The Brag

Fresh Film Reviews

In Arts, Brag 326 (August 24), Film Reviews on August 24, 2009 at 2:19 am

We Review: The Young Victoria + The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend in The Young Victoria.

Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend in The Young Victoria.

The Young Victoria
Opens August 27, 2009

Sydneysiders are all too familiar with the imposing statue of Queen Victoria residing in front of the building that bears her name. So it’s quite a paradigm shift to replace this image of a rather dour, old widow with the fresh-faced beauty of Emily Blunt in Jean-Marc Vallée’s The Young Victoria.

Penned by Gosford Park scribe Julian Fellowes, The Yong Victoria boasts the additional royal patronage of Martin Scorsese and The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson as executive producers. The result is, mercifully, less reminiscent of The Princess Diaries than a sophisticated political drama bearing a trace of The Age of Innocence.

Chronicling the years 1836 to 1840, Victoria is indeed very young. The film begins the year prior to her succession, where her mother The Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and the controller of the house Sir John Conroy’s (Mark Strong) will to establish a regency results in an extremely cosseted child. The princess’ rocky ascension to the throne is followed by the further political machinations of her parliament and court. Meanwhile, an advantageous alliance with Saxony sees Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) served up to Victoria as a possible match.

The Young Victoria is filled with robust performances from actors who are clearly relishing their historical roles. Strong glowers as the oppressive Sir John, while Paul Bettany seduces as the consummate politician Lord Melbourne. Jim Broadbent is an absolute scene-stealer as the cantankerous King William IV. And for once Friend’s stiffness seems to work to his advantage, suiting the formality of the Germanic prince.

However there is no doubt that Blunt shines as the naïve yet determined young Queen. The film makes much of mirrors, gates and chess, leaving us in no doubt that hers was a beautifully gilded cage. And yet the quiet chemistry between Blunt and Friend conveys the beginnings of this great love and what became a powerful partnership between the Queen and her prince.

Reining for 63 years, Queen Victoria may be remembered as the monarch perpetually dressed in mourning black. Yet this film goes a long way to unveil the widow, revealing a passionate, beautiful and boisterous young Victoria.

Alice Tynan

John Travolta in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.

John Travolta in The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Opens August 27, 2009

While holding the occupants of an underground train hostage seems to contain inherent logistical impracticalities and does not exactly provide the perpetrators with an easy exit route, my first question when I heard of this subway-train hostage film was: why hadn’t I seen this before? I would have, had I seen the excellent 1974 original starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. This updated Pelham, re-imagined from John Godey’s novel is a slick, contemporary action thriller. It succeeds primarily because of Denzel Washington’s likable performance as Walter Garber, an everyman transit dispatcher and makeshift hostage negotiator.

Director Tony Scott, however, almost ruins his film by over direction. Before John Travolta, Ryder, subway hijacker and loudmouth, even takes control of the 1:23 PM afternoon train from Pelham, New York, we’re confronted with flickering jump cuts and look-at-me editing, making it difficult to tell what is happening and negating the dramatic content.

Thankfully, it settles down as Travolta and Washington play off each other in an entertaining game of cat and mouse. He and his minions demand that the city mayor, James Gandolfini, transfer $10 million dollars (the most that can be exchanged in one transaction) within an hour before the passengers become collateral. A slimy John Turturro arrives as a professional negotiator, but Ryder refuses to speak to him, insisting instead that Garber be his intermediary.

This central dynamic is nicely drawn out by screenwriter Brian Helgeland, (Mystic River, L.A. Confidential). It becomes obvious that Garber may not be quite the noble everyman he appears, and Washington is reliable as usual in bringing out the conflicted shades of his character. Travolta fares less well – his overblown shtick is entertaining but shallow and one-note.

While conventional in its plot development, some elements are awkwardly introduced and then discarded: a young teenager’s live webcam feed into the train, a potential mine of information for the authorities, remains curiously unnoticed. The transit control centre though, is a fantastic set modeled on the real facility under Manhattan, and a wonder of busy design and functionality – the flipside of J.J. Abrams’ “Apple-Store” Enterprise.

Denzel Washington is however the star of Pelham 1 2 3. But unlike Scott’s best film, Crimson Tide, it suffers from Scott’s seeming reluctance to allow his actors centre stage, and his tendency to one-up them with overly snappy editing and superfluous directorial flourishes.

Joshua Blackman


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