Exploding its way onto our screens is ITV’s brand new eight-part costume drama, Victoria. Created by novellist Daisy Goodwin, the series stars ex-Doctor Who companion Jenna Coleman, her first leading role, in this coming-of-age story chronicling the reign of 18-year-old of Queen Victoria.
With lavish settings and costumes, it’s an instantly engaging drama revealing the passionate, strong-willed young Queen who would go on to rule the country for 63 years. The story follows her ascension to the throne as a teenager to her eventual marriage to the Prince Albert, and the show has already wowed critics and won over fans alike. The first two episodes have already aired on ITV and with the third arriving tonight, the show is definitely worth tuning in to.
Here’s everything you need to know about Victoria.
Best known for her role as former Doctor Who companion to Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman commands a brilliant performance as the young monarch. In 1837, 18-year-old Alexandrina wakes up one day to the realisation that she is now the Queen of England after the death of her uncle, King William IV. Changing her name to the more regal ‘Victoria’ (her middle name), the new Queen must quickly learn the ways of the monarchy, government and her people. Delivering a punchy and effective performance through her sharp wit, though her character is perhaps also a little naive and playful, Coleman peels off the layers behind the monarch and she does it so spectacularly. Victoria is also vulnerable, namely with Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (played by Rufus Sewell), the private secretary and trusted friend to the young Queen. Dubbed ‘Lord M’ by the monarch, the Prime Minister becomes all things to her during her early years on the throne, and acts like a father figure. Played brilliantly by husky-voiced Sewell, who gives an authoritative and commanding performance, there may be more to the relationship between Lord Melbourne and Victoria, with the gossip mongers referring to her as ‘Mrs Melbourne’.
That is until the third episode, which will see the introduction of her true love, the German Prince Albert (played by Tom Hughes). The Queen and Albert, who was the her first cousin on her mother’s side, bond over their shared passion for music, which meant that the actors had to learn how to play Beethoven. It was Victoria’s mother, The Duchess of Kent (Catherine Flemming), who pushed the Queen to marry her cousin, and arranged for him to come over to England. But Victoria wasn’t going to be rushed into a decision; this was the first time in her life where she had a choice. Their romance is the ultimate love story, and Hughes is a stand-out, and the perfect choice to play Albert. His performance as the young, shy Prince is just as mesmerising as Coleman’s Victoria.
Aside from all the drama up the stairs of Buckingham Palace, the show follows those who work behind the scenes. And it’s not only upstairs where the political jostling for power happens. In one of her first acts as Queen, Victoria appoints her life-long governess Lehzen (Daniela Holtz) as a baroness, and the head of her household. A bitter rivalry between Lehzen and head steward Penge (Adrian Schiller) begins to form, while at the same time, she manages to annoy the Queen’s senior dresser Mrs Jenkins (Eve Myles) when she appoints a mysterious new dresser Miss Skerrett (Nell Hudson). In true Downton Abbey nature, the story is as much about the characters downstairs as it is about the politics of what’s going on upstairs.
The show reportedly had a £10 million budget for the eight episodes to recreate the Victorian era in every little detail. The sets and costumes are of course, dazzling but they’re not all glitz and glamour. “[Michael Howells, Production Designer] spent a lot of money on very expensive chandeliers from Croatia,” Coleman told The Telegraph. “But in order to counteract that, he’s driven up to Scotland and got 22,000 seashells for free, and bought swords from the pound shop, all sprayed in gold.”
Nevertheless, chandeliers were made in the Czech Republic, while furniture was brought over from Malaysia, and about 12,000 candles burned during filming. Majestic interiors were built in a former RAF hanger in Yorkshire, while Harewood House, Castle Howard and Raby Castle all double up for Westminster Abbey, Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace. The CGI recreation of the exterior as it would have been in the 1800′s is breathtaking. And the pay-off is a splendid and richly-appealing result.
It’s historically accurate
Aside from exaggerating on the Queen’s fascination with Lord Melbourne (she was never in love with him), the show mostly gets its facts right. Victoria grew up largely in isolation at Kensington Palace, sleeping in her mother’s room and brought up under the strict ‘Kensington system’. Victoria grew increasingly frustrated with her mother, and her mother’s adviser Sir John Conroy (Paul Rhys), dismissing him from her council when she became Queen. She immediately enjoyed Albert’s company, and ended up proposing to him on 15 October 1839, three years after their first meeting.
It’s going head to head with Adian Turner
Tonight’s episode, which will see the introduction of Hughes’ Prince Albert, will clash with BBC’s Poldark, with both shows airing at 9pm. Victoria peaked at 6.1 million viewers on Sunday night for its first extended length episode, so it will be interesting to see how it does this week alongside the competition.
The third episode of Victoria is on ITV tonight at 9pm. The first two are available to catch up on ITV Player here.