VICTORIA opens as the couple is finishing up their honeymoon. Apparently, it was very brief because Victoria has to get back to her duties as monarch. Poor Albert has nothing to do but get unsolicited advice about how much his life will improve one they’ve had a kid to cement his stature in his adopted country. I found it pretty interesting that everyone is advising Albert about having kids, even in this day and age, the pressure is usually on the woman. So Albert has nothing to do in the meanwhile but play angry piano. Victoria even comes up with silly things to do like blot her signature on papers that he doesn’t even have to read. It’s a precursor for the tone of the whole episode, as Albert finds new things to do and ways to adjust to his surroundings even as he continues to struggle with the language and understanding British customs.
Speaking of British custom, it seems that couples go into dinner together, but it takes some careful machinations on Victoria’s part to be able to enjoy dinner on the arm of her husband because of his status. It’s an underlying theme for the episode and one that Victoria solves on her own by making a judgmental uncle’s wife one of the elite. Everyone from Albert’s brother to his mother-in-law/aunt continually advises him that he won’t have to stand these injustices once he’s a father because then people will respect him. I love these old-fashioned insights, I just wish they explained them a bit better.
Victoria senses Albert’s unrest and is pining for Lord M’s advice. He’s not in the episode and other than Victoria mentioning how she misses him, I don’t think we know where he is. It doesn’t much matter because it allows Victoria to figure out a workaround on her own. Everyone is very impressed with Victoria’s ability to bring Albert up by placating an uncle except for Albert, who calls it Victoria’s triumph, but not his. Little things like this always make me wonder about the historical accuracy of such things. Victoria and Albert is such a well-established couple, it’s hard to believe that Albert was less than welcome. Or that he wouldn’t be primed for such nuances and customs ahead of time, given that everyone was apparently rooting for him to marry Victoria since their childhood. I don’t usually have these reservations or questions about historical themed shows and movies and I’m thinking that it’s part of where Victoria falls short of being as brilliant as Downtown Abbey or The Crown—the creative license rather than the historical accuracy is somewhat confusing and makes me want to do my own research rather than rely on what is on screen for information.
But this episode did finally get interesting when it comes to the upstairs/downstairs dynamic. Below stairs, the servants are all abuzz because of a recent cholera outbreak. While servants worry about their friends and family and Skerritt fears for her cousin and child who have been put into isolation, there is no word at all amongst the queen and her cronies, even socially conscious Albert about the outbreak or possible contraction of the disease. In fact, even the servants feel safe from disease as though you can’t get sick if you’re anywhere near rich people. It’s not only finally a real look at the different worlds of the palace, it also makes the relationship between Chef Francatelli and Maid Skerritt. Up until now, I thought that Francatelli was kind of pervy and way too interested in Skerritt’s murky past life. But in this episode, it seems like he might have actual feelings for her. He braves the diseased slums and finds a place for the cousin and child to live outside of the infected area and all he wants in return is to know Skerritt’s given name. It turns out to be Nancy and the whole thing has changed not only her view of Francatelli’s intentions but also the viewers. It’s nice to know that there could be romance instead of just creepy intentions.
Meanwhile, as Albert is looking for something to do, he offers to make a speech for an open meeting hoping to get American to abolish slavery, just as Britain has done. He feels strongly about the subject and with the help of a tutor manages to write a speech. Victoria is set to attend but changes her mind about attending at the last minute because she doesn’t want to draw attention away from Albert and also doesn’t want him to be nervous when she’s not there. The speech gets off to a rocky start, but Albert finishes strongly and ends up with a standing ovation—including from a token escaped slave. It also helps Albert make a connection with Robert Peele, a man that Victoria views as an enemy because he is poised to be the next Prime Minister taking away from her beloved Lord M. Stuff like this makes Victoria seem silly and Albert sensible and smart, which seems counterintuitive for a program that usually tries to endeavor to show how capable Victoria is, despite her age and sex.
Speaking of sex, Albert might want kids, but Victoria wants to wait a bit. To that end, she has asked her presumably virgin nanny for advice about birth control. I’m not really sure what “method” it is, or what the theory of how it works is, but it involves jumping up and down in the middle of the night. Eventually, Albert sees her doing her crazy exercises and explains that the only way to not have a baby is to not practice having a baby. He does it all seductively, so you know that it’s not going to happen.
All in all, it’s kind of a mixed episode that brings up some interesting points and history, but as always there’s something lacking that prevents Victoria from being a truly great show.
Season 1, Episode 5 (S01E05)
Victoria airs Sundays at 9PM on PBS
Carly is a freelance writer that watches too much TV while she writes blogs and articles about lifestyle including travel, food, fashion, beauty, home decor, entertainment, health, fitness and wellness and green living.
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Carly Zinderman | Contributor