Victoria: Episode 1

Period dramas have always been something that have fascinated me. Perhaps I’m interesting in the history of grand figures, or maybe I love the scandalous storylines that historical dramas are never without, or it could just be that my delusions of grandeur welcome lavish costumes and gorgeous stately homes as perfect Sunday evening entertainment. It’s my belief that the overwhelming popularity of such drama is symptomatic of modern times and is a result of ‘taste’; an idea that I’ve explored in a previous post. Whatever the reasons, it cannot be denied that period dramas have become a staple of our viewing preferences as a nation. That’s why I was so bitterly disappointed that Victoria, ITV’s newest historical tale, is neither interesting nor entertaining.

Where do I start? I hated Victoria, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so bored in my entire life. ITV have a good track record with historical dramas and, following the enormous popularity of Downton Abbey, I expected this to be of a similar ilk. How wrong I was. Nothing happens in the first episode! The choral soundtrack constantly seems to echo out the word “hallelujah” in every scene; Victoria writes a letter – “Hallelujah!”, Victoria goes for a walk – “Hallelujah!”, Victoria sits on a horse – “Hallelujah!” This, by the way, was stretched out for over an hour and a half of TV.

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In the first few scenes we see an 18 year old Queen Victoria played by Jenna Coleman (who is 30) hearing of the death of her Uncle, William IV. Her reaction is as nonchalant and her expression retains that ‘unbothered’ quality for the rest of the episode. In fact, there is nothing that seems to stir a reaction in the young Victoria; whether that be due to poor acting or bad scripting I’m not sure. Why cast Jenna Coleman in the role? She looks nothing like Queen Victoria to start. And I never thought I’d be so irritated by a pair of contact lenses, but what on earth were those?! Couldn’t they just have cast an actress who actually has blue eyes instead of sticking a ridiculous looking pair of luminous contacts on Jenna Coleman? I forgot for a second that I was watching Victoria and thought that she was playing some kind of half-human half-robot again in Doctor Who.

One of the few saving graces in Victoria is Rufus Sewell who plays Lord Melbourne. And although the burgeoning relationship between the monarch and Prime Minister is slightly exaggerated (an understatement), his performance as Lord Melbourne was both believable and, at times, moving. Hearing of his tragic past reminds us that there might be more to this drama than simply Queen Victoria pottering about Buckingham Palace and whining about mundane things. Sewell plays one of the few characters in Victoria that viewers can actually take a liking to; all the others are akin to a melodramatic pantomime cast (especially the German characters who, for some reason, are given accents so overstated it was comedic).

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Obviously, ITV tried desperately to apply their trusty old upstairs/downstairs formula to Victoria. But how can any ITV period drama expect to have any autonomy if they keep reeling off the same Downton format? The upstairs/downstairs dichotomy is old and boring, and in Victoria, it’s quite irrelevant. Why would we want to know the trivial details of an unnamed maid’s life? Each scene of the first episode seemed to be interspersed with random mundanities like a few servants discussing which candles to use in a certain room. Boring.

Victoria was marketed as ITV’s sexy new period drama. Sexy it was not. I’m far more excited for Netflix’s The Crown, coming later this year to tell the story of Elizabeth II’s reign. Perhaps Victoria ultimately failed to impress me because it’s based on truth. There was no possibility of a chance speeding carriage racing past and killing the Queen (as it did to Matthew Crawley in Downton). And for all the writers’ attempts to make it exciting, it only felt exaggerated and false.

Victoria continues tomorrow (29/08/16) at 9pm on ITV.