grandeur, but this one is especially lovely. This film was an Oscar winner in Best Costume Design for a reason.
While I could gush more about clothing, let’s us back to the task at hand, shall we? Yes, we shall, but first — a parade of dress GIFs!
Onto the suitors. We aren’t really given a good view into the other men in Victoria’s life other than Albert and her mentor/hopeful lover Lord Melbourne. I get why Lord M, as he’s affectionately known by Victoria, would have been a viable husband candidate, partly because he’s portrayed by Paul Bettany (who I like) and partly because there’s real history between the two characters. She needed someone she could trust and since that person wasn’t her mom or her mom’s creepy and probably sticky-fingered boyfriend, an old friend would have to do.
You’ve mentioned most of the film centers on the sweet romance between Victoria and Albert, and yes, even if he didn’t get shot for her, it’s a love worth waiting for and rather tragic that it ended upon his death in his early 40s. My favorite part of the whole movie is when they’re playing chess and he tells her she must learn to play the game (the game of thrones, not chess) better than anyone else. He’s not advising her on how to do her job, he’s encouraging her to be better at it than anyone expects. Who doesn’t want that from a friend and partner? I’d have definitely fallen for that, especially because it’s genuine respect as well as attraction.
What would I have done at 18 if I was suddenly queen? Probably failed more than Victoria did. Me at 18 was prepared for college, but not prepared to lead the largest country in the world. It’s easy to forget that at the time, the British monarchy had close to absolute power. Victoria could have easily become a monster or allowed advisors to overwhelm her. I also don’t really understand how the balance of power worked out back in 1838 or when the monarchy became the powerless version we see today, but it’s clear that she wielded the influence that could have broken her and the entire empire if she wasn’t careful. I am grateful I wasn’t the one in her spot, no matter how glorious her outfits and romances are.
There’s another moment that was so brief but so crucial to how Victoria lived her life. The footmen are setting the table for a big dinner (I think it was for the King’s birthday early in the film) and they’re measuring precisely the placement of the glasses and silverware. I remember seeing that in Downton Abbey and thinking how fussy it looked, but how cool that the rich of this era were fancy enough even during a dinner at home so that it would be proper for the king of England to walk in at any moment. The stakes for even the tableware are so much higher when your guest of honor actually IS the king of England, and all of that means that now I think I understand the pressure the peerage of any country must feel. There’s a sense of elegant opulence that pervades your entire life, but also a sense of responsibility for keeping the whole thing going, generation after generation.
Brooke, what do you think your first few orders as queen would have been? Also, who would you have tapped to be your ladies in waiting?
B: I think my first order of business would have been to make some sort of decree about Dash — because Dash is the greatest and he deserves respect. Then I probably would have wanted to do something foolishly optimistic like build a grand library. I don’t think the suffragettes were in motion just yet, but I think I would have felt compelled to advance female agency — I mean, she’s the queen and yet there are still so many things it is suggested that she cannot do. This, of course, is why Albert was so great, he saw her potential and supported it, but he was far from the most influential man with whom she had to contend.
I love this ladies in waiting question so much that I looked up the official roles. The ladies-in-waiting are headed by the Mistress of the Robes. She’s basically the HBIC. Then there’s the First Lady of the Bedchamber, the Ladies of the Bedchamber, the Women of the Bedchamber and the Maids of Honour. All of these women are companions to the queen, and depending on their designation, they may also have certain functions at state events or play a part in managing the queen’s bling and minions.
Victoria was forced to change her ladies in solidarity with new governments forming, though she did cause a stir by resisting this change — however, her protestation must have made some kind of an impact (or the diminished role of the Crown did) because the queens that have followed her have had very few ladies-in-waiting by comparison. Victoria seems to have switched between a number of preferred companions in her selections for the Mistress of the Robes. But, I’ll presume the benefits of her struggle and say I would only change my ladies on my terms.
I would definitely appoint you one of my ladies, AM. You are masterful at hot goss and never shirk from my requests to have you boss people around. I would probably go so far as to name you Mistress of the Robes, if you so wished. I would also appoint my dear pal Kelsey and others from my posse of nerds. But, I would further recruit people better at fashion and beautification to weigh in on my looks. And I would use my considerable influence to befriend people like Kate the Great, Tina Fey, J.K, Rowling, Madonna and Kate McKinnon. I think my court would be pretty rad.
Who would you bring to your court? Have we failed to discuss anything you noticed during our watch session?
AM: D’awww thanks for including me in such a distinguished role! I don’t know what a Mistress of Robes does, exactly, but if it means I get to boss you around on clothing choices, I’m IN. Obviously, if I was queen I’d return the favor. I’d also appoint my sister and mom and other close girlfriends, but almost as important, I believe it’s important to cull the best of the famous to be at my side as well. Your choices are quite fine, but I’d have to go with Amy Poehler, Emma Watson, steal Tina from your group, and Beyonce. I’m excited to take the throne so we can get more rights for women and also hang out with some awesome ladies at the same time.
I can’t imagine we’ve left too many rocks unturned in our exploration of The Young Victoria. May her reign be long and may our teacups be always filled with delicious hot drinks!
Next time we’re heading back to LA to check in with Lauren Conrad and her posse of frenemies.