Saturday, June 12, 2010

Film Interlude: Victoria and Albert

Year Released: 2001
Production Company: BBC
Rating: PG
Starring: Victoria Hamilton, Jonathan Firth

What's the Story?

This two-part TV mini-series covers the life of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert from before Victoria's accession to Albert's death.

It begins with an older Victoria, confined to a wheelchair and brought into a room where Albert's grooming tools are being laid out by her servants. Then, the story flashes back to when Victoria is under the care of her mother, Victoire, the Duchess of Kent and Sir John Conroy. Victoria is visited by her two German cousins, Ernest and Albert, and isn't particularly interested in Albert, deeming him dull. Although kept away from the royal court, she attends her uncle's birthday--William IV portrayed by Peter Ustinov--where his dissatisfaction with the Duchess of Kent's decision to seclude Victoria is demonstrated to the court. Victoria is notified about her uncle's death in 1837, just after she turned 18 years old, and she becomes queen of England. Here, she separates herself from her mother, dismisses Sir John Conroy, and meets MP Lord Melbourne who is her first favorite and trusted friend.

King Leopold of Belgium makes a state visit and pushes Albert's suit on Victoria, and although her ministers are opposed to receiving Albert, Albert visits Victoria with his brother, Ernest. Although Victoria had declared that she was opposed to marrying at all, she is immediately taken with Albert, and asks him to marry her. However, Albert expresses deep concerns about his feelings for Victoria--although he is aware of her deep feelings for him, he admits that he does not love her. Albert immediately becomes aware of his situation as his wife goes off to work after their first night together. He offers to help Victoria, but this is dismissed. Albert encourages changes in the royal household and works to reconcile Victoria and her mother. Victoria becomes pregnant and gives birth to their first child, and Albert's devoted love for his children is born along with her. Gradually, Albert's influence in the royal household grows, especially after their two-year-old daughter takes ill.

The story cuts to around 1850 when Victoria and Albert have several children together and have created a warm, close home for them together. Albert works tirelessly on the Great Exhibition of 1851, which is opened by a speech by Victoria where she expresses her thanks to Albert for all of his hard work. In a moment stolen before a state event, Albert expresses his emotional reaction to Victoria's speech, and he tells her that he loves her.

The story cuts again to another ten years later where Victoria visits her mother while her mother lays close to death. Victoria and Albert's oldest son, Edward or Bertie, isn't serious enough about his studies, and is admonished by his father for this. Albert later visits Bertie at school and returns home wet and increasingly ill. As the family sets up for the Christmas holiday, Albert dies, and Victoria, after sobbing, lights the candles on the Christmas Tree in memory of Albert.

The last scene cuts back to the older Victoria, sitting in the dressing room, examining Albert's things and lost in his memory.


This is worth seeing, especially if you're a fan of BBC multi-part period dramas. You'll see a lot of familiar faces from other BBC series, including Diana Rigg. Just like the others, it's long--the total running time is over three hours, and the series was originally divided into two installments of just over an hour and a half each.

The series spends a little too much time on Victoria by herself and not enough on Albert--Albert marries Victoria over an hour into the first half of the program, and his appearances prior to that are reserved to a few snippets. If the program was going to be called "Victoria and Albert," Albert should have had just as much time on screen. I think that the relationship between Victoria and Albert is portrayed very realistically, as is Victoria's character. Albert is a little stiff, but he did have that reputation in reality, so this may be equally realistic. Peter Ustinov is really fantastic as William IV, and Diana Rigg does an equally good job as Baroness Lehzen, Victoria's "governess." Victoria Hamilton, who has appeared in many BBC dramas, is a very convincing Victoria. With this combination of characters, it would be hard to go wrong.

The story follows history pretty closely with few snags. It does conveniently skip a few things, and it downplays the fact that Albert was not particularly well-liked, mostly for prejudice against foreigners, but also because of his "priggishness." The differences between Victoria and Albert are also downplayed--Albert disliked public engagements and late nights, while Victoria tended to enjoy them.

The program gives enough history--history that could fit into the two parts, that is. This easily could have been a six- or seven-part series, too, covering their growing family, the purchase of properties in Scotland and on the Isle of Wight, the changes in politics, their eldest daughter's marriage, and/or their state visits abroad. However, it could easily become too long, so although the series skips several things that would have been intersting to include, the viewer isn't left in want of them.

Overall, it was very enjoyable judged on its own. It isn't as colorful as some other BBC series, but the actors do not disappoint given the focus is on relationships with events in the background, and the writers deserve credit for sticking to the history probably more strictly than any other BBC series I've seen.

Final Verdict: I give this a solid B. I'll probably rent it again somewhere along the lines, but I didn't feel the need to watch it several times over or to run out and purchase it.

No comments: