I’m officially calling 2017 “The Year of the Historical Miniseries,” haha! First I fell in love with Band of Brothers. Then I saw Wolf Hall (which was good, though I had my quibbles). Then my parents and I started a re-watch of Call the Midwife (and it’s as wonderful as ever). And now, I just finished this beautiful, inspiring miniseries:
I’ve already seen one miniseries and one film about the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign: Victoria and Albert, and The Young Victoria. I grew up on Victoria and Albert; I’ve seen it who-knows-how-many-times and it’s one of the reasons why I came to love the British royal family. Compared to it, The Young Victoria was mediocre (except for the costumes).
As much as I love Victoria and Albert, though, this new series starring Jenna Coleman as Victoria, Tom Hughes as Prince Albert, and Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne takes all the prizes for emotional impact, beautiful sets and costumes, and historical detail.
Victoria‘s first episode (there are 8 in the first season, and the second season is airing in the UK right now) begins with her ascension to the throne as an 18-year-old princess. She’s been smothered (“sheltered” is too good a word for it) by her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and the Duchess’ counselor Sir John Conroy–but Victoria is determined to break free of their abusive control. She finds a kindhearted, loyal ally in her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, and begins the difficult task of finding her place in the world: learning the intricacies of British government, outflanking her enemies, balancing her duties with her emotions, and finding a suitable husband in a shy but forward-thinking German prince.
For me it’s a familiar story–so it’s a testament to the writers that Victoria kept me on the edge of my seat! The script is pitch-perfect with the time period. Subplots involving the palace staff provide insight into the feelings of the common folk towards their new queen. The costumes are a period drama fan’s dream come true. (Besides the 1940’s, the 1840’s are my favorite decade fashion-wise.) And you like so many of the characters, you can’t help but get emotionally-invested.
Yes, the writers do take some artistic license–not much, from what I’ve researched, but it is there. The most obvious example of this is the brief, very delicate romance between Queen Victoria and Lord Melbourne.
I’ve been known to grumble loudly about romances between historical figures that never really happened. William Wallace and Princess Isabella in Braveheart, for example–or Raoul Wallenberg and Elisabeth Kemeny in the otherwise-fantastic 1980’s miniseries Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story.
Yet I couldn’t bring myself to growl about this one. The real Victoria loved Melbourne as a father figure but there’s no evidence of a romance–so I was obliged to mutter about it. I have a reputation to maintain, after all. But Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell made Victoria and Melbourne’s tender, unfulfilled love so believable that I found myself an emotional basketcase over it! He’s the only person who’s ever taken her seriously, the first positive male figure she’s ever had, and the first person (besides her governess) who cares about and mentors her. She, on the other hand is the dynamic, innocent girl who breathes life into his broken heart. Yet he knows they can never be more than friends–the Constitution and public opinion allow nothing more–and though it breaks her heart, she eventually accepts that.
I loved Melbourne so much, I was genuinely worried I wouldn’t even like Prince Albert. He’s definitely a Mr. Knightley Type in this interpretation and I’ll always fall hard for that kind of character, so yeah…Bias Alert.
But don’t worry: I was able to like Prince Albert quite a lot! He’s a bit of an Angsty INFP Reformer Emo-Prince–not quite the same mature gallant as Melbourne, but a good, good man in his own way and exactly the right kind of husband for Victoria.
Just like in Victoria and Albert, there’s understandable tension between the Queen and the Prince: he’s all ready to obliterate every loathsome evil or backwards notion he sees in the world, while she is conservative, sensitive to criticism, and frightened of change. Albert encourages her to think outside the box and about the future, making him the perfect prince consort at this critical turning point in history. He speaks out against slavery. He promotes the construction of a railway. Like Melbourne, his past is a tragic one, and just as she did with her Prime Minister, Victoria is able to ease his loneliness. She and Albert are able to give each other the deep, abiding love and loyalty they both crave.
But what about Victoria herself? Jenna Coleman physically resembles Victoria, more so than Victoria Hamilton or Emily Blunt ever did, and she pulls off the naivete and spunk of an 18-year-old queen to perfection. But she also presents us with a very realistic and empowering character. Victoria starts out surrounded by people who treat her with utter contempt. They think she’s a simpleton. They threaten her, guilt-trip her, and try to manuever her into this or that corner. Some of the scenes with Sir John Conroy will hit hard for anyone who’s been the victim of any kind of cruel, manipulative behavior.
But as she boldly tells Sir John, Victoria is “her father’s daughter, and the granddaughter of a king.” She will not be controlled or abused. Over the course of the show, she does have to find the balance between establishing her royal authority and independence, and defying her abusers simply out of spite. That’s not an easy task. Victoria makes several mistakes, some of which she deeply regrets for the rest of her life. But in the end she’s a confident young woman who’s forged her own path with strength and dignity.
She may be frightfully short and somewhat naive–but she is every inch a queen. And that’s what makes Victoria so compelling.
She’s becoming who she was born to be.