Wednesday, March 1, 2017

V for Victoria

Happy March everyone! Today is also the first day of Women's History Month.  I know it has been quite a while since I've blogged and I apologize profusely. It has been hard lately juggling a job with working on my own writing as well as blogging.  And I know that I still owe recaps of the last 5 episodes of The Crown! I thought I would kick off this month by talking a little bit about Queen Elizabeth's however many times great-grandmother Queen Victoria, the 2nd longest ruling monarch in British History.

This January saw the debut of a new series on PBS entitled appropriately enough VICTORIA starring Jenna Coleman as a young Queen Victoria in the first years of her reign.  Author Daisy Goodwin, who was the driving force behind the series, also wrote the novel VICTORIA which came out last fall. I had the privilege of reading an ARC of the novel thanks to Net Galley. And what a wonderful novel it was. While I enjoyed Goodwin's first novel THE AMERICAN DUCHESS, I was not quite as enamored of her second THE FORTUNE HUNTER. However, VICTORIA lived up to my expectations and more.  It was just the balm I needed after the bruising US election season. Reading this novel was the equivalent of being enveloped in a warm, fuzzy blanket on a cold day, with a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea.

The book opens with Victoria receiving the news that William IV is dead, and she is now Queen. Goodwin paints a vivid, vibrant portrait of the young Queen who is very much a teenager. She makes mistakes early on in her reign, most specifically with Lady Flora Hastings. She is impetuous, stubborn who likes to get her own way but she is also a young girl who has been starved of affection and dominated by her mother and Sir John Conroy. The bulk of the novel (and the series) concerns her relationship with her first Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, whose late wife Lady Caroline Lamb famously carried on an affair with Lord Byron which scandalized the ton during the Regency. Like Victoria, Lord Melbourne is lonely. His wife has passed away as has his only child Augustus. The two develop a father/daughter relationship with overtones of something more. I won't spoil it here but if you have seen the TV series, you know that Goodwin adds a dimension to the relationship that some have quibbled with. I have to say that I totally bought into it. It made sense that she would develop a crush on the first man to be kind to her who treated her as more than just a sovereign.  Melbourne guide and taught Victoria but he didn't try to dominate her. Instead, he tried to gently point out the errors that her stubbornness caused. For example, refusing to give up any of her Whig ladies when the Tory Sir Robert Peel became Prime Minister.

We also get to see the Victoria who loved dancing, singing and a good party. And we get to see the Victoria who was wooed by a succession of suitors before finally falling head over heels for Prince Albert when he finally arrives in the fall of 1839. There is nothing so satisfying as two crazy kids with mommy/daddy issues finding each other! I highly recommend this book. It is going on my keeper shelf along with the Jean Plaidy's Victoria series which encompasses 4 books.

Unfortunately, although I loved Goodwin's novel, I'm not quite as much of a fan of the TV series.  My biggest problem is that I really have no interest in what is going on downstairs at Buckingham Palace, mainly because there is so much good drama going on with Victoria learning the ropes of Queenship. And I wish that the TV series had given us a glimpse of Victoria's life before she became Queen.  Before I watched VICTORIA, I re-watched the film THE YOUNG VICTORIA with Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend.

One of the best things about that film is that we get a glimpse of Victoria's relationship with William IV and Queen Adelaide, as well as the antipathy that the King had for Victoria's mother Victoire. There were also several wonderful scenes between Queen Adelaide and Victoria after she became Queen, where Victoria looked to her for guidance. Also, I found it curious that Baron Stockmar, a very important figure in Albert's life, was missing from the recent TV series. The biggest problem that I have with the series though is the casting of Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne.

This is Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne:


And this is the real Lord Melbourne at the time of Queen Victoria's reign:


While Rufus Sewell captured aspects of Lord Melbourne's character, he was just too good-looking and youthful for the part. And not nearly quite as fatherly as I'm sure the real Lord Melbourne was. You can understand why Jenna Coleman's Queen Victoria wanted him around 24/7. Frankly he was so delicious as Lord Melbourne, that when Albert finally showed up in the series, he was a bit of a let down. It's no wonder they went for the 'I hate you, no I love you' scenario for Albert and Victoria in this series. And then after the wedding episode, Lord Melbourne disappears despite the fact that the real Lord Melbourne was still Prime Minister for another year.  The other weakness in this series (and this goes for The Crown as well) as that there was way to much mansplaining in this series. Victoria is not allowed to do anything without some man explaining things to her. It was fine with Lord Melbourne but now Albert is doing it, as if Victoria hadn't formed any opinions about anything before Albert came along.



On the plus side, I think that Jenna Coleman is doing a magnificent job as the young Queen Victoria. She's almost the right height for the role, and she comes across very much like a teenager in the early episodes, careening from one emotion to the next. David Oakes steals every scene he's in as Prince Albert's older, more louche brother, Ernst, and I can't say throw too many superlatives at Alex Jennings who plays Victoria's Uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians, widower of the late Princess Charlotte.  Jennings is making quite the career for himself playing various members of royalty. So far he's played Prince Charles in Peter Morgan's The Queen, The Duke of Windsor in The Crown, and now King Leopold. Who is next? I still prefer Miranda Richardson's portrayal of the Duchess of Kent to Caroline Flemmings. Caroline comes across mainly as wan.  I have to admit that Tom Hughes as Prince Albert grew on me.  The chemistry between Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell was so amazing, that Hughes had huge shoes to fill. It doesn't help that Albert comes across as a bit of a pill in his first appearance. His personality seems to have come out more now that he and Victoria are married. Hughes is also incredibly sexy as Albert although once someone mentioned that he looked like Prince circa PURPLE RAIN, I had a hard time unseeing that whenever he came on screen!

If you have any interest in Queen Victoria, I urge you to purchase VICTORIA, the Official Companion to the series. There is a lot of really good information about the real life characters, particularly Skerrit and Francatelli. It is written by Helen Rappaport who is an expert on Victoria as well as the Romanovs. And there is a new biography out by Julia Baird entitled VICTORIA, THE QUEEN.

I have only read the sample that I downloaded from Amazon, but it looks like a winner. I would also urge people to find a copy of the early nineties miniseries VICTORIA AND ALBERT, starring Victoria Hamilton and Jonathan Firth (Colin's little brother). It is interesting to see what is included and what is left out when people are crafting a film or television series.

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