And so, in the last minute of the show, we meet Albert. But first, everything else:
Episode 3, “Brocket Hall,” opens with foreboding music and gunfire, as though the country’s on the brink of civil war and all hell’s about to break loose. As we are told later, these are the Chartists, which was a very real movement begun in the late 1830s of working-class men petitioning for political rights and greater involvement in the process. I realize that, at the time of shooting, Victoria’s producers would have had no way of knowing what exactly would be going on in the world, but airing here in the U.S. within 48 hours of Donald Trump’s inauguration…how apropos.
We move to Buckingham Palace where a woman’s in charge and Queen Victoria and Lord Melbourne are discussing the Chartists, the impending visit of her Uncle Leopold and her potential marriage – oh, look, we’re in front of a portrait of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. Not all queens marry, Lord M reminds her. Subtle.
But Victoria only sighs. Her Uncle Leopold has it in his head that she should marry his nephew, her first cousin, Albert. “I am plagued by uncles,” she laments. Which was true, if you consider that she had an additional three on her father’s side, though the show only shows the one, Ernest, King of Hanover.
The depiction of Leopold is fantastic, because this is exactly how I’ve always imagined him. Odious, pompous and a bit of a busybody. He begins his visit by standing in front of his niece and reminding her that had his first wife not died, he would be standing where she was and she…well, in reality she probably wouldn’t have been born at all, but the show gives her a nice existence chilling in Coburg.
What he’s referring to, of course, is the death of Princess Charlotte of Wales, which threw the succession up in the air and prompted all of Victoria’s annoying uncles to scurry off and find nice German brides to give them children. Victoria’s parents were one such match, her mother being Leopold’s older sister.
Anyway, Leopold takes one look around London – or, more specifically, at what his sister and his niece are taking a look at and gets to work. Grand Duke Alexander of Russia is still hanging around court trying to bag a queen, while her cousin, George of Cambridge, is being prodded by his Uncle Ernest to get in the game. Now, let’s pause and consider this character of Uncle Ernest who appears to have his hand in British politics and court intrigue, alike – absolutely not. This character is way too smart and conniving to be an actual son of George III. That’s not an insult of George III. That is an insult of his children.
George of Cambridge on the other hand is an excellent depiction of a 19th century British prince. He is dull, he is easily distracted by random women and his voice kind of makes you want to punch him. That feels right.
So, Leopold sees all of this. And he also sees how much attention Victoria is showing to Lord M at the opera. On the carriage ride back to BP, Leopold talks to his niece “sovereign-to-sovereign,” which is like man-to-man, but so, so much better. He insinuates that maybe Victoria hasn’t married yet because she’s considering Lord M. She promptly puts him in his place, telling him he likely doesn’t understand her position given that he’s only the king of Belgium, a country that’s been existence for less than a decade. Mic drop. +1 Victoria.
But Leopold isn’t done yet. At the unveiling of a plaque commemorating Victoria’s deceased father, the Duke of Kent, he corners Lord M and tells him to put his niece in her place – her place being that of a queen that needs a husband, a husband that cannot possibly be her Prime Minister. Because, like, duh.
This conversation starts, however, with Leopold asking to speak with Lord M and Melbourne responding, “Can it wait?” And while I love Lord M and kind of hate Leopold, no, the British Prime Minister would not respond to the Belgian king with “Can it wait?”
Unfortunately, Lord M has put it in Victoria’s head that her people would like it if she made an English match. He says this on horseback, while giving Victoria some serious eye contact, so are we supposed to think he meant himself? His later actions would indicate no, but…his eyes said yes.
Anyway, Victoria takes off to Lord Melbourne’s country house, the titular Brocket Hall, in an unmarked carriage (haha, no) to once again throw herself at him, but this time sober. Naturally, Lord M is sitting outside alone, surrounded by foliage. Victoria tells him that while she once thought he was the father she never had, she’s now realized he’s the only companion for her. This comes on the heels of a few other asides about Lord M being old enough to be her grandfather and some references to his “infirmities.” Are we supposed to just pretend that Rufus Sewell, the actor playing him, is a senior citizen? According to Wikipedia, Sewell is 49. It also says that he’s single, so, let’s take this as a glass half-full situation.
Lord M responds to her…marriage proposal (?) with a metaphor about birds, because, as I have found, men often respond to women’s emotions in difficult conversations with complicated, drawn out metaphors about nature that mirror their feelings. (I have not found this).
Victoria has been rejected. Lord Melbourne is loyal to the memory of his first wife. He sidesteps the other reasons, like that she is the queen of England and he is her Prime Minister. Or that he is 60 and she is 20. Or that if she thought the fuss about her Whig ladies last episode was over the top, she wouldn’t even be able to wrap her head around the Tory outrage if she announced an engagement to him. That’s less important. It’s more about the birds and the long-dead Lady Caroline Lamb.
We move on to a fancy dress ball where Victoria is dressed as, you guessed it, Elizabeth I, and talking about how she’ll never marry. Lord M approaches her dressed as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, which, if you know your Elizabethan history, is BOLD. He tells her their story – or this show’s version of it – which is that Leicester’s wife was also dead, and even though he and Elizabeth loved one another, they realized they couldn’t be together. So, they were “companions” instead. He then leaves her on the dance floor, because Lord M apparently doesn’t give a damn about respecting monarchs.
Victoria’s thrilled though. Now, instead of loveless, she’ll only be husbandless. Or so she thinks. In the next installment of inappropriate sexual innuendo between queen and PM, Victoria tells him that she’ll live alone, but “with companions, perhaps.” HA. I assume this is meant to be a joke to anyone that knows the actual trajectory of Queen Victoria’s life, because while the idea of her taking advantage of being without a husband by kicking back “with companions, perhaps” is amazing, it’s also the polar opposite of what she did.
No, Lord M tells her, that’s not the choice for her. He, after all, can’t be her Prime Minister forever. And besides, he thinks she will want a husband. “I believe you won’t be happy alone,” he says, “Even with companions.” Cue heartbreak.
I haven’t met anyone that I care for, she tells him. He suggests maybe she hasn’t been looking, you know, because of how attracted she is to him. He tells her, “You must please yourself.” At that, she smiles. Attagirl.
And in our B plot, Victoria convinces Sir John Conroy to leave her mother’s household and return to Ireland. She’ll even sweeten the deal with a title and some cash. There’s a brief segment of the show where our favorite English queen is running around BP throwing money at her problems and planning a life of independence (with companions) and it’s GLORIOUS. God, if only Victoria hadn’t married Albert.
Speaking of Albert, or the “German sausage” as he is at one point referred to, he strolls in dramatically, with black boots and a mustache, to presumptuously walk up to the Queen and turn the page of her piano music for her. She looks up, startled. And there he is.
And finally, I leave you with this: Today is actually the 116th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s death, the details and fallout from which you can read about here.