The Young Victoria (PG) (100 min.) — It wouldn't be awards season without a lavishly produced, very British historical epic in the mix, probably starring Dame Judi Dench, with Joan Plowright in the background wearing a shawl.
This year's corset-and-crumpets production is The Young Victoria, a 19th century drama with enough 21st century moxie to eventually shove the fuddy-duddies out of the way. As played by bright-eyed Emily Blunt, the monarch typically portrayed older and sterner in movies is primly vivacious, a lovestruck teenager with a crown thrust upon her head. This isn't your parents' Queen Victoria; more like Melrose Palace.
Victoria isn't flighty, though. She isn't crafty enough for scheming, either. Blunt plays her somewhere in between; a bright girl politely bristling at protocol, getting wiser about using it for advantage. Her duchess mother (Miranda Richardson), archdukes and an archly drawn adviser (Paul Bettany) believe Victoria can be manipulated for political and personal gain.
Screenwriter Julian Fellowes keeps all of the skulking through a royal line of procession simple for Yanks to understand. While the dialogue doesn't crackle, it does pop with unexpected wit, as did Fellowes' Oscar-winning script for Gosford Park. He's savvy enough about audiences to add saucy bedroom scenes and alter a late, major point about Victoria's husband Prince Albert (Rupert Friend, not in a can) because a little life and death movie violence never hurts.
It's within the romance of Victoria and Albert that younger audiences who wouldn't think of watching Mrs. Brown may enjoy The Young Victoria. Blunt and Friend are even prettier than director Jean-Marc Vallée's opulent re-creations of Buckingham Palace grandeur and fashion. They share a smoldering romance with the same elements as Twilight (except the vampire stuff), and grownups insisting they're too young to settle down together. Those geezers should loosen their stiff upper lips, you know?
The Young Victoria opens Friday exclusively at Tampa Theatre. The film is expected to open Jan. 8 at AMC Regency 20 in Brandon and AMC Veterans 24 in Tampa. B+
Steve Persall, Times film critic