It seems that the nearly indistinguishable and nature of all those generic British royalty costume dramas, in what some peeved UK film critics have termed the ‘queensploitation’ genre, may not be such a coincidence after all. In fact, just as American filmmakers are routinely subjected to strict script approval when making war movies, if they want any access to speak of to the most basic US military props or premises, British directors mulling productions about royal history are pressured to seek what is euphemistically termed, ‘the royal family’s blessing.’
And this state of affairs is no less the case with The Young Victoria, a sympathetic peek into the private life of Queen Victoria, when she ascended the throne as a mere teenager. The film is directed by Canadian filmmaker Jean Marc-Vallee and yes – received the ‘blessing’ of the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, who also just happens to be co-producer along with Martin Scorsese.
Note: Sarah Ferguson, no longer part of the Royal Family is not in a position to give a royal blessing, but she did help make the Young Victoria project happen.
The Young Victoria stars Emily Blunt in the typical stifling, gilded cage title role in this likewise hermetically sealed production that nearly entirely bypasses its more than significant historical moment. In other words, a period mostly removed from that messy, troubling time playing out during the Industrial Revolution, and the chaotic advent of early capitalism.
For just beyond the palace windows housing the various family spats, lovers’ quarrels and lavish balls which would not have been possible without that elephant in the room – colonialist exploitation, along with periodic convoluted parliamentary intrigue butting heads with the stubborn, youthfully contrary queen, was a terrible world. And a social and economic national hellhole of suffering, despair and rebellion that was the United Kingdom back then, while the British elite flourished in that dark period of colonialism, slavery and other assorted inconvenient truths, during the ascendancy of the British Empire.
The filmmakers did see to it that one aspect of history taking place beyond the palace walls was included – the many assassination attempts against the queen, primarily by those free lance revolutionaries known as anarchists. Though the episodes are enacted without any historical context, as to why they were even taking place. The film does suggest, in a rather bold bid at pseudo-feminist spin, that there was hostility directed against Victoria because she was a woman. Rather than say, your typical monarch and symbol of repression, of whatever gender.
So, were the ungrateful masses simply being mean to Victoria because she was female, or could there have been much more going on in terms of screen spin that often passes for history. Unfortunately her contemporaries in proximity counting Dickens and Marx don’t share any screen time in this movie, something that might have made for a far richer narrative palette, so perhaps only the royal family knows for sure.
On a seasonal side note, Queen Victoria is credited with returning Christmas to the nation as a yearly celebration, and putting the ‘merry’ back somewhat in the unmerry old England of the time. A state of affairs whose blame can be traced back to that draconian party pooper fundamentalist Oliver Cromwell, two centuries prior.