Tuesday, January 17, 2017

So What Did You Think?: Victoria

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!


Anonymous said...

I watched it and had the same reaction about the show's historical accuracy (especially Victoria relationship with Melbourne). The pacing was slow, too, but I'll be a devoted viewer next week. Guess I'm just a sucker for a costume drama.

Marissa Doyle said...

I found the pacing not so much slow as erratic--speeding over somethings, dra-a-agging over others. I expect I'll watch the next few episodes as well, because I'll be curious to see how they do with Albert.

QNPoohBear said...

Jenna Coleman was great, the costumes were pretty but I also questioned the historical accuracy, especially re: Melbourne. I felt the first episode (2 hour block) was geared towards teenagers. "You think your parents don't understand you? You think your parents are the enemy? Try being a teenage queen!" It was too teenage drama for me. I prefer The Young Victoria. Apparently the series was so popular in Britain, there's a second season ordered already and also a group of people who "ship" Victoria and Melbourne and want them to end up together. Ummm Ok?? I watched with a canine companion who felt there wasn't enough of Dash, though I read that this Dash is the same one who appeared in The Young Victoria. Her name has been changed to Tori to reflect her most famous role and she's now deaf but responds to hand signals.

The one other thing it was missing? The Leland twins - LOL! I enjoyed the alternate storyline of Bewitching Season a bit more than this teenage drama.

Rachel said...

I was seriously disappointed especially as it came from BBC. You think the British could at least get the historic bits right :)

I got bored quickly with 'poor me, I'm young and inexperienced because of everyone!' Part of me just wanted to scream at the TV, 'Get over it!' Lol

Sadly, I don't think I'll continue watching the series even though I love the Victorian period.

Marissa Doyle said...

I expect I'll watch it, Rachel, because I'll be curious to see how they handle Albert. But yes--it was a golden opportunity to educate as well as entertain, and they kinda blew it.

And her "woe is me" just struck so wrong--from all accounts, Victoria was positively giddy in the first months of her reign: it's more comments about how much she smiled and laughed and seemed to genuinely be enjoying her new life.

Marissa Doyle said...

QNPoohBear, that's awesome re "Dash"!

And yes, the Melbourne thing--ick. He was so much better than that. When Vic married Albert and was deliriously happy, Melbourne was genuinely pleased, even though it meant he'd been completely supplanted in his protegee's heart. He really did care for her as the daughter he never had.

And :) re a certain pair of twins!

Lynn Lovegreen said...

I am not fluent in Victoria's history, so your post was eye-opening to me. That being said, I enjoyed the show. I interpreted the relationship with Melbourne as a blend of a crush on her part and a paternal relationship on his part--guess I was half-right.

Marissa Doyle said...

Lynn, thanks for commenting! For Victoria, I think a big part of the relationship between her and Melbourne was that he was one of the first grownups she knew who actually listened to her and took her seriously. Her previous contacts--her mother and Sir John--treated her as a child, and Lehzen, as much as V. loved her, was still a servant.

QNPoohBear said...

This show is best approached by forgetting it's based on real events and thinking it's fiction inspired by the life of Queen Victoria but about fictional characters. Albert turned out to be.... emo ... brooding, stuffy, romantic, temperamental, prudish, champion of the helpless who is he? He got me when he helped Dash. That was sweet.