Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Historical Fiction – Is There Any Other Kind of History?

This posting is a movie review, which I want to state up front given the philosophical pretensions of the above title. I’ve now seen The Young Victoria approximately 1.4 times. The first time we went, the building was evacuated part-way through the film on account of an undisclosed emergency, but by then, we had become so enamored of the movie that we went back a week later and saw the whole thing.

The Young Victoria possesses many charms. Most of it is set in the year prior to Victoria’s coronation and the first few years just after. There are a couple of parallel strands of plot that play out and intersect in the course of the film. First and foremost, it tells a story of young love in the persons of Victoria and Prince Albert, played respectively by Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend. They are, quite simply, the right actors in the right roles and I don’t have a bad word to say about either of them. I suppose it’s a coincidence that what Victoria needs the most at this point in her life is in fact a Blunt Friend.

There is also no small amount of political intrigue mixed into everything. I am not giving anything away by saying that Albert is sent to England on a political mission to woo and marry Victoria. He has been groomed for years by his family and handlers to assume this position. Victoria likewise is surrounded by an extended family that wishes to steer her toward creating political advantage for them. Some of these people have an entirely different opinion with regard to the question of who Victoria should marry. The love story here is centered in Victoria’s and Albert’s rejection of those who would control them and their pursuit and acceptance of each other over politics.

There is plenty of eye candy on display for the moviegoer as well, from the clothes to the jewels to the castles. Such visual delights are a major argument for seeing the film on the big screen in full detail.

Now as for the title of this posting – Roger Ebert has always held that all films are fictions, even including documentaries. He makes a good point there – after all, two documentarians may cover the same subject and even use the same footage, yet present their subjects in drastically different lights. I would paraphrase it like this: If what you want is unvarnished reality, then get the hell out of the movie theater. If, like myself, you have developed a taste for varnish, then sit back and enjoy the movie!

Along that line of thinking The Young Victoria doesn’t even have the constraint of documentary footage to rein it in. And in any case, the screenplay and dialogue in a period piece such as this must of necessity be wholly created by a writer.


I bring up all of this talk about history and fiction because of one particular incident portrayed in the film. It comes about as the result of a tense moment late in the film. For the first time, Victoria and Albert appear to have reached an impasse in their relationship. We seem to have arrived at a point of fundamental disagreement between them and, because we like them, we are anxious to see how this may be resolved. It turns out that we haven’t long to wait. It is resolved by having Albert take a bullet for Victoria during an assassination attempt. He recovers, and it results in a lot of tears and remorse, and a renewed mutual commitment for the loving couple.

The problem is that it’s kind of a dramatic cheat. According to myriad sources, no such shooting ever took place. Instead of addressing the complex political and personal issues that led to their rift, the movie stays true to its core identity as a love story, telling us that the power of a love such as this is stronger than any political consideration.

I don’t want to sound too critical here. I like a good romance. But I do wonder about the introduction of a historical inaccuracy as glaring as this. It strikes me as roughly comparable to making a movie about, say, President Truman debating over whether to drop the atomic bomb on Japan and resolving it by having Harry take a long walk in the woods with his older brother and talking it out – ignoring the fact that Harry didn’t have an older brother, and there is no suggestion in the historical record that some walk in the woods preceded his decision. It might work dramatically, but at what cost?

And that’s what it comes down to – the phrase ‘at what cost?’ In the case of Victoria and Albert, it may be that their story, lovely and inspiring as it may have been, might have been lacking in literal dramatic moments. Or perhaps the literal dramatic arc of their lives simply wouldn't work in dramatic terms. It may have been dramatically necessary to concoct something like this shooting for the sake of making a good film, and I can’t say they were wrong to do so – but I can’t help feeling a certain tightness in my chest as I allow this.


I want to toss out a bouquet in the direction of actor Mark Strong. It looks as if 2010 will be a good year to be him. He plays the heavy here in the role of Sir John Conroy, who has the temerity to shake Victoria in anger at one point. We don’t like Sir John one bit. On the same day we were evacuated from the theater, we also saw Sherlock Holmes, which also features Mark Strong as the lead bad guy! IMDB tells us that he has quite a few films in production at the moment, so his star appears to be in rapid ascent these days.

Other standouts in my book include Harriet Walter as Queen Adelaide, Miranda Richardson as the Duchess of Kent, and the irrepressible Jim Broadbent as King William.

The bottom line is this: The Young Victoria is a pretty film with a pretty and likable couple at its center, and we want them to be happy in the face of powerful and perhaps sinister forces.

Cool trivia note — One of the producers of The Young Victoria is Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. Her daughter, Princess Beatrice of York, plays a small role in the film as one of Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting. What’s cool about that is that Princess Beatrice is in fact the great great great great granddaughter of Queen Victoria! Thank you IMDB for that little pearl!

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