This review contains spoilers (as if history didn’t contain enough).
In 1836, when Princess Victoria of Kent (Emily Blunt), the heir apparent to the throne of England, first meets Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Rupert Friend), she is in a very delicate situation, both politically and personally.
Her mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) is heavily under the influence of her brother, King Leopold I of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann), who devoutly wishes an alliance with Britain to keep Belgium safe from France, and Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), the comptroller of her household, who wants King William IV (Jim Broadbent) to die while Victoria is still a minor so that the Duchess will be appointed Regent and he can rule England from behind the scenes.
Victoria herself is in rebellion against both of these constraints, siding instead with King William. She resents the control that Conroy exerts over her mother and she resents the domestic restraints that they both hold on her. While she is ill, Conroy even attempts to force her to sign an agreement for a Regency, but she bats the document away. Conroy treats her quite brutally, once grabbing her physically and throwing her on a sofa. When her mother stands by and allows this to happen, she warns her mother that she will never forget it.
King Leopold decides that the best way to keep England friendly is to have his nephew, Prince Albert, become very friendly with Victoria, perhaps even marry her, so he sends Albert to England for a visit. Trained to know all of her favorite music, reading, and opera, Albert tries to forge a friendship, but Victoria sees right away what he’s up to. Changing tacks, he decides to be honest and disagree with her when their opinions differ. Immediately, Victoria notices and decides to give him a little slack. The more they talk, the fonder they grow, gradually falling in love, until, at last, Albert must return to Germany.
When King William dies, Victoria has come of age and she makes a few quick decisions. Although she allows her mother separate apartments at Buckingham Palace (built by William, Victoria was the first regal tenant), but she banishes Conroy. Making friends with Lord Melbourne, she takes him as an advisor. Although she desires to improve the living conditions of the poor, Melbourne steers her away from that and arranges her household as he wants it. When Melbourne falls from power, Queen Victoria refuses to change her appointments to suit the new Prime Minister and the government falls. There is a huge reaction in the public against her, there are riots outside the palace, and in one instance, a window is broken by a flying object.
Confused and needing help from a friend, she calls on Prince Albert to come to her, not just as an advisor, but as a husband and they are finally able to consummate their simmering love. Just when things would appear to be quite well, Albert makes the mistake of making a decision without consulting her and Victoria reacts strongly, feeling that, like Conroy, he was attempting to rule England behind her back and they have a vicious quarrel. At a public appearance, a gunman appears and tries to assassinate Victoria, but Albert takes the bullet for her, thus proving his real love.
The two then form a true partnership and rule England successfully for another 20 years when typhoid takes Albert. Alone, Queen Victoria then ruled England alone until she was over 80 years old, supervising England’s management (not always successfully) of the Industrial Revolution and leaving a false impression of extreme prudishness.
This film is beautifully made. The art direction, photography, costumes, locations, acting, directing, music, and photography are all first rate. Much credit must be given to director Jean-Marc Vallée for imposing strict control over the length of the film and the editing. Some period dramas like this run amok by running two or three hours in length, but the timing of this film feels just right. The script by Julian Fellowes maintains as much historical accuracy as possible, while still bending reality to make it a pretty good movie. It is focussed, as it should be, on the love story, but the love story is underpinned everywhere by the politics and Fellowes did a fantastic job of merging the two worlds. Much credit should also go to Sandy Powell for her Academy Award winning costumes.
Emily Blunt is simply stunning as Victoria. She shows such a range of acting that I found myself completely won over within the first few minutes of the film. Rupert Friend was a wonderful casting decision as Albert because he brings both restraint and passion to the performance. The chemistry between these two is really terrific and one completely believes not just the love, but the political realities of both of them.
You don’t need a PhD in History to understand this moving love story that involves two kingdoms, ministers, lords and ladies. It is passionate, well-made, well-timed and beautiful to watch. I highly recommend the movie!