The story opens on the morning of 20 June 1837, when the Lord Chamberlain and Archbishop of Canterbury arrive to inform young Princess Victoria that her uncle, William IV, is dead, and that she is now queen. The new queen's mother and her adviser, Baron Stockmar, have been used to seeing their opinions prevail with Victoria, but now she is on the throne, she makes an effort to assert herself and show that she will not be a mere puppet. However, she agrees to confirm Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne in his place. Melbourne advises Victoria to marry, and suggests her German cousin, Prince Albert. The two appear incompatible but soon find that they are in love. As Prince Consort, Albert becomes frustrated that he is given no role in governing the country and by his powerless role as husband to the queen. Though Sir Robert Peel suggests that Victoria share some of the burdens of the crown with her husband, she refuses, on the grounds that the people would reject Albert as an interfering ...
I had long been anxious to see this famous British biography, and finally found a copy available. Featuring a renowned performance by Anna Neagle, one of Great Britain's most famed golden age actresses, as Queen Victoria, this film was a huge hit when released during Coronation Summer in 1937. Although not made with US audiences in mind, VICTORIA THE GREAT also hit big in the states and resulted in producer/director Herbert Wilcox and future wife Neagle making a lucrative deal to work at RKO studios. The Wilcox/Neagle RKO films never achieved the level of acclaim enjoyed by their pairings in the UK, and they returned home during the war to many years of success.
Telling the story of Victoria's courtship and marriage to Prince Albert, VICTORIA THE GREAT has a very dated and sometimes static feel to it when compared to Hollywood films of the same era. It does, however, contain some very nice moments between Neagle's Victoria and Anton Walbrook's Albert, and Victoria has never, to my knowledge, been portrayed with such humanity and tenderness (at least until MRS. BROWN.) Lavishly produced, and with a Diamond Jubilee finale in TECHNICOLOR (one has to assume the original dye transfer prints were much more impressive than the muddy quality of the videocassette I viewed)it's easy to see why this appealed to 1937 British audiences reeling from the glamor of George VI's coronation that June. So successful was this biopic that Wilcox and Neagle filmed and released a sequel the following year, 60 GLORIOUS YEARS, shot entirely in TECHNICOLOR.
While not nearly as technically slick as such Hollywood biopics as MARIE ANTOINETTE or THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA, this one is definitely worth a look for history lovers and royal watchers. It's also a chance to see Dame Anna Neagle in one of her most famous portrayals.
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