“From now on, I wish to be called Victoria.”
That line, elegantly and confidently delivered by Jenna Coleman’s newly crowned 18-year-old monarch, was one of my favorite moments of the premiere episode of “Victoria,” the new miniseries that debuted on PBS Sunday. From the moment a solemn, black armband-wearing courtier arrives to deliver the news that young Alexandrina Victoria is the successor to the throne it is clear that little has been done to prepare the teen to be the sovereign of what was then the world’s largest empire.
Raised in virtual isolation by her mother, the German-speaking Duchess of Kent, Victoria ascended to the throne without ever truly interacting with commoners or even learning the basics of sex and procreation. (The latter becomes extremely apparent as Victoria badly navigates a scandal that nearly derails the monarchy.) But the best parts of Sunday’s premiere was getting to watch the young Queen decidedly take charge of the monarchy while effectively (and often brattishly) thwarting the many adults who tried in those early days to manipulate her. We see Victoria literally laugh once and future Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel out of the room when he tries to work with her before building his government. She crumples up lists of advisors carefully prepared by her Lady in Waiting. And, in the first of many mother-daughter conflicts, she orders her mother to stop speaking to her in German (and quickly drops her first name of Alexandrina.)
“Victoria” wouldn’t be a proper British costume drama without the following: a ballroom scene in which Victoria flirted with the “wrong” kinds of men, intrigue downstairs in the servants quarters, a maid who made a VERY BAD mistake but was instantly forgiven, and mommy issues galore. Fortunately for us all, we got plenty of all of those things and the costumes and music were exceptional throughout.
One of the men Victoria inappropriately flirts with is her trusted advisor and friend Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell.) Melbourne, who was Prime Minister at the beginning of Victoria’s reign, also served as her private tutor, instructing her on the ins and outs of government and diplomacy. While historians say that Melbourne and Victoria’s relationship was more of a father-daughter relationship than a romantic one, there are lots of longing glances and poignant conversations between the two in this series. (And really, isn’t that what we’d expect to see of two characters played by Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell?)