“I’m so bored of this,” Queen Victoria says to Prince Albert in the opening scene. She’s referring, of course, to her pregnancy, and though the show skipped from her first trimester to her third, by the end of the episode you will be bored of it too. The Queen, you see, does not much care for pregnancy – she doesn’t like what it’s done to her figure, she doesn’t like that all anyone cares about is the baby and she doesn’t like how it’s slowed her down.
Prince Albert, who has seemingly suffered through nine months of this, is less than sympathetic and more interested in his periodical (which, you should know, he is not reading for enjoyment). “We are not amused,” Victoria says at his lack of attention, which is a thing the real Queen Victoria never said. It is, if you will, the “Let them eat cake” of Victorian Britain.
The episode is centered around the great wait for the birth of Victoria’s first child, but in the interim we are given the return of the sinister Uncle Cumberland (King Ernest of Hanover), who may or may not be plotting his niece’s assassination, but is certainly hoping that childbirth will kill her and give him Britain. Our first warning is a man obsessed with Victoria, or, more precisely, obsessed with freeing the Queen from the “German tyrant,” her husband. He has been writing to her for years, according to Baroness Lehzen, which the Queen knew and wasn’t much bothered by. Fan mail problems, I suppose. Anyway, Albert is less than impressed when he finds out.
“In the future,” he says icily, “I would like to receive all of the Queen’s correspondence.”
“Is that the Queen’s wish?” she returns.
And so we have the makings of war, which, if the series’ plot follows history here, should be a driving force in Season 2.
Moving on: Victoria insists on continuing to go out so that her people can see her (she is a benevolent monarch, you see), which brings us to the episode’s climax – an assassination attempt by a man named Edward Oxford, who fires blanks at the Queen as she rides past in her carriage. Naturally, this results in some slow motion dramatics whereupon Albert plays the hero, throws his body over hers and then carries her into the Palace. I have to say, I was most impressed by him carrying her nine months’ pregnant than anything else. Anyway, he is fine, she is fine, the baby is fine and Cumberland might be a murderer.
“I always knew your Uncle Cumberland would try to kill you one day,” the Duchess of Kent says so earnestly it easily makes one of my top three quotes from the episode.
In fact, he didn’t. The man was insane and looking for fame and though Victoria is at first irate at the idea that he will be set free, while she, and later her child, will have live like prisoners to escape people like him, she rises past it, respects the law and accepts the verdict. To her Uncle Cumberland, who mocks the weakness of the judgment- one he would never let stand in Hanover – she says, “There have been times I have doubted my own judgment, but there is one thing of which I am quite certain: That however many mistakes I have made or perhaps am yet to make, I know I am better monarch than you could ever be.”
And that, my friends, was my favorite line of all.
This plot is rooted in history. In June 1840 (so about five months before it took place in the show), Oxford shot at Queen Victoria when she rode out from Buckingham Palace. As in the episode, Albert was with her and they were driving in an open carriage. He was immediately seized and showed little inclination to disguise himself, shouting, “It was I. It was me that did it.” (Stealing that for future use, JFYI.) As in the show, he was acquitted by reason of insanity and incarcerated, though he was later set at liberty on the grounds that he leave the UK. He ended up in Australia, naturally.
In reality, the incident was a boon to Victoria, bolstering her popularity, which had been hit by the Flora Hastings affair and her refusal to accommodate Sir Robert Peel, and not particularly helped by her marriage to a German prince.
She ends up sitting on a sofa next to her Uncle Leopold, who has become much less odious over the course of the season, eating sweets and proving, once again, that candy is what brings people together.
And then there is the labor. She tells Albert that she’s scared, which might have been annoying repetitive had he responded as he did and thus forced me to become much more irritated by what came next. “You have nothing to be scared of,” he answers. Albert is a damn liar and for a moment I thought, you know, maybe he is a German tyrant, because that is an ABSURD statement.
The only other thing I would add here is that this notion that Victoria was surrounded by her husband and her mother while she gave birth is quite ludicrous and thoroughly modern.
The baby is a girl and they name her Victoria after her mother. (For what it’s worth, the real Princess Victoria was a fascinating woman, the future mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II and a liberal British woman living in Berlin as Germany grew increasingly conservative and nationalist – she’s well worth researching, but if not, then you can always come back on Thursday when there will be a post on her and her husband.)
Now before we wrap up here, let’s discuss the greatest travesty of the second half of this series: WHERE THE HELL IS LORD MELBOURNE? Just in case there is any confusion: No, the Prime Minister doesn’t disappear once the Queen marries. I hope that allays your Victorian Era governmental nervousness.
Some other odds and ends: Let’s discuss this romance between Ernest and Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland. This is obviously fictional – indeed, the ease with which this show has people jaunting about the continent as though they’ve just hopped off a one-hour flight is slightly ridiculous. But that in and of itself doesn’t particularly offend me so much as which female figure they chose to cast as Ernest’s love interest. The Duchess of Sutherland was a very real figure in British history, and an important one. She was a highly-placed lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, but she was also an influential and active abolitionist. For a show that touched upon the issue of slavery and Britain’s reaction to it, it’s all the more a shame a figure so closely associated with the cause was not only excluded from that narrative, but relegated to a fictional story line that had her very nearly committing adultery with a member of the Royal Family.
And finally, now that the season is over, let’s address accuracy more broadly. I’ve seen on Twitter, and in a few reviews, annoyance at liberties the show has taken. Yes, there are inaccuracies in the show – from hyperbolic characters to time lapses to people shown hanging around London that wouldn’t have actually been there. But I think it’s joyless to watch a show like this and expect completely correct history. You won’t get it and if that’s going to drive you mad, then don’t watch.
I get it, to a certain extent. Inaccuracies like this used to drive me up the wall, but at some point you have to watch “history as entertainment” as just that – entertainment. Some do it better than others; “The Crown,” for example, has so far done a fairly excellent job of realistically depicting Queen Elizabeth’s early years. But consider this: That show also loses a certain kind of viewer, one that complains that the episodes are slow or dull or too confusing. This is a different series- a more dramatic one and slightly more, shall we say, accessible.
If you know the history then you’re going to have to compartmentalize while you watch. It’s a drama and not a documentary. There are areas where I’m less forgiving – historical fiction, for one. But when it comes to television series, I think of “The Tudors,” the standard-bearer, really, for completely throwing the history book out the window.
It’s a maddening show to watch if you know anything about the real Tudor dynasty, going so far as to be offensive for how it portrays certain historical women. But you know what? That show drove a lot of modern interest in Tudor history. There are people out there who fell in love with Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Natalie Dormer running around in anachronistic costumes and as a result picked up a book. Indeed, there are a lot people out there who discovered history through a fictionalized telling of it, and whatever drives people to read and learn more is a good thing. If that’s how it happens, I’ll take it.