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Queen Victoria is Britain's longest-serving monarch (though Queen Elizabeth II is catching up) as well as one of its most loved.

Now a new British movie, released on 6th March, The Young Victoria, hopes to show another side to the Queen and Empress we often view as dour and strait-laced.

The new movie is a typically British costume drame, full of lavish costumes and well-spoken, well-mannered characters.

The movie is a dramatisation of the turbulent first years of Queen Victoria's reign, and her enduring romance with Prince Albert. Prince Albert tragically died in 1861, leaving the Queen in deep mourning for the remaining 40 years of her life.

Victoria came to the Throne, succeeding her uncle William IV, in 1837 as a beautiful young lady aged just 17 (she turned 18 a month later), and reigned until 1901 at the grand age of 81.


The Young Victoria: we were amused

The abiding image of our longest-reigning monarch as a dour, strait-laced widow is forgotten on the set of The Young Victoria, a vibrant celebration of a joyous and passionate Queen.


By Chloe Fox
04 Feb 2009
The Telegraph



Emily Blunt on the set of The Young Victoria Photo: Gautier Deblonde



The Young Victoria: Rupert Friend as Prince Albert and wardrobe master Marco de Magalhaes Photo: Gautier Deblonde


The Young Victoria: Julian Glover as the Duke of Wellington, Harriet Walter as Queen Adelade and Miranda Richardson as the Duchess of Kent Photo: Gautier Deblonde



On a beautiful Sunday morning in St James's, London, the cobbled street outside the gateway to Lancaster House is empty but for two men smoking cigarettes.

They are soon joined by two women who, in turn, light cigarettes and join in the muffled conversation, interspersed with gales of laughter. Nothing out of the ordinary, except that the men (both of whom are sporting huge moustaches and sideburns) are wearing red and gold brocade frock coats and the women (with middle partings and ringlets over their ears) are in floor-length jewel-coloured satin dresses with full skirts. Only their cigarettes and the white Ford van that gently hoots them out of its way place them in the 21st century.

Just for today, Lancaster House (the neo-classical mansion that in the mid-19th century was home to the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland) has been returned to the Victorian era. Its elaborate state rooms on the first floor are representing those of Buckingham Palace, the venue for the Coronation Ball where on June 28, 1838, the 19-year-old Queen Victoria – played in this film of her early life by 25-year-old Emily Blunt – celebrated her accession to the throne.


Young Victoria: Queen Victoria, aged 25, with her daughter Bertie, 1844. It is the earliest photo of Victoria.

It is a fittingly opulent scene. Huge candelabra, their stands wreathed with lilies, send a flickering candlelight over the corniced room. In the corner a full string orchestra, its members dressed in white tie, play a soaring Strauss waltz as the beautiful new Queen, in a dress of the most luxurious satin with blood-red roses in her hair, walks down the middle of the room accompanied by her ladies-in-waiting in white ostrich-feather headdresses. As her gaze falls on Prince Albert, she is transported through the crowds towards him, her eyes never once leaving his face.

He bows, she curtsies, and they begin to dance. It is a scene of gripping intensity and makes you wish you could watch the entire film, there and then.

Scripted by Julian Fellowes, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for Gosford Park, The Young Victoria is a production of the highest calibre with an impeccable cast.

Opposite Blunt – whose star turn in The Devil Wears Prada in 2006 earned her a Golden Globe and A-list status – Rupert Friend steps into the shoes of Prince Albert, to whom he bears a startling resemblance. Little known at the casting stage (he played Mr Wickham in Joe Wright's 2005 film Pride & Prejudice), Friend, 27, is quietly becoming one of our finest young actors. Other key cast members are Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Paul Bettany and Mark Strong.

Fifth in line to the throne at birth, Princess Victoria (after the deaths of her father, grand­father and two uncles) was heiress presumptive by the time her third remaining uncle, William IV (Jim Broadbent), was crowned in 1830, when she was 14. Parliament passed an Act that stipulated that Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent and Strathearn (Miranda Richardson), would serve as Regent should Victoria succeed William IV before coming of age. A power struggle ensued with both Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), an Irish adventurer who was rumoured to be the Duchess's lover, and the Whig Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) trying to exert their influence over the Duchess and her charge. Victoria turned 18 a month before her uncle died, making a regency unnecessary, but still the young girl continued to fall prey to the interferences of the men around her. It was only her marriage to Albert – an honourable, hard-working man who protected her throughout his life – that gave Victoria the independence and inner strength she needed to carry her through.

Essentially a love story that focuses on the drawn-out courtship of the teenage princess and her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, The Young Victoria is also a story of political intrigue, charting her uneasy road to the throne and the battle for power and influence that she found herself at the centre of.

Particular attention is paid to her complicated relationship with a domineering mother who, until the moment of her accession, insisted that Victoria went nowhere unaccompanied or without someone holding her hand. 'Everything I have put into it is based entirely on fact,' Fellowes says of a script that bursts with romance, confrontation and political tension. 'It just happens to be a story that not many people are familiar with.'

'The story of Victoria's early years was just waiting to be told,' says Graham King, the LA-based British producer whose credits include The Departed and Blood Diamond. 'I had been looking for a UK project my whole career, and somehow this one seemed just right.'


Victoria in 1842

The story of how the subject came to King's attention is not that of your average script pitch. In fact, it was Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, who planted the original seed in his head. When she got engaged to Prince Andrew in 1986, Ferguson took it on herself to 'extensively research and understand the history of [her] new family'. It was that process that led her to the young Victoria. 'I have always felt very drawn to her story,' says the Duchess, a co-producer on the film, whose surprise teatime visit to the set with her daughters causes quite a stir. 'Like her, I knew what it was to be a very young girl at the centre of a huge and powerful family.' The story – which formed the basis of her 1993 book Travels with Queen Victoria – was always one that she thought would make a 'wonderful, magical film'.

When a mutual friend introduced her to King several years ago, Ferguson told him so. At the time, King was working on The Departed (for which he won an Oscar in 2006 when it was named best film) and he mentioned Ferguson's idea to the film's director, Martin Scorsese. 'Marty, who knows pretty much all there is to know about British history, jumped on it,' King says. The two men set up a meeting with Fellowes in New York. 'He seemed to have the whole movie planned out in his head so we told him to go ahead and write it,' King recalls. 'Three months later, this incredibly impressive screenplay showed up on our desks.'

With his attention taken up by the making of Blood Diamond, King was not free to focus entirely on The Young Victoria. It turned out that he didn't need to. 'The film as good as made itself,' he laughs. First, came the call from Emily Blunt's American agent requesting a meeting. 'She sat down in my office and said, "I have to play this role and I'm not taking no for an answer," ' King says. 'Oh yes, I absolutely dropped the British reserve,' Blunt says. 'I wanted to have a go at this remarkable girl and I knew that just about every other actress of my age – most of them much bigger names than me – would want to as well.'

'Just like Emily, Victoria had a wonderful sense of self,' says Fellowes, who admits to having ended the writing process 'more than a little in love' with his subject.

'Here was a young woman who lived under virtual house arrest for her entire childhood and who still managed to keep hold of who she was.' To his mind her story is a thoroughly modern one. 'In many ways, it is a story about celebrity; about an 18-year-old girl who was thrust into the limelight and who somehow managed to survive something so many others wouldn't have.'

As far as Fellowes was concerned, no one was better suited to the role than Blunt.

'She absolutely mines that contemporary connection,' he says. 'It is one of those wonderful meetings of part and actress that doesn't happen very often.' For Blunt, here was a character she felt truly drawn to. 'I just felt from the minute I read the script that I understood this remarkable young woman. The thing I love most about Victoria is that she was a rebel. I love how funny and forthright and passionate she was. And how emotional. And how far too young to be put in the position that she was put in.'

Like many of us, the only Queen Victoria that Blunt was familiar with was the 'mourning, sour-faced widow that she became' – an image cinematically reinforced by John Madden's 1997 film Mrs Brown. 'When I got the part, I read about her obsessively and realised that she was the polar opposite of that stereotype. She was joyful and feminine. She liked to dance till dawn. She was passionate and wilful and full of life.'

King knew the minute Blunt had left his office that he had found his Victoria and very quickly the rest fell into place. 'I very much wanted to find a director who would steer us away from the traditional BBC-type costume drama,' he says. 'I knew that I wanted to make a period movie for an MTV audience and suddenly C.R.A.Z.Y. showed up on my desk.' A surreal indie family drama about a modern-day Christ figure, C.R.A.Z.Y. won Jean-Marc Vallée, its 44-year-old French-Canadian director, numerous awards.


Princess Victoria, aged 9 or 10, in 1829

'After C.R.A.Z.Y. I was searching for my next project for 15 months,' Vallée explains. 'But when I read Julian's script, I was in love.' To his mind, the story had a multi-layered appeal. 'It was a love story but it was also a film about a family and, above all else, a film about a very special woman, a woman who survived nine assassination attempts, bore nine children and who wanted so much to be good. In the end, it was her humanity that attracted me the most.'

At their very first meeting, King and Vallée knew that they were reading off the same page. 'He offered it to me on the spot,' Vallée says. 'I nearly died of excitement.' For him, the project has been the high point of his career so far, and the time he has spent in England has made him fall in love with the country. 'We have shot at some of the most beautiful locations imaginable,' he says. 'Lincoln Cathedral, Blenheim Palace, Wilton House, Arundel Castle… I love them all. I even love your horrible weather.'

'I've enjoyed it as much as anything I've ever worked on,' says the costume designer Sandy Powell, who has won Academy Awards for her work on Shakespeare in Love and The Aviator. As soon as she had read the script, Powell telephoned King to offer her services. She says she has rarely felt more professionally fulfilled than when she was granted exclusive access to Queen Victoria's wedding dress and Coronation robes as part of her research. 'You cannot believe how minute she was,' she marvels. 'She was under 5ft. At 5ft 7in, Emily is a giant by comparison.'


A 19-year-old Victoria out riding in 1838

His height (6ft 1in) was certainly one of the things that worked in Rupert Friend's favour during the casting process, but it was by no means enough to secure him the role. 'He was our Scarlett O'Hara search,' says co-producer Dennis O'Sullivan over a cup of tea between takes. 'We were determined not to use any big Hollywood names,' Vallée says. 'So much so that we even went looking for our Albert in Berlin.' Ultimately, the casting choice came down to chemistry. 'We put Emily in a room with a chessboard and we had our short-list of actors come in and play with her,' Vallée remembers. 'With Rupert, the chemistry was instant. It was as if you could absolutely believe that here was her soulmate.'

'It's like when you meet someone at a party and you just know that you can have fun with them,' Friend says. Landing the part was a milestone for him, not least because, up until then, he was better known for being Keira Knightley's boyfriend (they met on the set of Pride & Prejudice) than he was for his work. As well as being very comfortable with his co-star, Friend felt, very early on, a deep connection with his character. 'Albert was a true unsung hero,' he says. 'A great reformer, a doting husband and father, a hard worker and man of real integrity and modesty.' Immersing himself in the role, Friend felt very strongly that he should tackle every aspect of Albert's make-up. Thus, he learnt to ride a horse like Albert, walk like Albert, talk like Albert, play the piano like Albert. He even learnt to write like Albert.

According to Fellowes, the physical resemblance between Friend and Albert silenced the cast and crew when filming began. 'As dashingly handsome as each other,' Fellowes sighs happily. Despite not having been actively involved with the casting process, he was thrilled with the outcome. 'Emily seems to have all of the young Victoria's self-belief combined with her touchingly awkward nervousness,' he says.

'Her performance is so alive, you think it's happening in the here and now.'

Certainly during the filming of the Coronation Ball sequence, it is hard to take your eyes off Blunt. This isn't the case for everyone – by the end of a very long day's filming, Miranda Richardson is fast asleep on a throne between takes, while Rachael Stirling (who plays the Duchess of Sutherland, one of Victoria's ladies-in-waiting) reads a novel quietly in the corner. Paul Bettany, on the other hand, has a spring in his step. It is his last day of filming and he is soon to return to his wife, the actress Jennifer Connelly, and their child at home in New York. Pranking with Blunt between takes, he looks confusingly youthful, despite the greying hair. Even though he is only 37, Bettany is playing the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, aged 58. 'We couldn't find a 58-year-old actor who was sexy and good-looking enough,' Vallée explains. 'Paul was a more than good enough actor to age from the inside, and he plays him as a great politician and a great seducer.'

'Such, such fun I've had,' Bettany says during our interview, which is soon interrupted by the arrival of Sarah Ferguson brandishing a 'nice, hot cup of tea' for one of her favourite actors.

By the end of the day, energies are flagging and the Strauss waltz is getting on the collective nerves. With only two weeks until the end of filming, every­one is just about ready to get back to reality. It has been, at times, a gruelling shoot. 'During week four we filmed in a different location every day of the week,' Vallée says.

'Monday was Osterley Park, Tuesday was Greenwich Naval Base, Wednesday was Ham House, Thursday was the Novello Theatre and Friday was Hampton Court.'

'It was terribly hard at times, but it was such a happy filming experience,' Blunt says unequivocally. 'Every day after filming, I would call my family enthusing about what a great day I'd had and that is very, very rare, I can tell you.'





What Blunt hopes, above all else, is that the audience comes away moved by the film. 'When Albert died, Victoria was dragged from the room crying, "There is no one to call me Victoria now." The fact that she lost him was such a tragedy. In so many ways, their marriage, and the effect it had on her country, was her greatest achievement. The audience will really feel that, I hope.'
  • 'The Young Victoria' is released on March 6
telegraph.co.uk