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Irreplaceable: Victoria and Albert as portrayed in "The Young Victoria"
By Hannah P.
H istory hasn’t been very kind to Queen Victoria. She is often remembered as a dismal widow who wore back mourning clothes most of her life. The Young Victoria seeks to change that by portraying a young, exuberant and lively Victoria in the beginning of her 63-year reign. The film also showcases her relationship with Prince Albert as their friendship progresses to romance. This movie takes several liberties with historical facts, but is actually more historically accurate than most biopic stories or period dramas.
Victoria’s childhood in Kensington Palace is tightly regulated since her mother, The Duchess of Kent, and her mother’s comptroller Sir John Conroy command her life entirely. She is isolated from other children and her books, toys and activities are all restricted. She longs to be free and dreams of the day when she will be independent. As the heir to the British throne, she has hope of one day being free. Victoria’s life changes when her uncle King William IV dies and she ascends to the throne at the age of 18. Having surpassed the age where a regency would have been necessary, Victoria is able to take total control over the throne upon her ascension. Immediately she begins to try and perform her duty to her struggling countrymen by helping reform and improve living conditions. She has only good intentions, but Victoria soon learns the hardships of ruling a country, the difficulties associated with working alongside Parliament, and how quickly the public can turn against their monarch.
In this film Victoria is portrayed as a strong, opinionated woman who desires to be independent, help her struggling countrymen, and reign as queen without interference from people who seek to control her. But since she is crowned at such a young age, she tends to be impressionable and easily led astray. Victoria’s aunt, the widow of William IV, whom Victoria treats as a confidante, warns Victoria about her position, “From now on people will push you and pull you for their own advantage.” Her words prove true, many try to control the young queen and benefit from her inexperience. Victoria implicitly trusts the guidance of Lord Melbourne, the Whig Prime Minster. While he generally has good intentions, his control of the queen has a bad influence on her public image. Several scandals occur early in Victoria’s reign, caused in part because of Lord Melbourne’s control of palace affairs and Victoria’s implicit trust in him. But in Victoria’s times of struggle the encouragement of one very important man helps her to stay strong.
Victoria’s first cousin Prince Albert is much like Victoria in that he is oppressed by his family’s desires for his life. His family encourages a relationship between Victoria and Albert because Albert’s influence over the queen would be desirable in relations between England and Belgium. Albert harbored agitation over being used as a pawn in the royal game, but had no choice but to follow along. But upon meeting Victoria, an attraction is between them is quickly formed. Albert’s grace, quiet encouragement and understanding of Victoria’s circumstances help endear him to her. He is kind and steadfast, trustworthy and tolerant, but not as opinionated or temperamental as Victoria. He understands her, having experienced many difficulties of his own as a child. They do not see one another often, but exchange many letters. Their love grows and deepens over time, and though Victoria refuses to be rushed into matrimony she eventually comes to realize how much she needs Albert. A particularly poignant moment in the film is when Victoria finally asks Albert to marry her (it was the duty of the monarch to propose). The scene shows Albert’s joy at her proposal, followed by their first embrace. At long last they are able to express their feelings openly and the moment is magical. They are married shortly afterwards and though they are only allowed three days for a honeymoon, they spend every moment together making the time special and intimate.
However the happy days of their early marriage do not last forever, soon politics makes their way between the couple. Albert is disappointed with his role, he is the queen’s husband but that is all. He wishes to help Victoria rule, desiring to help initiate reform and improvement to the country. But Victoria sees his attempts at involvement as meddling, trying to usurp her role and control her. As a result, arguments erupt between the two of them. In addition, Albert sees Victoria’s dependence on Lord Melbourne as harmful to her and to the country. She follows Melbourne’s guidance rather than Albert’s, making Albert feel unneeded and unappreciated. Victoria’s consistent rejection of Albert’s help and Albert’s frustration with the queen’s stubbornness grows until Albert is injured protecting Victoria from an assassination attempt. Fearing for Albert’s life, Victoria is forced to confront her behavior towards him and realizes how irreplaceable he is in her life. Albert’s bravery, selflessness and loyalty are recognized many who come to admire him, even Lord Melbourne. Despite the animosity Albert harbors for him, Melbourne realizes Albert’s importance and encourages the queen to include him in her duties. One of my favorite scenes in the film follows when Victoria brings in a second desk and places it next to hers. Then she and Albert sit facing one another, indicating Victoria’s acceptance of Albert as a partner in ruling England.
Victoria and Albert’s romance is generally well known, placed in history alongside the famous courtly love stories of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, Napoleon and Josephine, Prince Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. But this film’s depiction of their lives helps the viewer grow to care for them as individuals, applauding their successes and regretting their failures. After seeing Victoria’s courage, Albert’s heroism, their passion for their duties and one another, the final scenes take on a bittersweet tone. While the film never shows Albert’s death, the montage of scenes commemorating Victoria’s grief over his passing is touching. Victoria and Albert were married 21 years until his death at 42. During the rest of her life Victoria wore the black clothes of mourning and had a servant keep his rooms functioning as if Albert were still living. While some might think these actions impractical, I believe it was a touching way of showing her loyal devotion to the greatest man in her life.
(Formerly published in The Costume Chronicles - www.costumechronicles.com - )