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The Young Victoria

Historical dramas have been a very popular cinematic staple since the medium began.  Filled with lavish sets and exquisite costumes, they provide a visual document of the tribulations of centuries past.  Odd as this may sound, they have a kindred spirit with the science fiction genre in that the current generation watch these movies to fulfil a need in experiencing a past and future they’ll never know.  The Young Victoria expertly accommodates the former with an engaging exploration in the formative years of a long reigning monarch.
Crowned Queen of England in 1837, 18 year old Victoria (Emily Blunt) feels the weight of the nation on her shoulders.  Her first steps in establishing her authority meet firm opposition from various courtesans desperate to control the young sovereign for their own ends.  Salvation arrives in the form of Prince Albert (Rupert Friend), a fellow independently minded soul matching her forthright manner.  Charting the course of their romance and marriage, The Young Victoria shows how their influence ensured a royal dynasty would last until the present day.
It’s true similarly themed epics have plodded along however Julian Fellowes’ script for The Young Victoria sets a cracking pace.  As with any biopic, plenty of dramatic licence has been used to spice proceedings although this shouldn’t distract from a quite interesting story.  Not only does Victoria’s rise to power mirror the journey into adulthood teenagers undergo, but also their endeavours to find their place in a sometimes unforgiving world.  Amongst the politicking and power plays, it’s this strand which endures creating a central focus in which to portray events.
At the heart of the script is the love between Victoria and Albert which only occasionally slips into Mills and Boon territory.  It’s a credit to the actors that they bring genuine sincerity to their relationship.  Only occasionally do screen couples have such authenticity, with Blunt and Friend giving fine performances.  The rest of the cast and production compliment their efforts with rarely a dull moment to be seen.  Perhaps the pacing may be a little to fast in some sections, although generally the gist of each defining moment is reasonably conveyed.
Presenting a very different portrait of Queen Victoria some may be used to The Young Victoria succeeds in showing how her strong mettle made her the longest serving English monarch in history.  With Queen Elizabeth II almost reaching Victoria’s record, it may be quite awhile before the present Majesty receives the royal treatment in cinematic biography.
Rating out of 10:  8

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Watching a remake can prove perilous.  As the lights dim and film uncoils, there is always hope that good memories of the forerunner surface.  When a bad remake occurs, the level of disappointment can be palatable with the precursor’s lustre tainted by association.  A ‘play safe’ philosophy seems apparent in this re-imagining of The Taking of Pelham 123 as it discards the risk taking that established the 1974 version as a genre classic.
Demoted to the subway dispatch unit in New York’s busy rail network, Walter Garber’s (Denzel Washington) day is about to get worse.  Worrying about bribery allegations haunting him, he notices the Pelham 123 train has stopped.  Inquiring its status, he is shocked to learn of its takeover by armed criminals.  Chief among them is Ryder (John Travolta) who demands a multi-million dollar ransom in exchange for its passengers lives.  As the city officials scramble to gather the cash, Walter and Ryder begin an intense psychological battle where the victor can bask in the afterglow of personal redemption.
One of the questions arising when remakes are announced is: why?   Properly scripted and acted films should never need this treatment as their timeless qualities enable them to transcend generations.  Pelham 123 is the latest piece in this riddle with the era of pay TV and DVD providing easy access to those desiring to see it.  But Hollywood knows better and jazzes up the intense and gritty thriller with lots of gunplay, car crashes and unbelievably cheesy dialogue. The actors can’t be blamed as Washington and Travolta are actually very good, with the latter exuding genuine menace.  Whilst their scenes enliven proceedings considerably, it’s the sequences away from their characters that are the trouble.
Having built up the main leads as broken men almost cut from the same cloth, Pelham 123 spends a lot of time utilising its mega budget.  The swooping cameras and explosions for which director Tony Scott enjoys are in abundance with all adding nothing to the story.  It’s almost as if the very reason why it was remade - to update the original - is why it falters.  Its modern leanings feel very contrived and dilute the tension generated from the scenario.  This robs much of the narrative focus of earlier scenes replaced by far fetched pyrotechnics in an increasingly over the top finale.
The first version of The Taking of Pelham 123 was unique enough to set it apart.  This differentiation is missing with this remake feeling very much like many other recent action flicks with interesting characterisation making way for mindless action.  Occasionally engaging, its main saving grace is the hope that newer watchers will be keen enough to seek its more substantial predecessor.
Rating out of 10:  4