By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 18, 2009; WE28
Lovers of pomp, pageantry and extravagant period detail will find themselves exceedingly well served by "The Young Victoria," a visually arresting and sneakily engrossing film about the courtship of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The movie, which stars Emily Blunt in the title role and Rupert Friend as Albert, accomplishes what the best historical fiction does: It sends viewers so gracefully into the rites and habits and language of another era (in this case Victoria's ascendancy to the British throne in 1837, at age 18, and her subsequent marriage) that they don't realize how much information they're absorbing.
More than anything, "The Young Victoria" deserves kudos for dispelling the common image of Queen Victoria -- that rather plump, matronly widow with the dour hankie on her head -- and presenting viewers with a beguiling young woman imbued with spirit, intelligence and observant wit. Blunt, who has provided brilliant comedic support in such films as "The Devil Wears Prada," steps regally into the role as the teenage Victoria, who as heir to the British throne has been brought up by her mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), in near-pathological protectiveness. Even as a teenager Victoria isn't allowed to walk down a flight of stairs unattended.
More problematic is the palace intrigue to which Victoria is subjected by her mother, uncles and even her devoted governess. Screenwriter Julian Fellowes ("Gosford Park") limns the power plays with graceful assurance; but as fascinating as Victoria and her political education are, it's Albert who turns out to be the most sympathetic figure in "The Young Victoria." From their courtship over games of chess to the prince's search for meaningful work once they are married, Albert emerges as an unusually enlightened romantic hero, who wins his beloved's heart by treating her as a respected equal.
"The Young Victoria" may impart copious amounts of detail about its fascinating protagonists, but it's not a mere tutorial: It's a heady, thoroughly transporting plunge.
*** PG. At Landmark's E Street Cinema and Landmark's Bethesda Row. Contains mild sensuality, a scene of violence, brief profanity and smoking. 100 minutes.