Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: Victoria TV series

I recently watched Victoria on Masterpiece Theater and enjoyed it so much that I want to share it with you. It’s another impeccably well written, acted, costumed, and staged British period drama aimed at the same audiences that enjoy Downton Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and The Queen.

Victoria follows the young Victoria from the time she becomes Queen of England through the birth of her first child. Jenna Coleman is absolutely enchanting as Victoria, and there are strong supporting roles for Tom Hughes as Albert, Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne, and Outlander’s Nell Hudson as Victoria’s servant.

I’ve generally thought of Queen Victoria as a dour old prude, in part because she spent half her life mourning the death of her soulmate and in part because an era associated with repressive social standards bears her name. Yet this show portrays her as exuberant, independent, playful, outspoken, and quite determined once she sets her mind to something (i.e., genteelly kickass). She’s a joy and an inspiration to watch, and I’ve gained a new appreciation for the real Queen Victoria. She was just a typical teenager in many ways, whose country called her to duty and who bravely accepted the challenge.

I hope you’ll join me after the jump for more details about this delightful series.





Victoria begins when 18-year-old Alexandrina Victoria finds out that the King has died and she is now Queen of England. Her succession was a bit convoluted. Her father was the fourth son of King George III. Her father died when Victoria was young, and his three older brothers died without heirs. (The presumed heir, her cousin Princess Charlotte, died in childbirth five years before.) But Victoria is determined to do her duty and face her obligations head on.

Victoria knows how to select
a good support team
Her first priority is getting out from under the thumb of the various political operatives who want to control help her. Like her mother’s conniving lover, relatives who are next in line for the throne, and lords looking to elevate their political parties. She has never been allowed out in public much, or to choose her friends, perhaps in hopes of making her easier to manipulate. But surprise! She’s not.


Victoria is feisty and intelligent. People assume that because she’s young, very short, and female she’ll be easy to influence, but she proves to be a savvy young queen and a quick learner.

She forms a close relationship with the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, whom she realizes holds her own and England’s best interests in higher esteem than his own power and comfort. He’d love nothing more than to retire to his estate and finish writing his book about some saint. (His wife ran off with Lord Byron, his son died, he’s alone, and he grows tired.) Nevertheless, he serves as mentor, friend, and private secretary while Victoria comes up to speed in her new role and gains confidence in her ability to guide the nation.

BFFs who share long conversations and endless workloads

Rufus Sewell is superb in the role of Lord Melbourne. I remember him as a romantic cad years ago in Dangerous Beauty. And more recently as a sinister figure in The Man in the High Castle. But in Victoria, he’s just dreamy. Supremely chivalrous, unfailingly noble, tirelessly devoted, with just a hint of sadness and vulnerability lurking beneath the surface.

Everyone is all over Victoria to get married. They constantly condescend to lecture her that women cannot govern alone. (Didn’t Elizabeth I shut down that argument already??) Especially a young girl. Who’s so short she looks like a child.

She seems to be doing well enough on her own

I watched these episodes around the time of the Women’s March in January, and I was not having their bullshit. Here was yet another group of old, wealthy, privileged men lecturing a woman about what she can’t do, what she’s not capable of, and how she needs a man to ground her. So it was a great delight to watch Victoria thumb her nose at them and prove them wrong. Arseholes.

Victoria dispenses with most of the suitable suitors fairly quickly and decides she’d like to remain single. And then Albert shows up. He’s her first cousin that her mother keeps telling her to marry (and she keeps telling her mother to STFU). She tells Albert not to visit, but he does anyway, and the rest is a legendary romance.

Victoria doesn’t know Albert, hasn’t seen him in several years, and remembers him as unappealing. Albert’s boorish, pretentious uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, had been married to Princess Charlotte, so he had expected to become the Queen of England’s consort himself before being forced to settle for a less powerful position. Leopold hasn’t stopped plotting to insert his family into the royal British bloodline, and keeps badgering Victoria’s mother to facilitate the marriage. As if Victoria can be so easily led.

Albert is a younger son of a noble family with no money. He is studious, serious, and brooding, not terribly charismatic at first meeting. Or second. He turns his nose up at frivolous courtly activities. He is horrified that Victoria doesn’t seem to know she owns paintings by Masters such as da Vinci and Rembrandt, much less appreciate them. They decide they are not suited for marriage.

Then there’s a scene, where Victoria and Albert play a Schubert duet on the piano, that is just loaded with powerful, unspoken emotion. This is an incredibly intimate activity for the time, sitting so close together, and all that touching of hands and arms...

Victorian porn — you might want to grab a fan for this performance

Followed by a waltz with sizzling chemistry that ends in a dramatically romantic gesture. Which, according to the series creator, is straight out of Victoria’s diary. She. Did. Not. Make. This. Up.

Or maybe grab a firehose

And after that, they’re smitten. They don’t see eye to eye on everything, but they agree, nevertheless, to persist. (At one point, she counters Albert’s plea that he doesn’t want a “marriage of convenience” by saying she thinks “it will be a marriage of inconvenience”.)

Albert is from the German duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. British lords have become quite angry about all those filthy Germans infiltrating their monarchy and gaining too much influence in their politics. They impose impediments. Victoria is not deterred, but Albert has a difficult adjustment. However, he is determined in his quest to win their respect, find enlightened causes to champion, and establish his own legacy.

He champions the expansion of the railways

And is an outspoken opponent of slavery

I have to say that, physically speaking, Albert isn’t my type. I don’t find him attractive, that thick hank of hair hanging in his eyes drives me bananas, and the way he looms 6 inches away from Victoria’s face glaring into her eyes while breathing all over her borders on creepy to me.

At least by their wedding,
he knew her well enough to get up in her face

But he’s meant to be a dashing romantic, and he eventually wins me over. As he gets to know Victoria, gazing into her eyes while holding her close becomes soulful. He’s able to share the things he loves with her and find common passions. But there’s a certain scene in a brothel where he wins my heart forever, just in case I’d forgotten the end of the waltz. What a devastatingly romantic guy!

Victoria doesn’t seem to strictly observe the social or political barriers between classes. If she likes you, you are her friend. When the Tories try to take over the government, she refuses to give up any of her ladies in waiting. They are her friends, not revolving appointments for wives of the ruling political party. When she ignores the rules and customs, and causes Parliament to get its knickers all in a knot, how much is naivete and how much is cunning?! This show keeps you guessing. She does become quite adept at getting her way, one way or another.

Nell Hudson, who plays Laoghaire (pronounced Leery, or Leghair by fans who love to hate her) on Outlander, gets a meaty role in Victoria where we can cheer her along instead of loathing her. She joins the Queen’s household as an assistant seamstress and also serves as Victoria’s hairdresser, so they get to be friendly. She has a very mysterious back story and a highly intriguing possible *fingers crossed that it’s not over* future story, as revealed over the course of the show.

Maybe she’ll leave Jamie Fraser alone now

There are other interesting “downstairs” stories about the servants that have potential to expand next season. And secondary characters. The way they left Albert’s brother’s story hanging was particularly frustrating.

I don’t think there’s a single thing about this show that I didn’t love. I thought it would be boring, sappy, and ponderously plodding — instead it’s full of political intrigue, romance, and a refreshingly youthful energy. Daisy Goodwin, the show’s creator and writer, gets most of her inspiration from Victoria’s own personal diaries, which she first read as research for a college essay. The thing that impressed her about them was how normal Victoria seemed, a typical teenage girl who loved to party, dance, flirt, and have fun. In interviews, Goodwin cites the first entry she ever read, from the night Victoria became engaged: she’d come in from the rain with Albert and he was wearing “white cashmere britches with nothing on underneath”. Which is just not what I would have expected Victoria to be commenting about in her diary, but it certainly makes her seem more relatable and approachable! It inspired Goodwin to keep reading and then to share her insights into this younger version of Victoria with a larger audience.

Some diary entries were deleted after Queen Victoria’s death, so we’ll never know all the details, and the show does take a few liberties here and there. For example, Lord Melbourne was quite a bit older and less attractive than Sewell, Victoria was by all accounts shorter, rounder, and frumpier than Coleman, and the odds are slim to none that there was a romantic attraction. (Sewell commented in an interview that Victoria probably just enjoyed being with someone who would let her do what she wanted for a change.) But these liberties don’t deter my enjoyment of the show. These were fascinating people who were called to serve a singular role in history and rose to the occasion. It is always interesting to peer behind the curtain and imagine what it would be like to walk a mile in their shoes.

The Real Queen Victoria and Prince Consort Albert

Most of what I’ve read and watched lately is dark, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian. By contrast, this is a breath of fresh air and full of light. I was most pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it, how long the weeks seemed to drag on between episodes, and how much I look forward to watching season 2. I highly recommend Victoria if you’re currently suffering through Droughtlander, waiting for winter in Westeros, or pining away for historical period dramas like Downton Abbey and The Crown.

And baby Princess Victoria makes three

Have you watched Victoria, Saucy Readers? What did you think? What other historical period dramas have you enjoyed?

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