TV Review: Victoria (ITV) Part 4 – And baby makes three

Unsurprisingly given her vigorous marital life with Albert, Victoria finds herself pregnant just months into her marriage and with the spectre of Charlotte looming over the young queen, she is treated as an invalid by her mother which she resents. As childbirth then was seen as a “dangerous business”, the issue arises of who should be regent should Victoria die or become incapacitated due to child birth. She proposes Albert but the Tories are opposed to a foreigner as regent.

Albert meanwhile is still searching for a role especially as his wife still refuses to share her duties with him, and it’s patently clear that her isolated upbringing under her mother’s care has left her ignorant of current affairs and that she takes little interest in the conditions of her subjects. His knowledge of his adopted country is far superior to hers and he uses his enforced idleness to educate himself on the technological advances and changes making their mark. While on a visit to a local squire up north who happens to be a neighbour of Sir Robert Peel (Nigel Lindsay), the arrival of the railways becomes a focal point of conversation: the royal couple’s host is opposed to them owing to their view that the railways encroach on private land. Albert on the other hand welcomes the railways, as he sees them as a vehicle for progress allowing people, products and ideas to travel from one part of the country to another. Much to his delight, he’s invited by Sir Robert to take a ride on the train on the latter’s estate and he accepts the invitation by sneaking out one early morning. This results in another row between Albert and Victoria – sadly we do not see the latter’s famous fierce temper deployed to full effect here but later having taken a ride in the railway herself, she slowly begins to recognise that there are things she needs to learn and where Albert can be of help to her.

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Back in London, Parliament approves the motion that Albert is to be regent in the event of Victoria’s death or incapacitation. Victoria spurns the plain food that her mother suggests for her by ordering food that she wants to eat and crucially begins to involve Albert while she works on the red boxes.

The final episode seemed to be a return to the soap opera-like intrigues I thought disappeared with the beginning of this series. Fast forward a few months, Victoria is getting bored and restless, it’s clear she hates being pregnant and she blanches at the thought of breastfeeding so she dispatches Lehzen and Jenkins to search for a suitable wet nurse.

As the first female Sovereign to be expecting, it’s understandable that the atmosphere is very tense and that certain people stand to benefit should something happen to her and the baby. What is maddening is the constant reference and bleating about Princess Charlotte’s death, repeated constantly in the last two episodes; everyone watching knows it by now but it’s easily forgotten that there were other women in the family who survived childbirth, especially King George III’s wife Queen Charlotte who managed to give birth to fifteen children with thirteen surviving into adulthood.

The tense atmosphere is made worse by the arrival of the Duke of Cumberland who taunts his niece in very unsubtle ways especially as she has been the target of an assassination attempt by a young man called Edward Oxford, who attempts to shoot her while she’s out on one of her regular carriage drives with Albert. Suspicion falls on the Duke, especially as evidence seems to point to him being aware of a plot to do away with his niece. (Even though at the time it was later revealed that Oxford was a lone wolf, insane and that his pistol wasn’t loaded, Cumberland’s unpopularity both in Britain and Hanover through rescinding the constitution promulgated by his predecessor William IV as well as his past history – being accused of murdering his valet and suspected of fathering his sister’s illegitimate son, among other things – showed how much people were willing to believe he was behind the plot).

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In other developments, the slow burning romance between Francatelli and Skerrett ends on a sad note when she declines his offer to join him after he receives an offer to open his own establishment. As for Ernst, he returns not only to support his brother but also to have a catch up with the Duchess of Sutherland. When Albert remonstrates his brother for what he has done, Ernst sets the record straight by showing him a lock of the Duchess’s hair which he has requested.

The last two episodes also depicted Victoria’s close relationship with Baroness Lehzen who has been with the Queen ever since she was a child. Her role as Victoria’s gatekeeper especially when it comes to her personal correspondence is something that Albert is suspicious of especially as this correspondence nearly led to a security breach (which brings home the point that it’s not only the present British royal family who are the targets of fantasists). Another touching scene is that between the Queen and her uncle Leopold which gives us an insight into his marriage to Princess Charlotte-  which by all accounts was a loving one despite being cut short by her tragic death.

The series ends on a happy note when we see Victoria and Albert with their new born baby daughter who Albert suggests be named after her mother. While ITV has already commissioned a second series for next year, there are already new story lines shaping up – most notably a looming showdown between Albert and Lehzen and Victoria’s confident prediction that their next child will be a boy. But we will have to wait until 2017 to see how these and others will play out. Oooh, the suspense – and we aren’t going to check wiki or google ‘Queen Victoria’s children’ or ‘Prince Albert and Lehzen – what happened?’ in the meantime and spoil it for ourselves, are we?

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So, all in all what do I make of this series? While there are some good bits and there is a huge effort made to depict as faithfully as possible the attitudes of the time, the rituals of court life and the politicking of the day, they are spoiled by unnecessary padding: especially with the downstairs story lines and the constant beating of the viewers over the head with certain lines and themes over and over again. A major omission was overlooking Baron Stockmar’s role in bringing together Victoria and Albert and his role as their unofficial counsellor in such matters as the way they viewed and developed the monarchy and the education of their children. That was a wasted opportunity, and something that could have been explored instead of all the pointless downstairs scenes.

Crucially any meaningful way of exploring Queen Victoria’s relationship with Lord Melbourne was junked in favour of romance. I can see why the writer took liberties with Prince Ernst and the Duchess of Sutherland as it reveals a kernel of truth about how standards of morality were slowly changing and that Albert was determined to reform the Court and distance the family from the more louche Hanoverians, but with Lord Melbourne it doesn’t make any sense. Instead of using the Victoria/Lord M story line as a way to chart Victoria’s political education and serve as an insight into her personality, the Lord M storyline degenerated into the romance that never was.

Hopefully by series 2 things will be better. Queen Victoria’s own story and her reign are interesting enough. There’s no need to pad it out with downstairs narratives or other flummery; this drama has the potential to present to us those early years of Victoria’s life and reign that have been overshadowed by the Widow of Windsor.

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6 thoughts on “TV Review: Victoria (ITV) Part 4 – And baby makes three

  1. I have just had a weekend catching up with this series as my wife was away babysitting her grandson. (She doesn’t care for ‘Victoria’.)
    As promised, my thoughts and opinions, having watched the whole thing in two days, and having it fresh in my mind.

    So, what did I like?

    Rufus Sewell, mainly. Once he was not featured, I found my attention wandering.
    Jenna Coleman was pleasant to look at throughout.
    Sets and costumes were both lavish and (mostly) convincing.
    Daniela Holtz, as Lehzen. I thought she was excellent.

    What didn’t I like? (Deep breath)

    The soap opera/Upstairs Downstairs/Downton Abbey treatment of the whole story.
    The fact that Coleman looks and acts nothing like the real Victoria, who was podgy, rather unattractive, and famously bad-tempered and spiteful.
    Anything and everything to do with the ‘downstairs’ servants, and the unnecessary and contrived storylines surrounding them.
    The fact that there were nowhere near enough servants to run a royal household. (And the kitchens were ridiculously small). There must surely have been scores of them employed in real life.
    The fact that Albert as portrayed by Tom Hughes was far too good-looking.
    Peter Firth as Cumberland playing his part like a Penny Dreadful villain.
    And despite loving Sewell’s sensitive acting, why, oh why was he cast as the overweight, rather unattractive Melbourne, and shown as some sort of love interest for the Queen, when he was in fact continuing a long-term relationship with Mrs Norton, with whom he fathered a child?

    Why are TV producers so reluctant to cast ‘ordinary’ looking people in roles, when we have portraits and photos to show us what the real people actually looked like? Why must they always sink to the lowest common denominator of providing attractive eye-candy, flying in the face of reality? It is an historical drama, not a fictional event.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I wasted a weekend hoping this would get better. And it didn’t.
    I won’t be waiting for series two.

    Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. Hi Pete,

      Very good points and I agree with all of them. I think the trouble with TV and film is they want to maxamise their return on investment and hence cast actors who could help “sell” the programme without much care for historical accuracy. Of all the actors who have played Victoria, I think both Annette Crosbie and Judi Dench have perhaps come closest to portraying Victoria as you have described above.

      The “downstairs” story lines for me have not added anything to the narrative, more like distracted from them. I’m currently watching “The Crown” and one of the aspects I liked with it was how they’ve explored some crucial episodes of the early years of the present Queen’s reign such as the Great Smog of 1952 and the events that led up to the Suez crisis. I wish Victoria could have done the same.

      As for the household and staff I agree, there would have been more ladies-in-waiting with Victoria for a start but I suspect a lot of this is for logistical reasons.

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      1. I agree that costs and logistics might limit the amount of cast members. But well-dressed extras are very cheap, and could have solved that issue. I am not watching ‘The Crown’, even though I have the Radio Times’ free trial of Netflix. I can only stand so much of the Royal Family in one year, as I am firmly against the institution of Monarchy and the aristocracy, being a staunch Republican!
        Best wishes, Pete.

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      2. It’s true but I suspect ITV simply didn’t have the budget for several extras than necesary and this seems to be consistent with the rumour that both the BBC and ITV did turn down The Crown when it was pitched to them.

        As for your reason for not watching The Crown, that’s fair enough. Having grown up in a country that is a republic, I am ambivalent about republicanism but neither support one nor the other.

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