‘Victoria’ is a sanitized look at British monarch
“Victoria on Masterpiece” 8 p.m. Sunday on PBS
What it’s about: As the second season gets underway, Queen Victoria (Jenna Coleman) is anxious to get back to work after the birth of her first child (also named Victoria). Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) wants to inspect his regiment, and Victoria wants to as well: “It may be your regiment, Albert, but it is my army.” Meanwhile, Prime Minister Peel’s (Nigel Lindsay) war in Afghanistan is going poorly.
Diana Rigg — as the Duchess of Buccleuch — joins the cast of this hit, which was created and written by Daisy Goodwin.
My say: The British queen wrote millions of words about her everyday world, but posterity ignored most of them by turning her into a frumpy moralist in a bonnet. Revisionism is now well underway. Goodwin’s bestselling novel on the young Victoria was followed by Julia Baird’s “intimate” biography last fall, which coincided with this ITV production adapted from Goodwin’s book.
This season, Coleman’s young monarch remains passionate, stubborn and engaged. On Sunday, she wants to know what to do about Afghanistan. In next week’s episode, while looking out a window at hungry crowds jostling the palace gates, she doesn’t see subjects but fellow humans. She cries when her beloved dog dies. She gathers Albert in her warm embrace when personal tragedy strikes his family.
She’s not just a queen. She’s a saint, and that’s sometimes a problem with this well-meaning portrait that refuses to throw a little shade at Victoria now and then. Baird writes in her biography (“Victoria the Queen”) that she “was a decisive ruler who complained of the weight of her work while bossing around her prime ministers daily, if not hourly.”
In its zeal to correct the badly flawed record, “Victoria” may have overcorrected. As good as Coleman is, there’s not much mystery in her portrait, and not many questions either. How did Victoria ultimately become the most powerful person on the planet over the course of nearly a century?
Jenna Coleman as the titular character in PBS’ “Victoria on Masterpiece.”