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May contain spoilers and irreverence.
The ITV series Victoria recently concluded on PBS in the States and it seems like a good time to organize my feelings about it, which are mixed. PBS keeps trying to fill the large gap left by Downton Abbey , first with Indian Summers which didn’t catch on, though I liked it and now Victoria, which seems to have been upstaged by The Crown which I haven’t seen, because I don’t have Netflix.
First off, let me say that the production values, are as always terrific, some scenes look like paintings, which is my ultimate compliment. I saw a couple reviews disparaging the CGI exterior scenes of far views of London and some palaces, but while they were repetitive(there’s the duck flying off to the left again), they were believable. Jenna Coleman is well cast as the young Victoria, a person whose youth was a bit hard to imagine, with so much more known about her in middle age and older. I often found myself imagining Coleman’s gradual morphing into Dame Judi Dench’s Mrs. Brown (a truly splendid film), and was not always successful. Perhaps one becomes more dignified with age?
The youthful aspect is a large element of the earlier episodes, Victoria’s lack of confidence makes us sympathetic. Because of her childhood isolation and her mother’s other preoccupations, Lord Melbourne, her Prime Minister, becomes her professional and emotional life raft. Rufus Sewell was never so attractive as he is providing guidance combined with self-depreciating humor. Viewers, as well as Victoria, were understandably smitten with him. So, that makes it all the more jarring when Albert appears on the scene. Oh, Tom Hughes looks the part, wearing spiffy military uniforms and casting forelock bedecked devoted gazes. But not only is he emotionally remote, he continually speaks in a half whisper that was extremely annoying. Is it supposed to be sexy? “Speak up”, I wanted to shout whenever he was onscreen.
It’s at this point that Victoria becomes a shallow young thing, instantly transferring her affections to the breathy Albert. Lord M is instantly forgotten, and not a mention is made of him for the last several episodes of the series’ first season. In fact, he disappears completely after her wedding to Albert. His courtly congratulations to her in a long candle-lit hall left viewers teary and wishing for another outcome altogether. My sister was prone to ignoring the historical facts and wishing devoutly that the Queen and Lord M had made a go of it.
Albert showed a more positive side when he spoke against slavery in Parliament and in his excitement of the newfangled railroad. It was startling to realize just how recent the railway system came to be and how quickly it became a force in industry and transportation. With his wife as monarch, I could understand Albert’s frustration at having nothing to do, but all the pouting about it got on my nerves. So many things about him annoyed me that I couldn’t really buy into him as Victoria’s Great Love. I know the actors are romantically involved in real life, but we shouldn’t have to count on celebrity gossip to transmit their relationship. The writers ought to have done a better job of conveying Albert’s appeal to Victoria, the way it was presented made it look as if her affections just landed on whatever male was most present in her life. Personally, I found Albert’s brother, Earnest far more charming.Well, except for his visits to prostitutes.
They were also a bit sloppy with the “downstairs” portion of the story. Hints and half portions of various servants’ backgrounds were frustrating, a story line would be tracked intently for a brief time and abruptly dropped, such as a romance between one of the head servants, Penge and a woman servant from one of the Coberg relatives. The only pair that was actually followed through, was with a lady’s maid and a pastry chef, who went from potential blackmailer(the maid worked in a brothel’s laundry previously) to wooing her with spun sugar creations. That sort of stalkerish behavior was way more unsettling than romantic.
As to historical accuracies, I know that there was some fudging. For one thing, Lord M was much older in actuality and not nearly as dashing as Sewell. The costumes, though are accurate, since I recognized quite a few from vintage pictures.
A second season of Victoria has already been announced and I’m hesitant about it. I enjoyed seeing the historical settings and found some of the characters likable, but the thought of hours more of the whispering Albert is grating. And hoping for more of “Lord M” is useless. So I’ll have to determine if those disappointments are just too much to overcome.
Mammoth Screen Productions, 2016 8 episodes in first season Aired on ITV in UK, PBS in the U.S.