The Young Victoria: Chris and Maggie Chat About the Film

As preface to this week’s Dual Analysis of The Young Victoria with Maggie from The Costumer’s Guide, here is a little chat we had about the clothes, hair, jewellery, even underwear from the movie.

Chris, Clothes on Film: So, what did you think of the The Young Victoria? My opinions changed slightly from at the cinema. I liked it more actually.

Maggie, The Costumer’s Guide: I loved it when I saw it in the theatre – it almost felt too short, it went by so quickly. Watching it again last night I enjoyed it just as much! I actually have very few complaints, except for Albert getting shot, which of course, didn’t happen. I get why they did it, but the rest of the movie feels closer to real than that huge, glaring “never happened” moment did.

Chris: I agree about Albert getting shot, although I totally understand why they did it. Julian Fellowes in an excellent writer and just felt it needed that dramatic punch for the climax. Albert was there for the assassination attempt (well, this one anyway), he just didn’t dive in front of the bullet.

Maggie: I get why they used it too – and it was done effectively. And it is true there were assassination attempts and that he was there. It worked as a film element. As a history fan it still bugged me a little. Let me say that I absolutely loved the casting, particularly of Rupert Friend as Albert. For me he was the perfect blend of shy/standoffish/stiff but with obvious emotion running below the surface. I found his performance very touching and his Albert very easy to fall for. I love when he tells Victoria that he likes Shubert at the start. As far as historical accuracy goes, I really appreciated the effort that went into doing the right costumes for the period. Right down to the corded petticoats, and the fabulous 1830s hair.

Chris: I did like Albert. He was an interesting man. Tragically dying so young immortalises him somewhat. I thought the costume accuracy was impressive (even if the director did not showcase the outfits that well). Did you have a favourite costume? I thought the riding ensembles were perfect, really spot-on historically.

Maggie: I actually really like Albert too. I loved that he didn’t try to use Victoria, wanted to be a partner, to help people. That he was very interested in science. He was forward thinking for his time, and it was sad that he died so young. As for costumes: everything.

Seriously, I recently developed an interest in 1840s costumes because my friends and I did 1840s outfits for a Poe event in Baltimore – and I quite like the 1840s now. I’ve never cared much for civil war era (which is huge in the US with re-enactment, and for obvious reason). But 1840s is so pretty with the pointed waist and sloped shoulders. I’m not a huge 1830s fan (big shoulders! big sleeves! goofy hair!) but it’s really fun to see it done so well, and honestly I loved Victoria’s 1830s looks. I particularly love the yellowish dress she wears to her grandfather’s birthday party. I liked that costume from the very first promo pic I saw of it. And I love the hair on her here, though mostly she wears hers in a more 1840s style with the side braids. I really loved all her costumes and I covet them all!

I do think it’s interesting that her gowns are all so delicate, at the start mostly pale blues and greys, then we start to see some pale pinks blending in – ‘doll like’ as you point out in your review. And her mother is in very, very 1830s styled with the loud prints. She’s always in some brash colour like orange, turquoise, acid green, with big jewellery and hair. Victoria is more delicate and subdued. Until the end of the movie, when she starts to wear darker colours, reds and greens, and ends the movie in a bright blue – a contrast to her starting it in pale blue. Did I mention the corded petticoats? I was seriously excited about it when I first saw the film. The right undergarments – amazing!

Chris: I have seen a corded petticoat in a museum, although I cannot recall the EXACT era it was from. Struck me just how thick the fabric looked (though it was behind glass that I banged my nose on when I lent in). I am still frustrated there was not more time spent on Victoria’s wedding dress in the movie being as it was so copied by brides of the time. It had real meaning. Also there was not much of a reveal for the coronation gown. It is not like the director shied away from spectacle either, as the set design was immense. Interesting your notes on colour; Albert was much more colourful than most other male characters in the film. I did like Paul Bettany as Lord Melbourne’s dark signature look, too.

Maggie: Corded petticoats were used in the 1830’s and 40’s, before the hoop came in. Basically it is just cotton string sewed into tucks around the petticoat (probably also cotton). They give the skirt that bell-like shape. I made one recently, and I had only learned of them when I started looking into 1840s costume, so I was really excited to see that attention to detail and accuracy.

I agree with you on the wedding dress, it was very famous and they did copy the real one. It’s always a shame to me when costumes don’t get the screen-time I’d like them to. And, yes, they didn’t seem to show any long shots of Victoria in her coronation attire either, just a close up shot of her sitting. I did note that she did wash her dog while wearing the dress, sort of showing her disregard for clothes – which I believe you pointed out. She obviously was not worried about ruining her outfit, which I thought was odd at the time, but I guess makes sense with her no-nonsense sort of character. I did like Albert’s clothes as well. I notice he was very buttoned up (even up to the neck) and stiff when he and Victoria first met, a fun contrast to him being half-dressed and racing down the stairs to see if there was a letter from her, no coat and clothes kind of rumpled. Good point about Albert standing out in his coloured clothes too. Lots of blue, maybe? To complement Victoria?

Chris: Spot on with the dog washing! Victoria did like extravagant jewellery though. Of course Victorian jewellery was not delicate either, quite cumbersome and gaudy by modern standards. One outfit of Victoria’s that sticks in my mind is on the carriage before the assassination attempt. It was green velvet with a huge silk bow for her bonnet. Actually Powell was careful with hats in the movie, they were well chosen throughout. The tall toppers were a subtle social identifier, especially on Melbourne.

Maggie: Well, who doesn’t like extravagant jewellery! I think they really toned down Victoria’s jewellery (as well as her wardrobe) to make her appear as girlish and doll-like as possible, in contrast to her mother. Even her hats seemed mostly sheer (I have no idea if that’s historical, though I thought her hats were all really pretty) and delicate. Towards the end I think her clothes get bolder, as she’s starting to come into her own, with bolder prints, dark plaids, that green dress from the promo pics, also bigger bows, red jackets and a bright blue dressing gown.

Also they did transition her from 1830s to 1840s after she becomes queen. That gown with the strawberry decoration is a good example. I did notice too that her coronation ball gown was gold and red. She never normally wears such a bright gold colour, even the yellow she wore to her grandfather’s ball was pale yellow, but the coronation gown was bright gold with red flowers. It matched her coronation robe. It was the first really bright thing she wore. Oh and in that same scene, her mother has like a million feathers stuck in her hair. Silly. In one of the last scenes, after she has the baby, she’s in red with green trim and her mother is way more muted and nearly matches or at least compliments her. They’re more in harmony.

Chris: I actually thought Victoria’s mother looked most uncomfortable in her costumes. Not sure if this was the actress squirming or her character. Some of those bell sleeves were tremendous though. Huge! Did you think that Emily Blunt’s portrayal looked more like the typical dour image of Queen Victoria by the end, too? Moreover that rusty red worn in the last scene is gorgeous. It tones her down, or is more harmonious as you said.

Maggie: Whether it was the actress or the mother, I think looking uncomfortable worked! She didn’t seem very comfortable in who she was and clearly wasn’t comfortable with the steps her daughter was taking away from her! Hmm, I didn’t think about Emily Blunt looking dour at the end. She still had 8 kids to go; I guess I’d look dour after that too! Victoria was very pretty when she was young and I liked Emily Blunt in the role. I thought she pulled of the range of ages nicely.

Chris: It’s just that in this country we are used to seeing Victoria as, well, miserable. We like and respect her; it’s just that she does represent a particularly brutal, if industrious period in British history (certainly before Edward VII’s preceding gaiety). I think the film eluded to this point well.

Watching The Young Victoria again it did strike me what a miserable life young royalty had back then. Of course it was no picnic for the lower classes, but the film takes a good stab at showing that a life of privilege is not all it is cracked up to be. This and the quietly touching romance stay most in my mind.

Maggie: It’s interesting, as it is such a part of your history whereas not as much ours. I guess Victoria didn’t always have a happy life. I had read a biography of her so I knew the controlled childhood was very difficult. When she was young (something they did not show in the film), she loved dancing and staying out all night. Melbourne fitted in with that lifestyle. Albert wasn’t into all of that and she became more sober with him and less into dancing and partying. Of course, they really loved each other and I think she was happy with him, but then she lost him early.

There are plenty of examples of other famous, privileged and unhappy people (Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, anyone?). It is definitely an interesting contrast to the idea that just because you are well-off means you’re happy (again, not that it was at all easy being poor, of course.) As for the film itself, the romance was very touching and on that level it really worked for me. Two thumbs up!

Chris: They really did love each other, which is something I am not sure everyone understands completely. The film goes a long way to readdressing this point, however. Plus it does look stunning.

Thanks, Maggie!

Keep your readers peeled for our The Young Victoria costume film reviews published this week on Clothes on Film and The Costumers Guide.

© 2010 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.