Hollywood learns a history lesson at last.
A new film about Queen Victoria is remarkable for its lack of
anti-British prejudice.
  by Andrew Roberts, 18 February, 2009
Hallelujah! Hollywood is finally releasing a movie about a British historical subject that is truthful, intelligent, nuanced and pro-British. Here, at last, is a film in which a cut-glass English accent does not denote colonialist evil, sexual perversion or serial killing.
For decades Hollywood has treated its audiences like morons, straitjacketing complex historical issues into goodies versus baddies. A classic example is the recent release Valkyrie, in which the German generals' assassination plot against Hitler is presented as having been launched in order to promote human rights and the decent treatment of minorities. The fact that Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the undeniably brave would-be assassin described Poles as "an unbelievable rabble" of "Jews and mongrels" is conveniently forgotten.
The Young Victoria, released in Britain next month, could not be more different. In it we experience the joy of witnessing the highly political Bedchamber Crisis of 1839 being acted out between the Whig Lord Melbourne and the Tory Sir Robert Peel, something I never thought I would ever see on the silver screen. Like A Man For All Seasons and Oliver Cromwell, two excellent historical movies also based closely on fact, Victoria works because the viewer is not patronised or told what to think.
The story is about how the politically-arranged marriage between Victoria and Prince Albert none the less turned into a genuine love match. Normally, filmmakers would have pared all the minor characters away to mere caricatures, yet this movie features the interaction between such esoteric figures as Baroness Lehzen, Sir John Conroy, Baron Stockmar, Lady Flora Hastings and any number of others whom one would otherwise have come across only in the pages of Elizabeth Longford's biography of Queen Victoria or the second volume of Lord David Cecil's life of Lord Melbourne.

With Hollywood movies such as The Reader asking us to believe that a Nazi concentration camp guard would willingly face life in prison sooner than be unmasked as illiterate, and U-571 claiming that the Americans rather than the Royal Navy captured the submarine codebooks that allowed Enigma to be decrypted, it is a liberating experience to watch a movie whose screenplay (by the British writer Julian Fellowes) is based on the most important primary sources of the early Victorian period. Swathes of the script stem directly from the reported speech of the real people themselves.

Where there are inventions in the movie – Albert is shown attending the Coronation, for example, and being grazed by the bullet during one of the many assassination attempts on his wife – these in no way intrude or detract. Contrast that to the way that Hollywood edited British and Canadian contributions to D-Day in Saving Private Ryan, for example, or regularly traduces the achievements of the British Empire.
When Hollywood attempts to deal with Irish themes, for example, it produces narratives that amount to a vindication of nationalist terrorism, which would profoundly shock Americans were al-Qaeda to be transposed for the IRA. Michael Collins, Rob Roy, Patriot, Braveheart, Some Mother's Son and scores of others have profoundly racially anti-British messages.
By contrast, Victoria is an intelligent investigation into the relatively little-known 1837-42 period of British history, with the Duke of Wellington treated sympathetically, and Zadok the Priest belted out just as it will be at the next Coronation.
It is probably too much to hope that Hollywood has fundamentally altered its view of the English – we are still the minority it's totally safe to be racist towards – but Victoria allows us a glimpse of how good Hollywood history movies could be if they didn't exude such prejudice against us and our past.
  I think I'll keep my opinion on this one to myself....
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