Victoria, Season One (2016)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Good historical epics are hard to find. Most of them tend toward sensationalism over substance, and while Victoria does have its share of dramatic moments, it's also a moving, engaging love story.
Freedom eluded Alexandra Victoria (Jenna Coleman) most of her life. Shut up from the world, in remote palaces, one day it dawned on her that she might become queen, as the sole heir to the English throne. That day has come. Liberty from her strict upbringing is thrown to the wind, her first true taste of freedom banishing her mother from their bedroom. Many doubt she can rule on her own... a short, young queen. Her mother's "friend," Sir John Conroy (John Rhys) intends to control her, as much as he can; perhaps to claim a regency, but Victoria, as she styles herself, will have none of it. She finds an ally in the aging Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell), who not only believe she can reign, but intends to help her do it.
Since she is now the wealthiest and most influential girl in Europe, suitors begin to attend her from all across Europe. Alas, she has more interest in "Lord M" than most of her court likes; not only is she intent on keeping him as Prime Minister, she begins to form a romantic attachment to him... but all of that will change, the night Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) sets foot in her drawing room... and criticizes her piano playing. Out of political maneuverings, romantic bickering, court rivalries, and scandals, comes one of history's most memorable royal romances. Meanwhile, the "downstairs" servants struggle to adapt to a changing world, while an ambitious chef sets his sights on learning the secrets of the new housemaid.
On a costuming scale, this miniseries is a masterpiece of intricate design and attentiveness to detail. Not only do we see magnificent staterooms and intricate pearls laced into the queen's hair, we visit country estates little-seen on film, with interesting ideas thrown into the mix for our entertainment. There is a certain novelty in seeing a horse and carriage enter the house, let its passengers out, and exit through the far door! One of the best moments in the series is Albert's first trip on a steam train engine. Four episodes feature the strong dynamics of Lord M and Victoria's relationship, then effortlessly the series shifts into her love for Albert, and the moral fortitude with which they approach their reign, as well as those who set against them. The opening titles are haunting, the costumes wonderful, the actors ideal, though Sewell nearly steals the series with his charming Lord M.
Its only flaw is occasional sensationalism, for the sake of drama; turning a few court members into more ambitious schemers than they were in real life, to further threaten Victoria's hold upon the throne. At first, I thought the downstairs cast a distraction, but over time came to care for their individual stories and journeys. Another minor problem is the series doesn't bother explaining the complicated family dynamics, which means less-historically-informed audiences may be lost in figuring out the line of succession. But as alluring and clean period pieces can be hard to find, I forgive it the occasional melodrama. It's one of television's better recent offerings.
No sex scenes; references to sexual affairs ("Your brother would have bedded her by now...") and adulterous escapades; a man courts a married woman, and meets her alone, half-dressed, in her room (but only asks for a lock of hair); a man takes his brother to a "house of ill repute"; a prostitute makes advances on the second man, who asks her only to instruct him verbally on how to please his bride (we hear none of it); many scenes of Victoria and Albert as newlyweds, kissing and cuddling in bed; she worries about becoming pregnant; Albert tells her the only way to prevent it is abstinence.
A man is beaten in prison; we see him with a bruised face. A man fires a pistol at a woman.
Some departures from the true story.