Emily Blunt looks prim, poised and, in spite of modern dress, even a touch princessy as she begins her umpteenth in a series of 10-minute interviews at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the royal biopic The Young Victoria had its North American premiere in September. Even her greeting seems regal. “Yes.” Not a question, but a statement. The unspoken implication: “We are ready.”
The 26-year-old was ready, it seems, to take on the role of the longest-reigning monarch of Britain and her empire. Perhaps the fact that it was a fresh start for both the actress and her subject made it easier.
“I had limited knowledge of her,” Blunt says. “I think I had a generalized perception of her as being old and sour-faced and repressed and in mourning. I knew about the successful marriage, I knew about the nine children, but that was only from watching [the 1997 film] Mrs. Brown, which was extraordinary. So I knew the Judi Dench version of Victoria. I knew nothing about her when she was younger.”
The Young Victoria, as the title suggests, follows the regent’s life from shortly before her 1838 coronation (she was 19 at the time) to just after her marriage to Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) in 1840. It’s a brief but heady period during which Victoria fell in and out of favour with the public and with Parliament, and into love with the charming Prince Albert, who was just three months younger than she. Blunt saw it as primarily a personal story.
“Often period films can be quite arch and stuffy, and this seems to approach her as the girl rather than the Queen,” she says. “I have no idea what it’s like to be Queen but I do know what it’s like to be in a job where you feel overwhelmed, and to be in love and to make the wrong decisions and feel a bit lost sometimes. I think everyone can relate to that.”
She learned a lot from Victoria’s diaries, and especially from the penmanship. “It was really messy and illegible and emphatically underlined,” she says. “You could almost hear her voice. She was very explosive in how she spoke, and emotional. She wouldn’t make a log of her day; she would make a log of how she was feeling. That was great for me.”
Blunt has no personal connection to royalty, but the film boasts no less a patron than Sarah, Duchess of York, former daughter-in-law to Queen Elizabeth II, who was instrumental in getting it made. Perhaps of more immediate aid to the actress, however: “We had this etiquette advisor on set who worked closely with the royals, and he was vital to us because he really knew them. He sees them first thing in the morning, and I think that’s the kind of person that you need.”
Between Blunt’s portrayal of the young Queen and Judi Dench’s Oscar-nominated role as the widow Victoria, there seems to be a 20-year gap in cinematic Victoriana. “You’ve got to give us 10 years and me and Rupert will do it,” Blunt says. “I think to see how that marriage worked would be interesting.
“I think they very much were collaborators, and they were each other’s confidant, and they communicated,” she says, warming to the subject. “For her, I think she pretty much died with him — he was absolutely everything to her. I think that would be a really beautiful film.”