This was the movie that got me interested in Queen Victoria, one of the most famous British monarchs. We tend to remember her as the widow who dressed in black and was supposedly “not amused.” This film shows the start of her reign and the start of her marriage to Prince Albert Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Their story is told more fully in the British serial Victoria and Albert, which features Victoria Hamilton as the queen. Hamilton has recently played the Queen Mother in Netflix’s The Crown. Masterpiece has also begun a series on Victoria, starring Jenna Coleman (and others who are very recognizable from BBC, including our old friend Rufus Sewell as Melbourne). Victoria’s reign brought the monarchy to be viewed with respect and an essential British institution, “the queen had become a proud symbol of the stability and power of Britain…the greatest empire known to history (Royal Britain, pg. 213).”
This film also boasts an all-star cast. Emily Blunt (Devil Wears Prada) is Victoria, Paul Bettany (Chaucer in Knight’s Tale and Vision in the MCU) is Lord Melbourne. Miranda Richardson (Rita Skeeter in Harry Potter, Madame Giry in the film Phantom of the Opera, Queen Rosalind in The Prince and Me, and Queen Mab from the mini-series Merlin which starred Sam Neill) is Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent. Another Harry Potter cast member, Jim Broadbent (Professor Slughorn, also Professor Kirke in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Harold Zidler in Moulin Rouge, and he pops up in Game of Thrones) is King William. And baddie Sir Jon Conroy is played by Mark Strong (Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood, Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes). And fun fact that I did not realize until now, the screenplay was written by Julian Fellowes, the same man who wrote Downton Abbey.
The film’s opening sets the stage: “In 1819, a child is born in a London palace. Caught between two Royal Uncles – the King of England and the King of the Belgians, she is destined to be a Queen and to rule a great empire. Unless she is forced to relinquish her powers and sign a ‘regency order.’ A Regents is appointed to govern in place of a monarch who is absent, disabled…or too young.” Victoria herself feels she was born more fortunate than others, but a palace can still be a prison. She lived a solitary childhood; slept in the same bedroom as her mother, could not go down the stairs alone, having to hold the hand of an adult. Her time was severely censored. Her mother’s advisor, John Conroy, hoped that there would be a regency enacted when her uncle died, allowing Victoria’s mother to rule, and thus John to rule her. Victoria knew what sort of man he was and prayed for the strength to meet her destiny.
We briefly glimpse the coronation in 1838, then jump back a year. Conroy is attempting to force an ill Victoria to sign the regency document, but she still refuses. Meanwhile, her uncle in Belgium hopes for English aid to keep him on the throne, so he and his advisor come up with the plan for his nephews Ernst and Albert to visit Victoria. Albert is tutored on what Victoria likes and dislikes, clearly setting the stage to entice Victoria to marry him. Albert’s not terribly keen on the notion, but attempts it nonetheless. When he finally mentions one of his own likes, Victoria gives him a smile. She confesses to him that she feels like a chess piece. Albert understands what it is like living inside your head, never showing your true emotion to the outside world.
Victoria’s mother and John Conroy have kept Victoria from court; the king is not fond of either adult, but loves Victoria. Victoria insists on attending the king’s birthday and meets Lord Melbourne who starts winning her over. The king declares his dying wish is to live long enough for Victoria to turn eighteen, so there can be no regency. John still insists and goes as far as to lay hands on Victoria (in actuality, he wasn’t quite that stupid).
Victoria does indeed turn eighteen before the king dies and she becomes the new queen. Her first order of business, separate her from her mother. She will sleep in her own room from now on. Victoria admits that she is young, but she is willing to learn and intends to devote her life to serving her people. Albert had to return home, but they continue to write letters to each other. Victoria informs him she is the first monarch to live in the recently completed Buckingham Palace (the current monarchy still lives there primarily).
She also glows about Melbourne. Albert decides to return to England to spend time with Victoria (by now, he has fallen in love with her. She has admitted to Melbourne she has made no promise to Albert, but she still feels alone). Albert counsels Victoria to play the chess game better than the others, and that others will expect Victoria to fail and taken advantage of her inexperience. He believes in her. And truly cares about the working people. Melbourne doesn’t want to upset the status quo, though he does tell Conroy “you have played the game and lost.” We witness the coronation again, in the context of what we have just learned. Victoria wants to rule on her own for a while and thus, even though she danced with Albert at the coronation ball, he must return home again. They continue to write letters and Albert worries for Victoria.
Melbourne loses power and Peel becomes Prime Minister, but Victoria does not like Peel and Melbourne ends up back on the job, but that bypasses what the people want and creates a constitutional crisis. Rioters turn up at Buckingham. There is an assassination attempt. Albert continues to write to Victoria that he believes she can rule her country. Victoria decides to invite Albert back, and proposes. We catch a glimpse of their wedding (yes, Victoria was the one who made famous wearing white at your wedding).
Sadly, Victoria being queen means they cannot go on an extended honeymoon like most upper class people. (Albert makes a comment about visiting Scotland, that it would most be like Germany. It is true that they enjoyed visiting Scotland and bought Balmoral Castle, making it a royal residence that the current queen still enjoys visiting.) Then comes the difficulty of Albert fitting in to England and finding a way to support his wife while she is queen, but also still able to act like a husband, though they do end up expecting a child. Victoria disliked Albert getting involved with politics and they have an argument. The next day, they go on a carriage ride and there is another assassination attempt. In the film, Albert is injured, real life, no. But Victoria does put their desks next to each other. Afterwards, history would prove that “he played an increasingly central role in affairs of state and meeting with ministers (Royal Britain, pg. 220).”
The film summarizes that Victoria and Albert had nine children. “Among their descendants are the Royal Families of Britain, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Yugoslavia, Russia, Greece, Romania, and Germany [this is how World War I was an overgrown family squabble].” They reigned together for twenty years until Prince Albert died in 1861 from typhoid fever at the age of 42. “In memory of her husband, Victoria had his clothes laid out every day until her death at the age of 81. Among their accomplishments, Victoria and Albert championed reforms in education, welfare, and industry. Their unflagging support of the arts and sciences was most famously celebrated in Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition of 1851.” The last statement the movie makes is that Victoria remains the longest reigning British Sovereign. To date. This film was made in 2008. It is no longer true. Her descendent, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest ruling British Sovereign in 2015 (Victoria reigned 63 years, her great-great-granddaughter has now reigned 65 years. Personally, I think it’s awesome that the two longest reigning British monarchs are women).
Historically, “Victoria and Albert’s marriage, stable life and large family did much to restore the dignity and standing of the monarchy after the excesses and public disgraces of the early Hanoverian kings (Royal Britain, pg. 220).” The film does show and more so in the longer serial and television series, it was not smooth sailing. They had difficulty with their eldest son, Edward, the Prince of Wales. When Albert died, Victoria did indeed go into black and withdrew from society for at least ten years. What I liked about this film is that is shows that Victoria and Albert truly loved each other. I liked the way they tried to support each other. As I stated earlier, it showed a different side to a monarch I knew was important, but haven’t studied in depth.
Up Next: A popular Victorian literary hero, Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie’s film starring Robert Downey Jr.)