After another attempt on Victoria’s life and keen to get away from the pressures of life in the capital, the Queen decides to holiday in Scotland, a place that has captured her imagination since she was a young girl learning about Scottish history and loved to read the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Together with selected members of their household, Victoria and Albert visit Blair Castle as the guests of the Duke of Atholl (Dennis Lawson), where they are treated to a welcome by the Duke and the Atholl Highlanders.
Over the next few days, Victoria and Albert explore the countryside and like what they see – the forests remind Albert of his native Coburg, while Victoria is reminded of the Walter Scott’s novels as she surveys the sweeping vistas of the Highlands. Elsewhere, the holiday becomes an excuse for the rest of their entourage to let their hair down, have fun and rekindle relationships; while Mrs Skerrett and Miss Cleary explore the joys of Scottish dancing, Duke Ernst sees the visit as an opportunity to renew his affections for Harriet Duchess of Sutherland who has returned to court as a lady-in-waiting following the death of her husband in a hunting accident. However, Ernst is hiding a secret as while in Paris, he “enjoyed himself a little too much” and is now seeking treatment for venereal disease. The doctors have prescribed inhaling mercury vapours and it seems that the treatment is working.
Following a fishing expedition, Victoria and Albert decide to ride back to the castle but take a wrong turn and find themselves lost. Finally they spot a cottage and Albert knocks at the door to ask directions back to Blair Castle but the residents of the cottage, an old crofter and his wife, reply that the couple had better spend the night with them and make their way home the next day. Not recognising who their visitors are, the crofter and his wife treat the royal couple like ordinary passers-by who happen to have got lost and need a place to stay for the night. We see Victoria and Albert help around the house, share a simple meal with their hosts and the crofter’s wife teaches Victoria how to darn a sock. Later Victoria confides to Albert that she doesn’t want to be found just yet: but alas the search party sent by the Duke of Atholl manages to find them the next day and that all too brief taste of freedom comes to an end.
Perhaps what’s not surprising is that Lord Alfred Paget (Jordan Waller) and Edward Drummond (Leo Suter) have finally acted on their feelings for each other after previous episodes have dropped heavy hints about a mutual attraction between both men. However as always there are complications as Drummond is engaged to be married and is being groomed for a political career: and the question is will both men carry on where they left off upon their return to London?
The final episode focuses on two main storylines – Sir Robert Peel’s battle to repeal the Corn Laws and Victoria and Albert’s row over the Princess Royal’s illness. Following the devastating effects of the Irish Potato Famine, Sir Robert is more than ever convinced that a repeal of the Corn Laws is the only way to ensure that there will be no repeat of the famine in the future, and for food to be more affordable to the poor and the working class. The majority of his fellow Tory party MPs and those in the Lords are opposed to such measures but with the encouragement of the Duke of Wellington (Peter Bowles), Peel battles on. He also has the support of the Queen and Prince Albert, and the latter makes an ill-advised visit to the Palace of Westminster to watch the debate. Upon seeing the Prince, one of the anti-repeal MPs makes a jibe in Peel’s direction about the presence of his royal nursemaid. Realising what he has done, Albert beats a hasty retreat and later apologises to Peel.
In developments in the nursery, Victoria and Albert notice that the Princess Royal isn’t feeling well but Baroness Lehzen assures the anxious parents that all the young princess needs is her usual routine and lots of fresh air. Albert is doubtful about this especially as the windows in the nursery are kept wide open, and even he notices that the room is cold and draughty. He tells Victoria that perhaps they should close the windows to keep the draught out, and she replies that the windows in the nursery at Kensington Palace were always wide open and they never did her any harm. Albert isn’t convinced but decides not to press the point.
Matters finally come to a head for both Peel and Victoria – the former now facing the prospect of a possible defeat in Parliament while for the latter her daughter’s condition has developed into a full blown fever that is potentially fatal. Albert remonstrates with Victoria, telling her that Lehzen is not fit to look after their children and the doctor confirms Albert’s suspicion all along that the cold and draught in the nursery did contribute to the little princess’s illness. After months of heated debate, the repeal bill is finally passed 327 yes against 229 no. As for the little Princess Royal, the fever is broken and she’s out of danger but unfortunately following Albert’s earlier ultimatum, Baroness Lehzen has to go and she departs back to Germany with a pension. Peel also hands his resignation, as despite his victory with the repeal of the Corn Laws he knows that his days as Prime Minister are numbered. Victoria reluctantly accepts, says she will miss him and has come to appreciate his support and counsel. A far cry from in the beginning when the new queen clung to Lord Melbourne and refused to accept Sir Robert as the new prime minister.
The last episode also tied up a few loose ends and gave us a foreshadowing of what is to come for a putative series 3. There is no happy ending for Drummond and Paget as the former is shot dead by a disgruntled farmer who was aiming his pistol at Peel; while Ernst who was initially optimistic that he was on the way to recovery learns that the syphilis has returned and that leaves his future with the Duchess of Sutherland in doubt. Romance is also back on the cards for Francatelli and Skerrett.
So all in all, what do I think of this series? Overall, it is an improvement from series 1, there is more emphasis on the history especially with episodes 5, 6 and 8. The soap opera and romance elements never go away which is perhaps understandable as this is Sunday night drama but they didn’t really dominate series 2 in a way it did in series 1. Mercifully as well, we were spared any over the top flummery especially with the Drummond-Paget story arc; however it’s hard to care with these peripheral romances as I think they distract from the actual story which is Victoria and Albert.
As of this writing, ITV has yet to announce if a series 3 is planned but in the meantime, Victoria will return on Christmas Day which is fitting as the way we celebrate Christmas does owe a lot to the Victorian era.