Ahead of its eagerly-anticipated return, we give Victoria the royal treatment…
On 24th May, in 1819, a young girl was born. In 1837, aged just eighteen, she become the face of the greatest nation in the world. That young girl – wide-eyed and undoubtedly overwhelmed – was Queen Victoria. She is, to the many, one of the most important leaders of all-time, and throughout her reign saw arguably the most significant advancements in cultural, industrial, and political processes.
The Monarchy is one of the most inherently British attributes we as a nation have. Like good tea, a distaste for small talk, and questionable weather, the Royal Family is something of vast historical and social importance to the people of the United Kingdom. Sure, we aren’t all Royalists, and we don’t all live in places like Downton Abbey (sorry, America…), but the fact remains they are something which separates us from the pack; a long-standing and serving reminder of pure, unadulterated Britishness.
Adaptations and dramatisations of those who dwell at Buckingham Palace are plentiful to say the least, with quality and accuracy veering on both ends of the scale. Netflix’s luxurious smash-hit The Crown – which documents the life and legacy of our current queen (Elizabeth II) – is among the finest, whilst the recent American retelling of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge’s partnership is among the very worst. So then, where does ITV’s Victoria – which returns for a second series this weekend – nestle into the rankings? Well, it didn’t become the channel’s highest-viewed original drama in 2016 by accident…
Documenting the young queen’s rise to the throne, and her blossoming romance with Prince Albert, it is a lavish yet intimate production, which underpins the identity beneath the weighted crown; a mere adolescent woman just learning to be. Carried by a fearless, and beautifully textured Jenna Coleman performance – one worthy of a BAFTA no doubt – Victoria honours both the monarch and the new mother; a face for the world, and the quiet soul locked within. Show creator and lead writer Daisy Goodwin punctuates her excellent screenplays with finite moments which remind the audience of this – some sweet, others sour. For you see, the title is both a blessing and a burden.
The first series, compiled of eight episodes, saw Victoria step up to her daunting new role, establish a deep connection with mentor and Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, before the arrival of her first cousins from Germany who’ll soon find themselves a staple in the Royal household. The second series is set to continue the developmental relationship of the young couple, who are now with child (their first of a staggering nine). It’s set some six weeks following the events of the finale, and sees the queen face adversities both on home soil, and in foreign lands. Husband Albert, Prince Consort of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, will too face problems, as he begins to struggle with being the lesser figure of power in the relationship; striving to find his place and purpose.
Terrestrial television by-and-large struggles to keep up with its rival competition. Premium services such as HBO, and streaming juggernauts like Netflix, have established deeply cinematic small screen programming; drawing in heavyweight performers, filmmakers, and production teams. Victoria however is a fierce contender. In fact, from its ravishingly decorated sets – alive with history and heritage – to the bespoke and decadently draped dress, it is a true feast for the eyes. The ears too, as the swirling score and sound design supercharges the emotional intensity of Goodwin’s scripts. Nowadays, it has become all too easy relying on catch-up or on-demand viewing, but this is one show you’ll want to watch every week, at the time of transmission, and on the highest definition screen in your home.
Spectacle and storytelling aside, ITV’s drama brilliantly details the era, too. The 1800s were a far-cry from the modernised societies of today, and Victoria smartly presents the many highs and lows of a developmental world. A moment of tender joy as Albert experiences the “future”, riding upon the rails on a steam engine, are paired with many Britons dwelling in poorer areas, suffering with heinous ills. Historical programming can be a major turn-off for some viewers – particularly the young who might deem it “boring” – but there is much to learn, and much to appreciate, about the growth of an ever-changing nation, under the guidance of the young queen.
Led by Coleman, who really is sensational, the remainder of the cast is carried by the likes of Tom Hughes (excellent as the international Prince), Catherine Flemming, Eve Myles, Alex Jennings, Nell Hudson, Nigel Lindsay, Andrew Bicknell, Rufus Sewell, Anna Wilson-Jones, and Daniela Holtz, to name but a few. In a similar vein to the aforementioned Downton, each member is part of a network – a pivotal cog in the wheel – which keeps the royal household, and its plentiful visitors, ticking over. There are no spare parts.
The eight-part second series, which sees new additions to the group including Game of Thrones‘ Diana Rigg, and Line of Duty‘s Martin Compston, will also be followed by a two-hour Christmas special, proving there is no greater time to be a fan, or better yet, become one. Victoria is a rich, enveloping, and admirable work; a drama alive with the spirit of its subject. It is, without question, a show fit for a queen.
Victoria returns to ITV on Sunday, 27th August at 9.05pm. Series One is available on-demand now via Sky Box Sets and ITV Encore.