High class soap or grand history? It's a leap of faith with Jenna Coleman as the young British monarch.
Get ready for a majestic onslaught with ITV’s Victoria screening on BBC First from tonight and Netflix series The Crown due in early November.
Both will feature young British queens, in the case of Victoria it’s Doctor Who actress Jenna Coleman. Clearly bearing no resemblance to the paintings we have come to know of the senior queen, Coleman’s casting begins with a leap of faith by its audience.
Victoria opens with the death of the monarch in 1837 and questions of a likely successor. CGI London, somewhat resembling a Game of Thrones city, will see an uneducated 18 year old girl inherit the throne, but her ambitious Uncle Cumberland (Peter Firth) is next in line should she not last the distance.
Victoria‘s mother, the Duchess of Kent (Cathering Flemming) and her staunch advisor Sir John Conroy (Paul Rhys), attempt to have a controlling influence on the young Queen but Victoria remains firm. She rejects their suggestion for a name (Elizabeth) and seeks independent counsel.
“I assure you I am ready for the great responsibility that lies before me,” she insists.
Her principal advisor is Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell), whom she instantly bonds with, but who is also several years her senior. Their chemistry is enough to set tongues wagging in London.
“They call you Mrs. Melbourne,” she will be told.
Following her Coronation Victoria dismisses Conroy from her family’s confidence.
“Sir John now that I am Queen I do not need your assistance,” she instructs.
“What can a girl like you, uninformed, possibly do to serve her country?” he replies.
But the young Queen will also make early mistakes which threaten to taint her new power while there are forces working against her. Charting a course that is her own, and not beholden to others will compel her to mature quickly.
Meanwhile senior dresser to the Queen, Mrs. Jenkins (Eve Myles) does not take kindly to Governess Lehzen (Daniela Holtz) appointing an assistant, the mysterious Skerrett (Nell Hudson). Whilst there is politics and power upstairs, downstairs takes on a life of its own.
Tom Hughes (The Game, Dancing on the Edge, Silk) will appear later as Prince Albert.
In the hands of writer / producer Daisy Goodwin Victoria becomes Royal Court melodrama, with all the trappings of splendid locations and exquisite costumes we expect of British period drama. The script focusses heavily on power and romance to craft its history. While it benefits from grandeur, and its appealing leading lady, it takes the story down the path of Downton Abbey. Why, for instance, should we care what was going on with the servants in the palace anyway? This somewhat denies Victoria an original voice.
The striking Jenna Coleman amply commands in scenes that require such dominion, and one hopes that a strong-willed female character at 18 is reflective of history rather than merely following entertainment trends. Paired with the reliable Rufus Sewell, these two make Victoria accessible to modern audiences.
Peter Firth appears armed and ready to make for a right royal villain as episodes unfold. What a shame there was no room for Joan Collins to step into a cameo somewhere.
Victoria is wrapped up in all the pomp and jewel-encrusted ceremony ITV can muster, but if its not a missed opportunity then it’s surely very classy soap.
Victoria premieres 8:30pm tonight on BBC First.