It's not unusual for performances to outshine the films they're in. We've seen it this year with Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side, with Mo'Nique in Precious, and with Amy Adams and Emily Blunt in Sunshine Cleaning. Well, Blunt's at it again with The Young Victoria, probably the most pronounced example.
This biopic of Britain's Queen Victoria in the days leading up to and immediately following her coronation is part of a recent trend of "before they were famous" features — Becoming Jane, Coco Before Chanel, etc. I guess the granddaddy of the form is John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln.
Here Blunt charms as a would-be-normal young woman slowly coming to terms with her appointed place and then slowly getting comfortable with grasping and applying her hereditary power. The script from Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) is interesting in making the triangle at the center — Victoria weighing the conflicting attentions of political adviser Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) and first suitor, then husband Albert (Rupert Friend) — less about romance or even royal intrigue than about a young woman's growing self-assertion. It's sort of a modern post-feminist parable in period garb.
Blunt's warmth and intelligence wins the audience over, but the problem is the plodding and unimaginative direction of Jean-Marc Vallée, which results in a dutiful, undistinguished period piece built around a good premise and an engaging lead performance.