I think it’s probably safe to assume that a number of NineteenTeen readers watched the new offering on PBS’s Masterpiece, Victoria, this past Sunday evening (or, as I did, streamed on-line at pbs.org). And c’mon, you knew I’d be watching it.
The seven-part series is a dramatization of the first three-ish years (1837-1840) of Queen Victoria’s reign. It opens with her reception of the news that her uncle, King William IV, had died and that she, at just over eighteen years of age, is queen.
I’ve more or less come to the conclusion that I should probably not watch television or movie dramatizations of historical events, because, inevitably, the “dramatization” part wins out over the “history.” History simply doesn’t make very good television: it’s too slow, too messy, too often lacking in the cohesion that makes for good storytelling.
And that was decidedly the case with Victoria. While there was oodles of conflict in the events around Victoria’s coming to the throne—the years between 1835 and 1837 were drama-filled indeed—Victoria chooses to make stuff up (I’m sorry—dramatize) and moves it to the years after 1837. So we basically ended up with a first episode here in which there wasn’t a lot of history.
- Unlike what is shown in Victoria, Sir John Conroy was more or less out of Victoria’s life the minute she became queen: she barely saw him again, and after a matter of months Lord Melbourne managed to negotiate him out of Victoria’s mother’s household and into retirement (it took a little longer to repair the relationship between Victoria and her mother, but it did mend.) And while Conroy spent considerable time and effort before her ascension to try to force a regency on her, there was no question of it once she became queen.
- The Duke of Cumberland became King of Hanover the minute Victoria became queen, and was in Hanover by the end of the month, taking up his royal duties...not conniving against her back in London.
- Lord Melbourne had certainly been popular with the ladies in his earlier years...but by the time Victoria came to the throne, he was fifty-eight years old and looked it every bit of it. Though he undoubtedly adored his little queen and treated her gallantly, it was very much a paternal sort of affection...and hers for him was that of a girl who’d never had a father figure in her life (don’t forget, her father died while she was still an infant), not to mention a male friend.
- Sir Robert Peel wasn’t “common,” as he’s played here—he was the son of a wealthy mill owner and politician and attended Harrow and Oxford. Victoria didn’t much care for him at first, but eventually came to both admire and respect him.
However, they did at least a semi- creditable job with the Lady Flora Hastings scandal and with the Bedchamber Crisis, when Victoria’s stubbornness about losing her ladies because they were married to Whig ministers brought down Peel’s fledgling government. Within a decade, court appointments became more disassociated from party politics.
Overall verdict? I was...underwhelmed. The settings weren’t bad but the costumes were disappointing (The Young Victoria movie was much yummier in that regard). I found a lot of the acting stiff, and while Jenna Coleman as Victoria was very striking, there was simply far too much time spent with the camera lingering on her face while she emoted...stiffly.
But that’s just me...did you watch it? What did you think? Tell us!