Less is more

On Monday, I watched a film that I’d recorded last week, The Young Victoria. I’d seen the film before and remembered it for its lovely romantic moments. After a hectic weekend, I felt like losing myself again in the romance between the young Victoria (Emily Blunt), eighteen when she came to the throne, and Prince Albert (Rupert Friend).

The Young Victoria poster, courtesy of Wikipedia

I wasn’t disappointed – I found myself smiling at the screen throughout the film, a tear or two in my eyes at times. In a series of simple scenes, the film conveyed the deep emotion felt by two people whose relationship was being encouraged for political reasons, but who were genuinely falling in love.

I’ve been thinking back to three of the scenes that I found the most memorable, and asking myself why they worked so well.

1)  In their first meeting, they play chess and walk together up the stairs at the end of the evening. Having always had to climb the stairs holding the hand of either her mother or her lady-in-waiting, this time Victoria insists that it’s Albert’s hand she holds – a significant moment in their relationship. Their exchanges are few and are inhibited by their position and status, but it is clear that each finds the other very attractive, both physically and mentally. She sees his sincerity and caring for others; he sees her warm heart and anxiety to do right, and by the end of their first meeting, we know that they have fallen in love.

Emily Blunt, courtesy of Wikipedia

Rupert Friend, courtesy of Wikipedia









Victoria, having escaped the domination of her mother and Sir John Conroy, is unwilling to relinquish her freedom so soon, so Albert returns home. In between writing letters to her, and receiving them back from her, he remembers Victoria’s disappointment at him being unable to waltz, and secretly decides to remedy the situation. Eventually, he returns to England for her Coronation and …

2)  … as soon as Victoria arrives at the Coronation Ball, Albert is the first person she approaches. In front of the Court, she starts to dance the waltz with him, although she fears the worst, remembering his words during his last visit. To her joy, he dances beautifully, and during the dance it becomes clear to each of them how the other feels.

It isn’t an original moment – I remember, for example, a similar scene in the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice, but it’s a very moving moment because we already know so much about the two people, and we understand and care for them.

Victoria continues alone for longer, but rather loses her way. Needing help – and love – she sends for Albert. Everyone in the court, as well as Prince Albert and the viewers, realises why she’s sent for him. After greeting him, she calls him to her day room and …

3)  … asks him to marry her. He was not allowed to propose marriage to the queen, who had a higher status and greater wealth than he – she had to ask him – and she did so in a scene that was moving in its simplicity, but that allowed us to feel the depth of emotion felt by them both. I defy anyone not to shed a tear when Albert hugs Victoria immediately after accepting her proposal, showing his genuine love for her.

Throughout the film, we are shown their love growing and deepening. The words between them are relatively few, and the sexual side of their life is suggested rather than shown in glorious technicolour, yet the film is deeply romantic.

It’s very much a case of less is more, I would say.

Can you think of any films or books that use restraint in order to create their effect?

P.S. Anyone who suggest Fifty Shades of Grey will not be taken seriously!


  • I could suggest the BBC version of North & South for URST but must point out there was a huge appetite for sexy fanfics afterwards. I know where you are coming from but I am the kind of undiscriminating person who has enjoyed Young Victoria and 50 Shades of Grey… I don’t think I’m the only person with Katie FForde on the bedside cabinet, John Sutherland’s literary puzzles in the bathroom and Portia Da Costa on my Kindle. Or maybe I am… 🙂

    • Liz:

      Many thanks for your comment, Phillipa.

      The Fifty Shades of Grey was tongue in cheek! I have read every Earl Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie, most of Dostoevsky, all of George Eliot, Jane Austen (several times), Jill Mansell, Katie Fforde, and so on. I’m very eclectic in my taste – I just love a good book, whatever the genre. Like you, by the sound of it.

  • I’ll jump back into films…one of the most romantic scenes which is so understated is Miss Potter with Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger…there is a scene where they dance…must watch again and Young Victoria which I loved…

    I read widely as well 🙂


    • Liz:

      Thannk you for your comment, Liz.

      I’ve never seen Miss Potter. I was put off by the reviews at the time, but will remedy it with a DVD. There must be something about two people dancing. Such a shame that DH has two left feet!

  • Oh yes, Liz F – Miss Potter is heart breaking and the dance scene makes me cry every time.

  • Liz H – Don’t be put off! It’s a marvellous film.

    • Liz:

      With my husband away – he’s not a great romantic – it sounds the ideal film for me to watch! I shall check out BT vision first thing. You and Liz have sold it to me!

  • Nikki:

    I don’t remember any dancing, but the first few minutes of the animated film ‘Up’ are very moving and incredibly understated, particularly the empty nursery moment.

    • Liz:

      I don’t know that film ‘Up’ at all. But an empty nursery alone is enough to bring a tear to the eye! It reminds me of Peter Pan, when the Darlings found that their children had – literally – flown the nest. I shall keep my eye open for the film.

  • Gina Rossi:

    Has anyone got to grips with ‘The Game of Thrones’ (no spoilers please! I am behind, having only watched S1)?
    It’s along time since I’ve seen a relationship like the one between Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, and his wife, Catelyn. That was special.

    • Liz:

      I don’t know ‘The Game of Thrones’. I love the names of the characters, though. It sounds as if it’s a TV programme. I shall check the schedules and see if I’m right. If it’s on Sky, it will explain why I don’t know of it, but if it isn’t, I’ll catch up with it – you’ve intrigued me.

      Many thanks for your comment, Gina.

      • Gina Rossi:

        S1 is available on Amazon.uk. The books are huge (as in fat, written 1996-ish). Beautifully filmed though gruesome and raunchy in places. Kind of ‘medieval fantasy’ – the bastard, Lord Snow (actor Kit Harrington) is another favorite *swoon* of mine!

        • Liz:

          I don’t know Kit Harrington, either. I’ve clearly missed out. Gruesome and rauchy I can certainly do; moreover, when there’s eye candy thrown in for good measure …

  • Do watch Miss Potter but have an entire box of tissues at the ready. Beautiful film. I also loved Young Victoria and North and South plus the old version of Persuasion with Ciaran Hinds.

    • Liz:

      I love the book ‘Persuasion’, but don’t think I’ve seen that film version.

      The novel came about three quarters of the way down my list of favourite Jane Austen novels when I first read it, but it’s now third on the list. ‘Pride & Prejudice’ will always be my favourite, and then ‘Emma’, but I think ‘Persuasion’ is really interesting in what it says about the way in which Jane’s attitude to gentilty changed over the years.

      Thank you for commenting.

  • Julie-Ann:

    The Piano with Harvey Keitel and Holly Hunter is the most romantic film I’ve watched. Ever. It is my benchmark for any future romances I would write. Powerful, atmospheric and beautiful. Written and directed by a woman – Jane Campion. Even better!

    • Liz:

      Many thanks for your comment, Julie-Ann.

      I, too, LOVED The Piano. I thought it a beautiful film. She’s a most interesting director. I though Anna Paquin very good in it, too.

  • Yes, I watched Young Victoria recently and enjoyed it. You picked out some great moments , Liz. One favourite moment in Zhivago is when Dr Z writes his poems. Frost on the windows and isolation and love of two women but especially Lara. I loved all the romantic scenes in that movie and in the book and I think the sex was handled in both with subtlety.

    • Liz:

      I’d forgotten Dr. Zhivago. That was a beautiful book, and it made a lovely film. It was so sad. Many thanks for reminding me of it.

  • Love, love, love the scene in ‘Witness’ when Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis dance to Sam Cooke on a car radio; they don’t kiss, they barely touch, but the moment is electric with sexual tension.

    • Liz:

      That’s a terrific film, Chris. It’s so well structured as a story that it’s been used to illustrate film structure in an excellent book about writing screenplays. The scene you described perfectly illustrates the fact that less can be more when creating real romantic tension.

  • Wendy Loveday:

    I loved The Tourist with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie – very clever love/thriller/mystery/comedy (sorry, no idea how to pick a genre for this one!) story set in Venice. The dance scene is fabulous and the sexual tension after the first kiss is amazing. Highly recommend it fo rthe emotional journey and the fact that Johnny is not hard on the eyes!
    And as for Miss Potter, I dismissed the idea too at first, but my daughter made me watch it…and she provided the tissues, thankfully. I loved it.
    Sense and Sensibility, of course, with its fantastic restraint throughout is fabulous too. Ang Lee was very clever in the final scene as he directed Emma Thompson not to look above her own eyeline, thus she was not able to look up at Hugh Grant creating an incredible tension that was finally allowed to break right at the end. Tears, tears and more tears for me!

    • Liz:

      I adored ‘Sense and Sensibility’. I thought it a superb adaptation, and absolutely true to the spirit of the novel – except for the absence of the age references in the book – Emma Thompson left those out as she was actually a little old to play the part. The dialogue that ET gave the characters, which wasn’t in the book, was amazing.

      ‘Miss Potter’ is now high on my list of must-sees.

      ‘The Tourist’ is another film I ignored owing to the mediocre reviews. Also, I’m not nuts about Johnny Depp. I’m waiting for the Heavens to open up for that blasphemy!! But he always seem to be playing around with a wispy beard or a wispy moustache. Maybe if he was clean-shaven …

      Thank you for commenting, Wendy.

  • ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ did it for me, both the book and the film. Three heroes or rather anti-heroes in the case of Sergeant Troy is a lot to cover but I loved the bit at the end where the steady, measured, dependable and rather wonderful looking (Alan Bates I think in the film) tames Bathsheba and shows her she’s been looking for love in the wrong places. Magic. Slow-burning magic.

  • Ooops, I got so carried away there I forgot to say it is Gabriel Oak Bathsheba falls for…. fans herself with back of hand!

    • Liz:

      I really liked ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’, both film and book, although I preferred the book of ‘Tess of the D’Urbevilles’. Yes, despite all the coincidences.

      I rather fancied Peter Finch, who played Boldwood. I’ve thought him eminently fanciable since seeing him in ‘A Town Like Alice’ and in The Nun’s Story’, where he was Dr. Fortunati.

      My late uncle, the one who compiled the Ladakh album which inspired ‘The Road Back’, used to have a fabulous antiques’ shop on Kew Green, and Alan Bates was one of his customers. They became friends.

      Thank yoy for your comment, Cara.

  • John Jackson:

    Even I would recommend Miss Potter!

    Joan Hickson had that fantastic capacity of “NOT acting” as Miss Marple. She had that quality of stillness; so much better than Geraldine McEwan. Jim Carrey was infinitely better in The Trueman Show where Peter Weir stopped him from overacting, than in pretty well anything else he has done.

    Just my 2p.

    • Liz:

      I now can’t wait to seee Miss Potter, John.

      I so agree about Joan Hickson. She was far and away the best Miss Marple – better than Margaret Rutherford, Geraldine McEwan, Julia McKenzie and that awful American Miss Marple – Helen Hayes, I think it was. She was believable as a woman of quiet intelligence and perception. I love the books, too.

  • Great post Liz. Haven’t seen The Young Victoria but I shall have to now I’ve read your post. I can’t think of a modern day film to answer your question with, but I love 1950s films because the focus is on the story-especially Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Roman Holiday where the chemistry between Audrey Hepburn and the hero in both is wonderful. My husband and I were just watching some of The Apartment with Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon. The dialogue is so beautifully written and everything moves a bit more slowly than it would now. French films still tend to be like this and there is a film which is great fun with Audrey Tatou called Hors de Prix (Priceless)-a romantic comedy set in the South of France with great chemistry between her and the hero and I found it very funny (and I just read on Wikipedia that it’s based on Breakfast at Tiffanys which I hadn’t realised…)

    • Liz:

      Anita – the Audrey Tatou, I don’t know, but I’ve seen ‘The Apartment’ and really enjoyed it, also ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, but my favourite of the films you mentioned, I love ‘Roman Holiday’. There’s a lovely, quiet, understated romance running through it.

      Audry Hepburn has been in some lovely romantic films. I know that I’ve mentioned ‘The Nun’s Story’ before (OK several times), but, like ‘Roman Holiday’, there was the possibilty of real love between the central characters, had not their circumstances made that impossible. That’s always a situation for a box of kleeenex.

  • Katie Carr:

    Liz – I also enjoyed watching The Young Victoria again; perfect movie for a quiet evening in! I think there’s a lot to be said for those ‘understated moments’. Two other great favourites of mine are ‘Out of Africa’ (Meryl Streep and Robert Redford convey so much with so little) and ‘Sense and Sensibility’ with Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant ( I agree with Wendy – the build up at the end before she finally breaks down is almost unbearable in its polite negation of feeling). And oh – DO treat yourself to a viewing of Game of Thrones; you will appreciate the historical/geographical parallels and the standard of acting and production is an absolute joy. I’m hooked!

    • Liz:

      I haven’t seen ‘Out of Africa’ as I’m not keen on Meryl Streep, although, having said that, I really enjoyed ‘Doubt’. ‘Game of Thrones’ I don’t know, and clearly I must remedy this. You are not the first person to praise this.

      Many thanks for your comment, Katie.

  • So many romantic movies and all so very different in tone. I also loved “Green Card” with Gerard Depardieu and Andy MacDowell. I love it when couples couldn’t seem more unsuited and yet love overcomes all odds. Aaahhh.

    • Liz:

      Thank you for your comment, Susan. I, too, love genuinely romantic films – films with a sense of a real atttraction between the couple.

      I thought ‘Green Card’ great fun. I’ve seen it twice. I think that Andie MacDowell was actually better in that than in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’.

Leave a Message