“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.
First of all, where is Lord Melbourne? He didn’t stop being Prime Minister when Queen Victoria married. Nor, indeed, did the Queen stop meeting with him. I will be most miffed if he doesn’t reappear for next week’s season finale.
Anyway, there’s no polite English word for it, but Victoria is pregnant. In the opening scene of “The Engine of Change” our 20-year-old monarch abruptly runs from a classical music concert because she is to be, in the words of her household, “indisposed out of her mouth.” The doctors soon confirm it: There is to be a royal baby. Prince Albert is over the moon and Victoria is afraid, the shadow of Princess Charlotte dying in labor looming large.
She announces it 1840s monarch style, which is to say not on Facebook, but in an audience chamber, from her throne, with members of her government assembled before her to clap when she has delivered her news. It’s most civilized and, frankly, has given me a lot of ideas for my future pronouncements.
But you may want for a lot of other things, Albert. Anyway, look, I’ve warmed up slightly to our second favorite German prince since last week. And I say second favorite because I think we can all agree Ernest is first, from his unsubtle ruses to let his brother and Victoria have alone time to taking Albert to a “house of ill repute” in the lead up to the Great Royal Wedding of 1840. #ForGodandCountry
Episode 5, “An Ordinary Woman,” opens with some stilted conversation between Victoria and Albert before Ernest leads away the Queen’s lady-in-waiting and our future figureheads for propriety make out behind a random sheet hanging inside a rotunda. But the bliss is short-lived, because inquiring minds want to know: How much money will Albert be given? What will his title be? Who will make up his household? I don’t want to have to ask for money every time I need to buy a handkerchief, Albert says. But the Palace has loads of handkerchiefs! Victoria is bewildered, quite possibly because when she turned 18 she was handed the British Empire, but who’s to say?
Same, Victoria, same. Well, it’s happened. In the span of one episode Albert went from her rude, dull first cousin to our favorite British queen’s fiance. This episode also served as a good reminder of why I really don’t like Prince Albert, so, in that sense, well done Victoria – you’ve captured his essence perfectly.
Let’s get into it, shall we? Episode 4, “The Clockwork Prince,” begins where the last one left off, in the drawing room with Prince Albert walking up to the Queen to turn the page of her piano music for her. Dash immediately starts barking to which I say, good for Dash. He is a rival for Victoria’s affection and maybe also a tyrant. Dogs are never wrong. Anyway, Victoria isn’t feeling it, so when it’s suggested that she show Albert and his brother, Ernest, around she uses Lord Melbourne to get out of it with some urgent dispatches that require her “full attention.” I like this excuse. I’m going to use it going forward.
On Sunday night, the first two episodes of Victoria, “Doll 123” and “Ladies in Waiting,” premiered on PBS, filling the time slot left over when Downton Abbey ended last year. And it makes sense – both are British period dramas centered around a young, beautiful brunette who has no problem telling off the men that surround her. Only here, the main character is based on the very real Queen Victoria and not the fictional Lady Mary Crawley.
There’s been renewed interest in the early days of Queen Victoria’s reign, which began in 1837, most notably 2009’s The Young Victoria starring Emily Blunt. These depictions seek to humanize a figure that has become best-known for being an overweight senior citizen shrouded in black, and whose reign has become synonymous with prudishness, longevity and the expansion of the British Empire in ways we now find politically and racially uncomfortable.
But, as these depictions want to remind us, before she was a grandmother and a widow, she was an 18-year-old girl who left an overly sheltered existence as a princess in Kensington Palace to become the British queen, expected to go head-to-head with prime ministers, run a royal household and embody the institution of the monarchy. She was also – though the show hasn’t gotten there yet – a young woman desperately in love with her husband, who had a complicated relationship with motherhood. She was also jealous, domineering, stubborn and passionate. A lot to unpack there, and it’s not difficult to see why it’s tempting to want to take another look at her through a 21st-century lens.