Calling all Anglophiles!
Englandâ€™sÂ longest reigning monarch takes on the cleverest subject of her (fictional)Â realm in this All-Union-Jack Smackdown.
Both repackaged and reimagined for theÂ new millenniumâ€™s theatergoing audience –Â the usually buttoned-up Victoria gets unstuffed and sexed up in a lushÂ period romance/political drama, and Sherlock gets the no-holds-barredÂ no-punches-pulled Guy Ritchie/Joel Silver treatment. Both title characters makeÂ formidable contenders for the Smackdown crown; thereâ€™s nothing I appreciateÂ more than a really good makeover.
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In This Corner
The Young Victoria works well;Â Emily Blunt inhabits the title role (her first) with serene confidence,
spirited intelligence and refined wit. Her Victoria is flesh and bone. You canÂ see all the gears whirring; never has political ambition and a steep learningÂ curve seemed so comely. As Albert, Rupert Friend makes for a dreamy match. PaulÂ Bettanyâ€™s steamy Lord Melbourne provides an unusually balanced
romantic/political triangle, especially for those who might be planning a visitÂ to Londonâ€™s Victoria and Lord Melbourne Museum. For the rest of us, knowing howÂ it ends doesnâ€™t hamper the drama in the least. Victoria and Albert have a trueÂ connection, and we ache for them to close the deal. These (whatâ€™s the oppositeÂ of star-crossed?) lovers earn all their honeymoon-hottie cavorting in the
sheets and on horseback, their waltz in the rain. We watch them and try toÂ reconcile our warehoused mental images of Old Victoria with this coltish girl.
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In That Corner
No tweedy opiate-smoking intellectualÂ will suffice for this lucrative franchise in the making â€“ Robert Downey Jr.â€™sÂ Sherlock Holmes is a full-on superhero action figure, still blessed withÂ unmatched deductive reasoning, now souped up with new and improved six-pack absÂ and the hand-to-hand ultimate fighting skills to go with â€˜em. Ritchieâ€™sÂ familiar stutter-cut flash forward and backward tricks service the hero well;Â Holmesâ€™ legendary mind works too fast for normal voiceover and mere dialogue.
His motor runs at warp speed, and so does Downeyâ€™s. By contrast, Jude Lawâ€™s Dr.Â Watson lives underwater, but like every true superheroâ€™s second, he alwaysÂ manages somehow to appear at the perfect moment. The plot is duly complicated,Â the action sequences and effects are expensive and compelling. But itâ€™sÂ Downeyâ€™s franchise to win or lose. In this, his second go-round as a British
icon (recall his BAFTA winning, Academy Award nominated turn as CharlieÂ Chaplin), Downeyâ€™s found a suitable role for all his crazy brilliance and keenÂ intelligence, and I suspect thrillseeking audiences will demand he return homeÂ to Holmes for a sequel or two. Take that, Iron Man 2.
â€œThe Young Victoriaâ€ is a feast forÂ the eyes. The clothes. The locations. The positively dizzifying interiors. AllÂ historically accurate and absolutely dazzling. This is a period piece thatÂ spares no expense to thrill and treat and teach. Every frame is a painting;Â director Jean-Marc VallÃ©e puts his camera exactly where it belongs. CostumeÂ dramas should thrill us aesthetically,Â and this one never disappoints. Luckily for us, human drama, compellinglyÂ complex political intrigue, and suspense arenâ€™t sacrificed on the altar ofÂ gorgeosity.
Bluntâ€™s Victoria is no addled Disney princess. A woman ofÂ substance from the start, resolutely herself, supremely self-assured, BluntÂ plays this worthy heroine to the hilt. The film is strongminded as well, notÂ stooping to sugarcoat or whitewash. Victoria makes rookie mistakes, suffersÂ serious consequences, and learns from them. A product of her time and herÂ ultra-rareified upbringing, Victoria struggles with the constraints withoutÂ offending propriety or tipping her hand. Her complicated relationships ebb andÂ flow; politics and family intermingle in alarming and surprising ways. A senseÂ of real and imminent danger floats above the proceedings, no small feat givenÂ that everyone knows Victoria more than survived. Unanswered questions hover,Â sustaining our interest and prolonging dramatic tension. Small currents ofÂ electricity charge even the most mundane moments; Mark Strongâ€™s malevolentlyÂ ambitious Sir John Conroy registers strongly as a the worthy villain. His everyÂ appearance amps up the tension and sense of danger. Miranda Richardson plays the
role of Victoriaâ€™s mother sympathetically — touching, clueless, wrongheaded,Â and sorely misled.
A few clumsy storytelling moments keep â€œYoung Victoriaâ€ fromÂ achieving inarguable masterpiece status, anchoring it securely in anÂ uber-expensive Masterpiece Theatre realm of excellence instead. Paragraphs ofÂ information and backstory get delivered hamhandedly; exposition that may beÂ necessary to get us up to historical speed occasionally detract from theÂ otherwise exquisite narrative flow and land us too squarely in the classroom.
(I was half expecting the ubiquitous Morgan Freeman to read all theÂ super-titles aloud.) The very end of the movie is a too-telescoped muddle;Â filmmakers overshot their mission, imparting too much drama in unfortunateÂ shorthand and rendering it dry as dust. They might have more wisely ended
earlier and provided the necessity for a fully realized sequel. (The Less YoungÂ Victoria?) But this is niggling. The achievement is huge and worthy of a look,Â the bigger the screen, the better.
Without my urging, audiences are packing the multiplex, respondingÂ to Sherlock Holmesâ€™ humor and panache; new superheroes are always welcome, andÂ well-conceived ones are rare. Holmes is more than a collection of fancy parlorÂ tricks; he actually uses his keen powers of observation to solve every dilemmaÂ and puzzle the script throws in his path. He stays a step ahead of everyoneÂ onscreen and the audience, and Downeyâ€™s tossed-off ease makes for the coolestÂ Holmes version ever.
Anachronisms rule in Sherlock Holmesâ€™ Victorian London.
Rachel McAdamsâ€™ smokey-eye makeup and George Sand-style trousers defy periodÂ convention and common sense. But one suspects period accuracies are not a partÂ ofÂ the Sherlock Holme missionÂ statement; the under-construction Tower Bridge looms large throughout,Â patiently and ominously waiting its turn for a climactic action sequence thatÂ doesnâ€™t disappoint. The opening and closing credits are stylish and moody, theÂ art direction detailed and dark.
Mark Strong plays the villain in “Sherlock Holmes” as well; aÂ younger and more menacing British version of Stanley Tucci. Eddie Marsan playsÂ a creepy Inspector Lestrade, and seven foot tall Robert Mailletâ€™s Dredger is aÂ real live special effect, an impossibly lethal walking talking weapon. TheÂ story is overly complicated and arcane hokum; no one but Holmes could ever makeÂ sense of it all, but wrap it up in a tidy ribbon he does.
Like most superhero-and-trusty-sidekick dynamic duos, WatsonÂ and Holmes banter endlessly, arguing like an old married couple, adding aÂ none-too-subtle homoerotic subtext to their longstanding living arrangement.
The women add no real sexual heat to the proceedings; Irene dresses like a manÂ for half the movie, and Mary clucks and fusses more like a guardian thanÂ fiancee. No, the real love match here is clearly between the doctor and hisÂ longtime companion; the women function as elaborate beards, and the obstaclesÂ and objections they inspire raise questions that never get adequately answered.
â€œSherlock Holmesâ€ is a better themeÂ park ride of a movie, and I canâ€™t deny how much fun most of the audience seemedÂ to be having. For me though, all that snarky unraveling of a puzzle constructed
just to be unraveled leaves me wanting a little more, and all the gunplay,Â explosions, and fisticuffs leave me wanting a little less. Maybe Iâ€™m justÂ testosterone challenged, but Iâ€™ll take revelatory history over convoluted mystery.Â â€œThe Young Victoriaâ€ wins the day. Any day.