Young queen is brought to life in costume drama Victoria

Jenna Coleman stars as the young monarch in a tale of passion, romance, royal intrigue and political power struggles.
Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria. Courtesy ITV
Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria. Courtesy ITV

“Excitement” is hardly ever the first word that springs to mind when we think about Queen Victoria.

The name conjures up images of a headstrong but dour widow in black who spent the last half century of her long life mourning the death in 1861 of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, before her own demise in 1901, after 63 years, seven months and two days on the British throne.

At just four feet, 11 inches she blossomed into a towering symbol of the British Empire, forging a new, modern role for the royal family through her devotion to public duties.

Impressive, certainly – but, how to put it delicately, potentially dull for modern TV audiences. Inquiring minds these days hunger for real stuff about the individual – what was Victoria like as a young woman, with real needs, desires and dreams? How did these adapt and change through the years?

Victoria, a lavish new costume drama that begins on Tuesday (September 6) on ITV Choice, offers a glimpse into this largely unexplored side of the monarch and delightfully fills in the blanks during eight crackerjack episodes of flesh-and-blood passion, romance, unrequited love, royal intrigue and political power struggles. It draws on historical events and the queen’s own exhaustive diaries to paint a vivid portrait that traces a teenage girl’s coming-of-age and evolution from an impulsive 18-year-old to her early years as wife, mother – she had nine children – and the head of a global empire.

Written by Daisy Goodwin – the British poet, television producer and acclaimed author of My Last Duchess (published in North America as The American Heiress), Victoria has been collecting glowing reviews since its debut on UK TV last week, for its landmark account of the life of one of history’s greatest monarchs. Downton Abbey fans, in particular, will love this saga of interlocking circles and relationships that stretch from the upper echelons of the royal court to the below-stairs staff.

Heading a top-drawer ensemble cast with her strong, complex and wilful portrayal of Queen Victoria is Jenna Coleman, the 30-year-old British actress best known for her roles as spirited time-travel companion Clara Oswald in Doctor Who, and as the lonely Jasmine Thomas in the ITV soap opera Emmerdale.

“I have so many words written down in my notebook to describe Victoria – impulsive, passionate, creative, difficult, soulful, independent, inflexible, warm, devotedly loyal, imaginative, guileless and self-willed – she was quite set in her nature,” says Coleman.

“‘Everything that I read about Victoria tells me she is incredibly disciplined and when she came to the throne she relished having a real man’s job. She would go out on horseback with the troops even though people told her not to – and that’s not to say she didn’t blunder and make mistakes, because she did.

“She acted on impulse all of the time which is what I really like about her. She is incredibly flawed – but that, in turn, makes her incredibly human and endearing, and mostly it is what makes her unapologetically her.”

Bafta-nominated actor Rufus Sewell (The Man in the High Castle, The Pillars of the Earth) is Lord Melbourne, Victoria’s first prime minister. The two immediately form a connection and their intimate friendship was a popular source of gossip that threatened to destabilise the government.

Tom Hughes (The Game, Silk) plays the forward-thinking Prince Albert, a man of verve and complexity. Although immediately impressed by him, her first cousin, Victoria resists attempts to rush into marriage. But he must have done something right.

“He was so kind, so affectionate; oh! to feel I was, and am, loved by such an Angel as Albert, was too great delight to describe!” the real Victoria wrote in her journal entry of October 15, 1839.

“But it was not love at first sight,” says Hughes. “There’s definitely a frostiness between them to ­begin with.”

Other notables in the cast include Peter Firth (Spooks, Undeniable, World Without End) as the queen’s conniving uncle, the Duke of Cumberland; and Catherine Flemming (Simones Labyrinth, No Place to Go) as the Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria’s mother.

“We look back now and think of her reign as a time of ossified magnificence,” says Goodwin.

“But when she came to the throne there were many people close to her and in the nation at large who thought that the tiny, young girl with her ­peculiar-sounding name – Victoria was a made-up name, the Beyoncé of its time – was not capable of being the sovereign of the country that was fast becoming the most powerful nation on Earth.”

Victoria begins at 10pm on Tuesday, September 6 on ITV Choice, which is exclusive to OSN

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: September 4, 2016 04:00 AM

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