On The Small Screen

ITV’s Victoria – “Doll No. 123” Review

Jenna Coleman? In a period dress? Surrounded by Victorians? No, this isn’t a new episode of Doctor Who. I know continuity is often complex on the Tardis, but lets just leave that one there. This is ITV’s new series following the life of Queen Victoria, aptly named Victoria. And you should be way more excited about this than you think.

When one thinks of Queen Vic, a certain demeanor springs to mind. Serious. Stoic. Stern. Certainly not someone you want to spend an hour and a half with on a Sunday night. Writer of the new series, Daisy Goodwin, would have agreed with you; that is until she was forced to read the Queen’s diaries at university. Within those pages a new Victoria came to light. Imagine, if you will, a lovestruck teenager, who is sick to death of her overbearing mother and longs to be taken seriously. Sound familiar? Now imagine that young girl suddenly becomes the most powerful figure in England. In fact, imagine her suddenly becoming one of the most power figures in the whole world! That is something worth writing a TV series about.

The first episode opens with some context, so those of you who don’t know your history don’t need to panic. Apart from this brief introduction, however, we are thrown into action immediately. The King is dead. Long live the Queen! As we watch a young Victoria get to grips with all her new responsibilities and her desire to shake things up in the court, it becomes apparent how entangled high-class society really is. Everyone is waiting for her to fail, including her own mother and uncle. If you aren’t sure who the baddies are though, again don’t worry your pretty little head – mood lighting, secret asides, and a massive scar across her uncle’s face make it quite obvious who you can and cannot trust. Saying that though, the script itself it wonderfully executed. The actors are transformed on the screen and the dialogue flows so naturally that you forget you are watching a modern performance and are swept into Victorian life. Suddenly a servant replacing all the fancy candles with cheap tallow will have you muttering ‘you prick’ quite earnestly. And the Queen insulting ‘Prince Head-the-Size-Of-A-Pumpkin’ seems like throwing monumental shade!

Within a few scenes, Jenna Coleman proves herself as so much more than an old man’s sidekick. Not wanting to gush, but she IS Queen Victoria. Coleman looks back at when she was offered the part and, like us, imagined the Queen as a sour-faced old woman. Not exactly what comes to mind when you think of the young actress! But she proves herself ideal in every aspect of the role; from her petite stature and her natural elegance, to her ability to refer to herself in the third person and still sound like a bad-ass! She takes on the challenge and, through smiles and tears, presents a real, unapologetic image of the Queen. So much for not gushing…

Now we have to think of a whole new bunch of words to describe Victoria. Sassy. Stubborn. Something else. It is this side of the queen that Goodwin hopes to convey in her series. Between her schoolgirl crushes, her monumental cock ups, her best friend Flash the dog and her inability to hold her champagne (which she downs to get over her nerves at a party), never has a queen been more relatable. And all that is just the first episode!

At a Q&A recently, the stars and makers of the show were enthusiastic about the upcomng series. When asked how much of her script was based on fact, Goodwin proudly announced that anything to do with the Queen is entirely true. She even goes so far as to admit that some of the best lines were lifted from the diary itself, so she can’t take credit for them! Rufus Sewell, who plays the charming Lord Melbourne, backs this statement up. He explains that, disbelieving the script as he read it (in particular the relationship between his character and Coleman’s) he conducted his own research into the monarch and found it all to be true. This is refreshing in itself; audiences normally need to be skeptical of anything that claims to be based on a true story, but it seems Goodwin is genuine in her claims.

And what can we expect from the famous romance between Victoria and Albert? In response, Goodwin recites one line from the diary off by heart, which beautifully captures some of the Queen’s most intimate thoughts: ‘How handsome dearest Albert looks in his white breeches. With nothing on underneath.’ Victoria, you minx! (And the possibility of seeing Tom Hughes capture this moment in time has nothing to do with my desire to keep watching, honest) It seems the series will not shy away from the passion between the young couple, but at the same time needs to be careful not romanticise it. This is real, honest, messy love. And from their brief encounters in the first episode, we expect things to get quite messy indeed.

Finally there’s something new to fill your Sunday evenings (I mean, apart from dreading Mondays). Long live the Queen!


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