Not loving “Victoria”? Consider watching these royal period dramas instead.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/programs/features/spotlight/6-surprising-queen-victoria-facts/

Yeah, I’ve been watching the historical drama “Victoria” on PBS, simply because I am powerless to turn off any program produced in the UK (don’t talk to me about turning off the TV, full stop. I love my TV, and I need at least one other sedentary habit besides reading), but it hasn’t been doing a whole lot for me. It didn’t help that, about a month before it aired, I read a FANTASTIC and very readable (that is: not too long) biography of Queen Victoria, by Julia Baird. It accomplished a lot: gave me a feel for Victoria; gave me a feel for the time; gave me a real picture for her relationships, including the ones between her and Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister who was in power during the earliest part of her reign, and also the one between her and Albert.

So two things bothered me right away about “Victoria,” and they both prove me to be a curmudgeon who really just needs to give it a rest already and get back to the old suspension of disbelief that makes so much TV- and movie-watching pleasurable. The first item to note is that the actress playing Victoria (Jenna Coleman) is much too attractive. I know that less-than-stunningly-beautiful actresses have a hard time getting going in the business, but for Victoria, who by all accounts was in possession of the Hanover nose and the Hanover lack of chin, it’s disconcerting to see this gorgeous (albeit tiny; they got that part right) woman playing the queen.

The second item is of course the TV relationship between Victoria and Lord Melbourne. Now, according to the one biography of the Queen I’ve read (which makes me an expert, natch) it does appear that Victoria was very fond, almost embarrassingly fond, of her first Prime Minister. But Baird’s book made it sound much more like a parent/child or mentor/mentee relationship, even though Victoria herself looked back at her old writings about Melbourne and blushed a bit about how gushing she was. On the other hand, you can’t blame the TV writers: when you’re handed Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne to work with, WOWZA, well, it’s kinda hard not to move things in the romance and then the “burning, improper love that must be denied” direction. (Plus, even Sewell is amused that he now gets to be a sex symbol.)

It’s romantic and heartbreaking storytelling, but it’s just a bit much (or not enough, actually), factually speaking.

Although: I will say that this is a beautifully filmed program; look at those outfits, and look at the setting in the clip above. Mr. BritTV and I were both watching, and just as I turned to say to him, “I wonder where they’re filming this, because that looks like the most beautiful place in the world,” he said, “I was just going to say to you, I wonder where that is.” It was a bit of a romantic moment between me and the Lord Melbourne in my life, if you must know. So that was enjoyable.

BUT: All in all it has not been my favorite period piece featuring royalty. So I set about to make a list of other period dramas about royalty that I’ve enjoyed more, and you know what I found? I haven’t actually watched that many period dramas about British royalty. Here’s what I’ve got:

1. The Virgin Queen

Oh, The Virgin Queen. A period drama about the entire lifetime of Elizabeth I, starring Anne-Marie Duff as the monarch and Tom Hardy as her Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. A great drama, although once again I’m not quite sure how historically accurate, but Anne-Marie Duff knocks it out of the park as the deceptively delicate and long-lived monarch. Throw in a great soundtrack and a strong supporting cast (including Tara Fitzgerald as one of her closest ladies-in-waiting and Kevin McKidd as the Duke of Norfolk), and you’ve got a program that is truly regal.

2. The Tudors

Yes, yes, I know, one can not complain about historical inaccuracies in period dramas and then admit that they enjoyed Showtime’s version of The Life and Times of Henry VIII. First of all, casting the lean Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry? Inspired, but definitely not true-to-life. But I can’t help it. I enjoyed this program, not least because the acting was so solid: you’ve got Jeremy Northam as Thomas More, excellent; Sam Neill as Bishop Wolsey, even more excellent; Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn, makes actual sparks fly with Henry. She does such a good job as Anne Boleyn that, I swear, you’re really cheering for her not to get killed this time. But The Tudors does offer at least that much factual acuity: Boleyn is beheaded at the end of season 2.

And…that’s all. Those are actually the only period dramas about royalty that I’ve seen. I also thought about listing Blackadder, the Rowan Atkinson-helmed comedy classic, but I’ve only seen one season of that, and…sacrilegious…I didn’t really enjoy it that much. But it was a spoof on royalty, starting with the first season and its storyline about King Richard IV and his sons.

So then the question becomes, what other programs about royalty would I like to see? Well, there we have some options.

1. The Crown

This one is a recent Netflix production, focusing on the first ten years of the reign of Elizabeth II, which must be a bit awkward to run on the television, because, you know Elizabeth II is the reigning British monarch. But by all accounts this is a binge-worthy show.

2. Wolf Hall

Based on the Booker-winning novel by Hilary Mantel, this program documents the rise of Thomas Cromwell in King Henry VIII’s court. The book is 672 pages long and it just seemed like a lot to do. I confess I’ve never had much interest in watching the adaptation, either, but it might be a good choice for one of the blah winter February weekends we still have in store.

But then, BUT THEN, there’s this:

3. The Last King

Where has this one been all my life? I just started it and I’m thoroughly enthralled, although I can quite honestly say I’ve never been all that interested in the Charles II era of English history. Actually, it’s a little embarrassing how little I know about that period. I’m reasonably sure watching this miniseries is not really going to fill in a lot of my missing historical knowledge, but it is going to be a good time. Know who’s involved? Rufus Sewell (well, hello, Lord Melbourne!), Rupert Graves, Helen McCrory (you may not know that name but you should; she’s awesome), and, is that Martin Freeman I see, at right, in a hilariously bad haircut? Why, yes it is. Further bulletins as events warrant, but I think I’ll be skipping “Victoria” to watch this one instead.

So: What about you? Got a favorite royal-centric period drama?

4 Comments

  1. I was hooked on Victoria until Lord M left, and now it’s meh. Couldn’t they just re-write history a little and keep him on for a love triangle or torrid affair after she married Albert? Or maybe a spin off featuring him? History schmistory, I say!

    RE: the historical veracity of Vicky’s relationship with M, check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFLyOZc5B1k.

  2. Hojoslo,
    Oh, I couldn’t agree more. Rufus Sewell (Lord M). Thought the two of them had such nice chemistry together, too, even with the age difference.

    And thanks for the YouTube link–I’m going to go check it out. Have you read “Victoria the Queen” by Julia Baird? A great book. And it seems that Albert did not feel the need to have a mistress (or mistresses) like most of the royal court members at the time, so I’ve got to give the (real) guy some love for that.

    • I have not read it, but will add it to my list! I couldn’t agree more about V and M’s chemistry. Truth be told, I’ve watched that particular clip you posted from the Brocket Hall episode enough times that I’m surprised my remote hasn’t worn out!

      • Hojoslo,
        Oh, do. It was a really good book. It also got at some of the relationship between Lord M. and V., although it painted the whole thing more as something Victoria was just a bit embarrassed about when she looked back on it. But you could tell she really did appreciate his help and friendship.

        I’ve re-watched that clip a ton too! Ha. Good old YouTube, ruining my productivity all the time.

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