REVIEW: ITV’s Victoria is an eye-opener, but doesn’t fulfil lofty ambitions
Queen Victoria is known as one of Britain’s most famous monarchs, who governed the country and its colonies through one of the most revolutionary periods in history.
She is not known for her troubled early years in power, where she struggled to maintain control of a court that did not respect her. Nor is she known for a series of scandals that befell her early reign, or her passionate and youthful infatuation with the Whig Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne.
ITV’s latest drama, simply named ‘Victoria‘, seeks to change the public perception of the so-called “grandmother of Europe” from one considered an old, uninteresting figure to a strong, resilient woman who knew her own mind like the back of her hand.
The new drama is based primarily on the words of Queen Victoria herself, for the monarch was a dedicated diarist. In the first of eight episodes, an 18-year-old Alexandrina Victoria is declared the Queen. She begins taking control of her destiny right from the off. She chooses the name Queen Victoria against the advice of her advisors, selects the Prime Minister Lord Melbourne as a confidante despite his very public personal life, and involves herself in what she believes is a scandal within her very household.
The finished product is entertaining viewing, with much of what is enjoyable about the episode revolving around the character of the young but determined new Queen. Jenna Coleman, although twelve years older and a couple of inches taller than the real Victoria, looks fittingly small and youthful in the role. The reason for this is a combination of excellent makeup and Coleman’s uncanny ability to beautifully encapsulate teenage naivety and fearlessness.
If the series continues to alert people to the true nature of Queen Victoria, then making it seems a worthwhile endeavour. However, Victoria was also vulnerable to the trappings of a teenage mind, displayed all-too-clearly by her love for parties and growing crush on Prime Minister Lord Melbourne.
Victoria’s interest in Melbourne is as obvious and embarrassing as a young girl entranced by Edward Cullen of the Twilight saga. She confides in him her secrets, goes riding with him every day and even refers to him with a special nickname – ‘Lord M’. Rufus Sewell does a wonderful job with the character, from the easy charm which captivates Victoria to a tortured scene where he mourns the death of his son.
What’s made painfully clear is Victoria is a girl, and restrained by her gender and size. Despite her status and ferocity, she finds it difficult to get those around her to take her seriously. This is illustrated excellently by a scene in which Victoria makes her first address as Queen. She is small, young girl surrounded by a bowing mass of middle-aged greying white men.
A lavish ITV production with well-dressed elites and a soap opera-style story is always going to get comparisons to Downton Abbey, and it’s there that Victoria falters. There is less fiction in Victoria, so far. She really did accuse her mother’s handmaiden of carrying an illegitimate baby and attempt to prove it, to horrible results. The problem with Victoria is it seems to plod along, following the chronological truth of Victoria’s ascendancy rather than structuring the first episode around any particular theme.
It is has a good basis in history, but perhaps spectacular television has ruined me in that I want more from my drama. I don’t want a drama that is playing it safe. I want shock, I want well-thought-out connections and I want some of the fierceness of Victoria’s personality to penetrate the storytelling.