In the second half of 2007 French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee was allocated 51 days to shoot The Young Victoria. The penultimate day of shooting was set to coincide with England’s match against South Africa in the rugby union world cup final. The mainly British film crew wanted to wrap early and watch the game. ‘I told Rupert (Friend) and Emily (Blunt), ‘We should do everything we planned to do tomorrow today. We’ll work a bit harder to make it happen,” Vallee recalls.
Shooting finished in time and the wrap party kicked off as the players ran out onto the pitch. The English team lost the game but Vallee is proving rather more successful.
Following the release of festival favourite C.R.A.Z.Y. in 2006, he was inundated with offers to direct but nothing appealed. Then Julian Fellowes’ script for The Young Victoria arrived. ‘I had seen Gosford Park and liked it, ’ he recalls of the film for which Fellowes won an Oscar.
Victoria’s feisty character and the love story element won Vallee over. ‘She was a rebel, she was rock’n’roll in her own way and being a romantic guy I felt it could be a strong, beautiful, romantic story.’
The Young Victoria follows Victoria’s ascension to the throne, the early turbulent years of her reign and her marriage to Prince Albert. It stars Blunt in her first real lead, with Friend, Miranda Richardson and Paul Bettany.
Martin Scorsese produced the film along with Graham King, Tim Headington and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. Vallee admits the prospect of working with Scorsese was a draw. ‘People said, ‘You’re gonna work with Marty,’ so I jumped in.’ Then he says with a smile, ‘It’s too bad I haven’t met him yet.’
In preparing for filming, he became an expert on British history. ‘I read so many books. I had to know about the UK and about the past.’
To keep costs down, the producers looked at shooting in Eastern Europe and Germany. But they opted for England so the film would be as authentic as possible. Filming took place at 17 locations including Blenheim Palace and Arundel Castle. It was the French-speaking director’s first big English project and he found it challenging, but before long he was ‘almost as British as the British themselves’.
As a director he has his own way of working. ‘I do prepare for certain scenes, particularly when there are a lot of extras and actors involved. I like to design the shots on the day, on the set, with the actors as they arrive.’ A former DJ, he also gave each actor a particular song to listen to as preparation for their role.
He believes the key trait a director needs is passion. ‘The love of film-making is key,’ he says. ‘You need that curiosity to explore and not be afraid of the technical world… I define myself as a storyteller and this is my medium.’
Momentum Pictures opened The Young Victoria in the UK on March 6 where it grossed $1.4m (£1m). GK Films is handling international rights.