Masterpiece: Victoria DVD
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Created by Daisy Goodwin, this ambitious drama presents the early years of one of history's greatest monarchs. Stretching from the upper echelons of the royal court to the below-stairs staff, this is a story of passionate affairs, power struggles, and unrequited love, at the center of which stands the new Queen (Jenna Coleman) a strong, complex, and willful woman who must, somehow, become an enduring icon.
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Not only did she succeed, but she managed to become one of England's most beloved historical monarchs. And "Masterpiece: Victoria" smoothly chronicles the first few years of Victoria's reign -- her ascension to the throne, her political struggles, her early mistakes, and the beginning of her marriage to her beloved husband -- with a balanced eye, while weaving in some Downton-Abbeyish subplots of its own devising.
When the king dies, the crown is immediately passed to his teenage niece Victoria (Jenna Coleman), who has been kept ignorant and sheltered all her life due to her mother the Duchess of Kent (Catherine Flemming) and her mother's companion Sir John Conroy (Paul Rhys). But as Conroy schemes to rule through the duchess, Victoria makes it clear that she is going to be the monarch, and nobody is going to control her. She will be the queen not only in name, but in actuality.
To make sure of this, she forms an alliance with the reluctant prime minister, Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell), and immediately develops a massive crush on the worldly, mildly tragic man who mentors her in statecraft. But Victoria is held back by the sexist machinations of the older men who surround her, as well as her own naive mistakes.
And one of the biggest goals of those who surround her is to get her married off to a suitable candidate, but not many men are up to the idea of marrying a powerful woman who rules an empire... and by extension, her husband. The best candidate: quiet, scholarly Prince Albert (Tom Hughes), who has a passionate interest in social and technological progress. But the besotted pair quickly discover that their new relationship has its own array of problems, especially since Parliament doesn't like him much.
The life of a monarch is always an interesting one, and "Masterpiece: Victoria" is doubly interesting because it examines the life of a monarch who had to struggle to rule her kingdom, despite having everyone question her fitness and plot to take her power. So this season is a mingling of the elegant, sweeping style of a royal soap opera (complete with a cancer death and forbidden love affairs!) and "Game of Thrones" scheming politics.
And the miniseries clearly loves every minute of itself, weaving together Victoria's personal travails (her anxiety about the idea of Albert having a mistress, her crush on Melbourne) with her political life (her clash with the Tories), and then swathing the results in silk and sunlight, in slow-motion and soprano calls of "Gloriana." It is a sumptuous, sensual experience, and it knows how to handle the important moments that might not seem so (Albert and Victoria's first excursions on a steam train).
Obviously some fictionalization takes place. As far as anyone knows, Victoria did not have a passionate crush on Lord Melbourne (possibly because he didn't look like Rufus Sewell), and there are some underlying subplots to flesh out Victoria's world (the burgeoning romance between a young chef and Victoria's reluctant dressmaker). It's acceptable dramatic material, but it often feels like filler.
But the characterization of the young queen is a credit to writers Daisy Goodwin and Guy Andrews, because though Victoria is constantly schemed against by misogynist politicians, she is not depicted as a Mary Suish paragon. "Victoria" is as much about Victoria's screwups and naivete as it is about her triumphs, and how she grows past her childish impulses and feelings into a young woman worthy of the throne.
And Coleman does an excellent job showing both the character's fragility and vulnerability, as well as her strength and integrity (such as when she abolishes medieval punishments for treason). She's balanced out nicely by Sewell as a world-weary politician with a tragic past, who must gently rebuff her affections while keeping her on an even keel, and by Hughes as the earnest, socially-awkward young prince who passionately wants to make the British Empire all it could be. And there are an array of smaller, excellent roles by Flemming, Daniela Holtz, David Oakes and many others.
Sure, some parts are fictionalized, but "Masterpiece: Victoria" is both a fascinating look at a young monarch's reign and a soap-infused drama. And there's still plenty of her reign left to explore.
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