TV Review: Victoria (Series 1)

I finally get settled into historical biodrama Victoria with a bright Jenna Coleman as its lead

“I am beyond peaches Ma’am”

With Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons fast approaching, I thought I’d delve into the TV work of its stars Jenna Coleman and Aidan Turner, as it turns they’ve been in a lot that I haven’t seen. First up is Victoria, the historical biodrama that takes a swift but solid look at the earlier years of the reign of Alexandrina Victoria. Created and mostly written by Daisy Goodwin, it arrived in mid-2016 just a few months ahead of The Crown and you can’t help but note some of the similarities.  

A young royal woman who did not necessarily expect to become monarch (she was fifth in the line of succession at birth), her many challenges included dealing with the many aristocratic men who underestimated her and sought to influence her, as well as navigating a marriage in which the world would never them as equals. As this is an ITV drama though, we also get a healthy dose of life below the stairs as we follow the lives of some of the royal household staff in conjunction with their queen.

Aged 30 at this point, it is outrageous that Jenna Coleman convinces as the impetuous teenage Victoria who was just 18 when she acceded to the throne. And this first series – going from 1837 to 1840 – does a great job at painting some of the broader strokes of her emotional development, constrained as it had been by her cosseted early life. With her trustworthy governess by her side (Daniela Holtz’s Baroness Lehzen), Coleman’s Victoria is huge amounts of fun, particularly when engaging with her ever-plotting uncles (Peter Firth as Harry from Spooks, oops sorry King Ernest Augustus and Alex Jennings as King Leopold).

The series’ best arc comes from the intense crush that burns for her closest advisor Lord Melbourne (a great Rufus Sewell) though. Helping her through her daddy issues, through to the struggling through the endless suitors for her hand, ending up in the arrival of Tom Hughes’ smouldering Prince Albert – Hughes and Coleman are smoking hot together. Similarly, Victoria’s tempestuous relationship with her mother ebbs and flows effectively as the power dynamic between them shifts so significantly, eventually mellowed by the arrival of her firstborn child. 

The downstairs dramas are amusing enough for the most part but hardly needed. You can hear the programmers saying ‘make it more like Downton‘ but with so much royal intrigue at play, it’s a slightly odd choice. Still, with actors like Adrian Schiller and Eve Myles at hand, it is a useful route to introduce some of the societal changes and issues affecting Britain at the time – gas lighting, fancy desserts and Chartist rebels. Special mention too for the lovely Nigel Lindsay, who is a great Sir Robert Peel.

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