When a film opens with a minute of captions filling in the historical context, followed by several more minutes of montage and voice-over filling in yet more historical context, that usually means it's a blockbuster about warring vampires and werewolves.
But The Young Victoria is disappointingly short of blood-drinking fiends, so in this case all the voice-overs and captions are even more off-putting. They're a glaring sign that the film-makers don't think we'll be able to understand the story of Queen Victoria's salad days unless they spell everything out in block capitals. Even when the dialogue is allowed to do some of the work, instead of the captions, it isn't much more subtle. Halfway through, Britain is shaken by a constitutional crisis, but you don't see it happening; what you see is a newspaper seller waving the evening edition and shouting, "Constitutional crisis!" We are amused, as Queen Vic might have said, but I don't think we're supposed to be.
At least The Young Victoria has, like all British period dramas, a procession of prestigious actors in expensive frocks. After Victoria's childhood is dispensed with in that opening montage, Emily Blunt takes over as the 17-year-old princess. Her uncle, William IV (a batty Jim Broadbent), is expected to peg out at any moment, and so the vultures of British politics and the European monarchy circle overhead, ready to swoop down and take control of the inexperienced heiress. Chief among them are Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), and her mother's Svengali, John Conroy, played by Mark Strong as such a ranting villain that he might count as a vampire or a werewolf after all. When Victoria is crowned, aged 18, she relies for advice on the oleaginous prime minister, Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), but she isn't comfortable in her new role until she marries the love of her life, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend).
I'd assume that it's the editing that's largely responsible for the dumbed-down storytelling, rather than Julian Fellowes's screenplay, and it would be fascinating to know who was behind it: two of The Young Victoria's producers are Martin Scorsese and Sarah Ferguson. But Fellowes has to shoulder some of the blame for the clunking dialogue. "Do you ever feel like you're a chess piece in a game being played against your will?" Victoria asks Albert, over a game of chess. He should do, because three scenes earlier someone informed him: "You are the next piece in the game."
American Teen is a fly-on-the-wall documentary which spans a year at a Midwest high school, as experienced by four pupils who are due to graduate. They conform to those beloved teen-movie archetypes: the Queen Bee who rules bitchily over her classmates; the Jock who's the star of the basketball team; the Nerd who's seeking a girlfriend who shares his love of video games; and the Rebel who sees herself as an outsider because she's interested in art and cinema.
It's a shock to see how uniformly poisonous these teenagers' parents are as they pressure and discourage their stressed-out children, but other-wise the only surprising thing about American Teen is how familiar it all is. The subjects behave exactly as they would in a John Hughes film, and the cliques, proms and climactic sports finals you might have seen in Mean Girls and American Pie are present and correct. The director, Nanette Burstein, even shuffles incidents around in the editing suite so that they fit the template of a clichéd teen movie: unless the Nerd has severe acne which vanishes and reappears several times a month, then the footage is being flagrantly manipulated. Not only is it morally iffy of Burstein to do so much tampering with her material, it also makes you question the point of the exercise: if she wanted to make a documentary that was as distorted and mendacious as any fictional film, why not just make a fictional film?
The week's third release to be based on true events is Flame & Citron, which takes its title from the codenames of two of Denmark's most celebrated Second World War resistance fighters. Casino Royale's Mads Mikkelsen is Citron, a family man who's initially sickened by the idea of murdering anyone but who grows into a vicious killer. Moving in the opposite direction, Thure Lindhardt is Flame, a cool, dapper assassin who comes to be racked by guilt and uncertainty. It's a taut, complex thriller, but beware: in Flame & Citron, truth is far bleaker than fiction.
Also Showing: 08/03/2009
Wendy and Lucy (80 mins, 15)
Atmospheric, low-key indie short story starring Michelle Williams as a quietly resilient young woman who's driving north to Alaska to find work, with her dog as her only companion. When her car breaks down and she loses her dog, she's trapped in an Oregon mill town.
Surveillance (97 mins, 18)
Jennifer Chambers Lynch's debut film, Boxing Helena, was one of Hollywood's most infamous flops, and, 16 years on, her follow-up isn't a major improvement. Surveillance is a seedy, sadistic, sub-Tarantino effort starring Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond as FBI agents who turn up at a remote police station to interview the witnesses to a gruesome killing. It's a long, slow wait for the blatantly telegraphed twist ending.
Reverb (84 mins, 15)
Eva Birthistle and Leo Gregory play two musicians who lock themselves in a recording studio overnight and summon the malevolent spirit of a Sixties rock star. Idiotic, incoherent Brit horror.
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