Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend might not be paparazzi bait like Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom. They're more ordinary/human-looking than specimens of exaggerated physical beauty. Yet Blunt and Friend's onscreen pairing as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in Quebecer Jean-Marc Vallée's The Young Victoria is off-the- charts combustible and, yes, sexy as hell. That palpable erotic chemistry might explain why Victoria is one of the more satisfying — and emotionally accessible — British costume dramas in recent years.
Vallée's lushly appointed film about the early years of England's longest-reigning queen never settles for being merely decorous eye candy like so many films of its ilk. Julian Fellowes' (Gosford Park) droll, literate screenplay and the spot-on casting (including dependable heavy-hitters like Miranda Richardson and Jim Broadbent) make Victoria a veritable feast for the mind as well as the senses.
The film does a wonderful job of establishing Victoria's cosseted upbringing and how a palace can resemble a prison for a strong-willed 18-year-old princess. When Victoria first meets Albert — he's just one of many suitable candidates for marriage that Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), her mother's Machiavellian adviser, sets her up with — it's hardly love at first sight. Albert is a bit of a stiff, and Victoria is supremely bored with the endless procession of suitors she's been forced to "interview." But romantic feelings finally surface during a flirtatious game of chess. From then, it's only a matter of time before Albert proposes and the rest is indeed history.
Vallée, who directed one of the best, still-unreleased-in-the-U.S. foreign-language flicks of the decade (2005's French-Canadian C.R.A.Z.Y), truly rises to the task of helming his first big-budget international co-production. And he couldn't have asked for two better leads.