Acceding effortlessly to the Sunday night nostalgia hour, ITV’s lavish new costume drama tells the story of how a tiny, birdlike slip of a thing took flight to become one of the titans of English history.
Victoria’s producers are clearly hoping to bottle some of that Downton lightning (Crownton Abbey, anyone?), right down to the bolted-on subplot about the below-stairs machinations of Buckingham Palace’s (fictional) household staff.
There’s no Julian Fellowes – he’s already done this story with Emily Blunt in Young Victoria – but writer-producer Daisy Goodwin displays the same lightness of touch, mining the political and court intrigues of the mid-19th century for an irresistible dollop of soft-focus historical soap.
It’s a sumptuous affair, complete with extensive CG recreations of Victorian London, as no-one called it back then. But all eyes, of course, are on the teenage Queen, and Jenna Coleman exudes film star quality, equally at home bringing the sass (her steely ‘You have permission to withdraw’ is worthy of the Dowager Countess herself) as she is playing the vulnerable, flighty ingénue.
With Prince Albert still waiting in the wings, the focus of this week’s opening double-bill was Victoria’s girl crush on her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne – who, with a thumb to the nose of historical accuracy, now has the swoonsome green eyes of Rufus Sewell. (Which makes him a good match for Coleman, of who Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who once asked, ‘What’s gone wrong with your face? It’s all eyes!’)
When Lord M was forced out of office, Victoria went into an epic sulk, and had to resort to confiding in her dog instead. Her circling enemies – great boo-hiss turns from Paul Rhys as Sir John Conroy and Peter Firth as the Queen’s wicked uncle Cumberland – tried to suggest she might be going as gaga as George III, but she quickly outflanked them, showing the iron will that would sustain her on the throne for the next 63 years.
Definitely more Barbara Cartland than Hilary Mantel, Victoria is a guilty pleasure, for sure, but one which, with Goodwin raring to go on more scripts, I suspect may long reign over our Sunday evenings.
Are You Being Served?
Kicking off the Beeb’s Sitcom Season – a mix of new commissions and remakes to celebrate 60 years since the debut of Hancock’s Half Hour – Derren (Benidorm) Litten’s crack at the fondly remembered shop floor comedy was a faithful karaoke cover version, with the likes of Jason Watkins and Sherrie Hewson successfully channeling the spirit of John Inman, Mollie Sugden and co. At one point, Grace Bros was accused of being ‘stuck somewhere between the Roman Empire and the Black Death’. As, indeed, were the jokes, but I guess that’s the point.
Some will cry heresy at reviving this sitcom classic without the late, great Ronnie Barker and Richard Beckinsale, but creators Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ update was very much in the spirit of the original. As Fletch’s ducking and diving grandson, Kevin Bishop captured some of Barker’s cheeky, quick-witted charm, while Dominic Coleman and Mark Bonnar proved worthy successors to Brian Wilde and Fulton Mackay’s good-cop, bad-cop wardens. It wouldn’t really warrant a full series but, as a one-off nostalgic tribute, it was certainly no crime.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, September 1, 2016
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