This holiday season, make way for the Queen. Queen Victoria, that is — and not the sour, black-clad matron you think you know. In The Young Victoria, Emily Blunt plays the monarch before she took the throne — as a beautiful, sheltered teenager and then in the first flush of passion with her young husband, Prince Albert.
The actress tells NPR’s Linda Wertheimer that she got to know that younger Victoria through her diaries and her letters, and through accounts of court life that portrayed “this vibrant girl” — a budding woman who danced late into the night, and who was in all ways much in love with life.
“There were anecdotes from people at court who would say that she would laugh so hard at dinner that food would fall out of her mouth,” Blunt says. “She was a party girl — she was rebellious.”
Rebellious because, although Victoria was heir to the throne, her ambitious mother kept her isolated and largely friendless, hoping to consolidate her own influence. The princess was in many ways a prisoner of the life she was born into.
“I think it was incredibly lonely,” Blunt says. “She wasn’t allowed any privacy; she wasn’t allowed to play. She slept in the same room as her mother until she was 18. … But she was one of these very resilient girls, and I don’t really understand how she was able to be that strong in wanting what was rightly hers — which was to rule independent of anyone who had been trying to handle or control her for all those years.”
Even the man who would become the love of her life was initially a political calculation: The match with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was suggested, as the film explains, by Victoria’s uncle Leopold, king of the Belgians, who was determined to increase his influence in England.
“She was being used as a pawn,” Blunt says. “But so was Albert. And so I think as soon as they realized they were being gamed, the guards went down, and they actually found a very genuine, real love. They really were soul mates — they were sort of twin flames that were essentially perfect together, and he was by far her greatest achievement. For an arranged marriage to become such a passionate love affair was so rare — and I think she definitely didn’t imagine it would go that way.”
They would have a large family — nine children — but Victoria was not a natural nurturer, Blunt discovered. (“It very much was all about him,” the actress says.) In fact, the irony is that as queen, she would deploy most of her own children as chess pieces in the great political game of the continent, marrying them into royal families left and right. For her pains, Victoria would become known as “The Grandmother of Europe.”
And she would lose her beloved Albert — to typhoid fever, at the age of 42.
“I think it literally transformed her,” Blunt says. The woman who had once shown such an appetite for life withdrew from it, avoiding her subjects and wearing black for the rest of her days.
“I think what the film does is present to you exactly why she mourned him so ferociously,” Blunt says.
A costume drama par excellence and the latest example of what some critics call a rash of “Queensploitation” movies, The Young Victoria is a riot of ermines and velvets and jewels. And while any actress probably gets a charge out of stepping into a monarch’s wardrobe, period costumes have their less pleasant components, too.
“I did like three films in a row wearing a corset,” Blunt laughs. “I think my inner organs, by the end of it, were like, ‘Are you kidding? You’ve got to stop. You have to give us a break.’ ”
With The Young Victoria behind her, Blunt says she has decided to “lay down the corset” for now.
“It’s sweatpants from here on out,” she laughs.