Victoria: A New Downton Abbey
By Sofia Weddle
It was a cool Sunday evening when Masterpiece Classic took the world by storm. The seemingly dull subject of manor servants in the early 1900s became a full-blown drama entitled Downton Abbey, reminiscent of heavily followed soap operas. Then, five years later, the beloved series ended with a flourishing finale. And that was it. No more 9 pm Sunday nights glued to the television screen. Until Victoria came.
After Masterpiece discontinued Downton Abbey, a replacement was needed for the avid fanbase to watch. And truly, what do people love more than highly theatrical, exciting royalty? So in came another British series, Victoria, set in the mid-1800s and based on the famous life of Queen Victoria of England. She was a queen, that according to The Guardian journalist Julia Baird, represented “the model of a modern woman: candid, stroppy and stubborn” and “the 19th century's most powerful and prominent working mother”, but has been unfairly “dubbed a ‘domestic tyrant’”. Victoria works to expose this false mirage of the Queen’s persona and ruling style and develop her as a benevolent, powerful monarch through reenacting the many hardships she endured at the helm of the throne.
The opening scenes of the first episode set the dramatic, regal tone of the series. Victoria’s uncle has just died and she must claim the throne at just 18 years old. The show prominently explores Queen Victoria’s trials and setbacks, especially as a petite female whom many party leaders doubt. Her future husband, Prince Albert, is introduced early on and develops arguably the most interesting feature of Victoria’s story. Their love truthfully starts as frustration from each other’s polar opposite personalities, but soon flourishes into an authentic, passionate devotion. The first season left off at a critical point in their relationship, as Victoria had just given birth-- a feat that most political leaders at the time believed would bring the Queen’s untimely death. Unfortunately, avid fans have had to endure a year long wait to continue Queen Victoria’s tremulous tale until the arrival of season two in the U.S. in January 2018. If the next season is anything like the first, viewers will not be disappointed.
Throughout the show Jenna Coleman, a Doctor Who alumna, artfully portrays Queen Victoria in her varied emotional states as a new and controversial ruler. Victoria was known for her spunk and fierceness as a ruler, and Coleman becomes just that when her character is faced with doubts from Parliament, her mother, the Prime Minister, and even her own husband. Similarly, Tom Hughes transforms Prince Albert from a shy, overtly-precise aristocrat into a doting, selfless husband who stands confidently by Victoria’s side. However, it takes Albert a few episodes to conform to the English royal rules and etiquette as a Prince Consort, allowing for Hughes to further explore Albert’s insecurities and anxieties about simply becoming a figurehead solely dependent on his wife.
Even if the extraordinary acting, dramatic plotline, or emotional investment wasn’t enough, Victoria features an exquisite array of costumes and set designs. Think Kate Middleton’s gowns times 100. Victoria’s dresses feature jaw-dropping details of lace, beading, or jewels that are sure to make the fashion community swoon. According to an anonymous Glenelg High School Junior, the costume designers of royal-based shows such as Victoria, The Crown, and Reign “not only want it [the clothing] to be historically accurate, but beautiful.The intricate designs and gowns in these shows are so thoughtfully put together because it is the only representation of that era we have left. Viewers are attracted to theses time periods as we are always curious what living in a different time would be like”. Likewise, the sets accurately replicate the English royal homes of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle in all their ornate, crystalline glory. Truly, this show is a feast for the eyes.
Victoria has all the makings of a hit: drama, romance, suspense, historical accuracy, intrigue, beautiful clothing, excessive jewels. While it will never be the beloved Downton Abbey, PBS Masterpiece Classic has hit the television jackpot yet again with a royal tale that captures seemingly outlandish but realistic events.
It was a cool Sunday evening when an enthralling monarch captured the hearts of millions…
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