Victoria (Sundays, ITV, 9pm) has a problem. It’s scheduled in competition with Poldark on BBC One, which is popular with the ladies because its star Aidan Turner takes his top off a lot. Victoria’s trouble is that it’s a) about a girl and b) she only gets married in episode five – so there’s very little excuse to show sweaty men being men.
Or so you’d think. In back-to-back scenes, we see Albert discussing his engagement to Victoria while sitting in a sauna and Victoria reading a passionate love letter from the saucy German in the bath. There is absolutely no dramatic purpose served by seeing wet flesh but, boy, do we get some. Rather cleverly done, I think. Tasteful.
Some prudes say that Victoria isn’t 100 per cent accurate, but television rarely is. No, Victoria’s first prime minister, Lord Melbourne, wasn’t a handsome Rufus Sewell-type who caused the queen to swoon with desire. He was 40 years her senior and fat. But to paraphrase Ken Russell, they didn’t have TV cameras in the 19th century either – so a line of historical precision has already been crossed.
Victoria isn’t an essay; it’s supposed to be a light-hearted romp, and it succeeds. The script is witty in places; contemporary in others. It’s also surprisingly old-fashioned. Like historical dramas of the 1970s, it feels as if all the money has been spent on one room – with very little exterior filming or crowd scenes. That ordinary life is absent from the drama reflects the preoccupations of modern viewers. We’re not interested in the peasants. Only the orb and sceptre.
One complaint: Tom Hughes as Albert. He looks like a model and, unfortunately, acts like one too. He pouts. There’s no emotion, just pursed lips and glassy eyes. What on earth does the young queen see in him? If he was vain and self-obsessed in reality, we could do with seeing more of it on the screen. Instead, we have a prince who appears to be advertising Chanel Pour Hommes.
Jenna Coleman as the queen, thankfully, is the right mix of naïve and headstrong. Paul Bowles as the Duke of Wellington, sensibly keeps his top on throughout.
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