When I first found about ITV’s Victoria I was excited: after all, big fat historical miniseries about women in beautiful dresses is basically my favourite viewing on the planet. Even better if one of those women is the fascinating Queen Victoria, navigating social change and societal expectations, and the setting is the grandeur of Buckingham Palace.
But then I watched it.
The first episode is… disappointing.
At times virtually a derivative carbon copy of the successful 2009 film The Young Victoria (only without Julian Fellowes’ excellent writing, the humour and Emily Blunt’s affability), it seems scarcely believable that the writers of Victoria would siphon so much material from a film that had already made the early adulthood of Queen Victoria an absorbing watch. Although there’s only so much artistic license you can take with factual events, the characters, relationships and even dialogue are tediously familiar – surely the makers of Victoria could have branched out just a little?
Thankfully, the quality improved as the series progressed. Jenna Cole is convincing as the imperious, contradictory and very humane queen; and although Tom Hughes’ Prince Albert can never hope to compete with Rupert Friend’s turn as the loveable Prince, Rufus Sewell’s tragic Lord Melbourne is a definite highlight of the series. Although I can’t say that I entirely approve of the whole ‘Victoria-and-Melbourne-thwarted-love’ thing – I mean, really? – their relationship was certainly more enthralling than the relatively dull companionship of Victoria and Albert, a marriage that seems, initially at least, to be based on nothing more than overpowering sexual attraction. This is, frankly, probably more historically accurate than most period dramas, but still not a great basis for the wonderful ‘true love’ that the producers are trying to make you believe in.
And, for a series called Victoria, the completely diverse subplots of the servants’ lives simultaneously feel a bit superfluous and underdeveloped: much like the producers are trying to hedge their bets either way. That being said, the historical detail that peppers the episodes is undeniably fascinating – how Albert snuggles up to the Tories for the sake of the railways, how Victoria refuses to compromise on her ladies-on-waiting and precipitates a massive political crisis as a result.
Ultimately, however, Victoria just didn’t grab me. There was no spark – no flash of inspiration that compelled me to keep watching. (Keep watching I did, but more out of perversity than anything else.) It’s middling, and fairly engaging – nice enough for an easy Sunday afternoon, you might say, but certainly nothing compared to ITV’s fantastic period dramas of lore.