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#21. Victoria & Albert, #22. The Young Victoria

The Young Victoria 2009While some docudramas have as much production value and spectacle as the book on tape version of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, many showcase a moment in history capable of acquiring audience interest. Of course this interest is subjective, so how many viewers fall asleep during the BBC’s 2001 docudrama Victoria & Albert is, in a way, independent of the film itself. Even a great book chronicling the romance between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert is still a book detailing the courtship of 19th century English royalty. Forgoing the artistic license granted to feature films, it is an accurate chronicling of history that a true docudrama is concerned. Does that mean Victoria & Albert is a more faithful recount of that moment in time than the feature length film The Young Victoria (2009) that tells the same story?

To answer that question it is important to define the term “docudrama,” especially compared to a documentary or feature. An amalgam of narrative films and classical documentaries, docudramas have several specific characteristics. The typical docudrama “sticks to the facts as they are known… The goal is to give basic information, allowing them (the viewer) to draw their own conclusions.” (WiseGeek.com) Unlike documentaries, which often include varying degrees of agenda, be it personal commentary from the director or a flat out persuasive intent, docudramas are only here to present actuality. Take it or leave it.

More recreation than inspiration, docudramas lack the pageantry of most mainstream feature films. Opposing the basic design of cinema, docudramas are more concerned with information than entertainment, however, that is not to say they do not strive for dramatic effect. “Docudramas do not integrate fictional elements… remaining true to the events they document as much as possible… they can make historical events feel more accessible.” (WiseGeek.com)

That being said, when comparing a docudrama to a feature film, each presenting a version of a historical and well-known event, which form is more accurate? Or even more to the point, which is more engaging? No matter how factual any version of a story may be, if does not somehow engage the viewer and maintain a grasp on his or her attention, than its accuracy is irrelevant. Luckily for this spectator, Victoria & Albert surprisingly kept me rapt, engrossed by not only the natural allure of Queen Victoria’s fascinating life, but also the charm of the titular couple’s relationship. Likewise, The Young Victoria competently demonstrated the young queen’s development, but with an obvious budget that elevated the proceedings seen in Victoria & Albert far above mere made-for-television reenactments. Victoria & Albert 2001The pomp and circumstance shimmers throughout the feature, perhaps an obvious compensation for the inaccuracies only devoted historians of the period. And there in lies the danger. Where it is safe to assume that the events showcased in the BBC docudrama are faithful and true-to-life, trusting a filmmaker who in the end must always account for profit, like those of feature length films, historical accuracy must often times be manipulated for narrative consideration.

For instance, when discussing The Young Victoria on BBC 4 radio show Film Programme, writer Julian Fellowes admitted to the fact that Prince Albert never took a bullet for Victoria. A fictional concoction for pure spectacle’s sake, Fellowes crafted the exciting moment to further convince the audience of the newlywed’s bravery and integrity. Not only does this revelation disappoint on an emotional level (who doesn’t love a martyr for love?), but also forces the viewer on an academic level to question every event depicted throughout the picture. This confidence is mandatory for a director/spectator relationship, credence necessary for any enjoyment to be had when experiencing a historical portrayal on film.

Film can and should be considered an educational medium, but there are limitations that must always be considered when basing what is fact off of what is on screen. For a mainstream film like The Young Victoria, producing a product entertaining enough to sell tickets comes before telling a factual story. It may give viewers a good impression of an event or of a time and place, but should never be believed to be completely genuine. 

Smith, S.E. "What is a Docudrama." WiseGeek. WiseGeek, n.d. Web. 9 Nov 2011.


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  • Response
    Response: Christian Pellerin
    Thank you for making the distinction between these movie genres. I have not watched this movie but will surely do.
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    Response: search engine
    #21. Victoria & Albert, #22. The Young Victoria - Home - Controller Unplugged

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