It’s 1848, the queen is heavily pregnant and revolution is on the horizon. I’m minutes into the third season of ITV’s Victoria and begrudgingly settle in for what I can only imagine will be a long, dry and drawn-out homage to a period of British history. Spoiler alert: I’m not big on period dramas. Nevertheless, I like Jenna Coleman, she was brilliant in The Cry and she might just have convinced me to give her depiction of our old monarch Queen Vic a real chance.
Followers of the series will remember that the first season focused on Victoria’s (Coleman) ascension to the throne. You will have witnessed Albert's (Tom Hughes) tender courtship of our RH (that's royal highness to you and me). By the second season he is prince, husband and father to her children. What followed was an exploration of her struggles as a young mother battling postnatal depression and as a woman trying to assert her power in an environment not positioned to yield to it. Sound familiar? Thought so.
Series three reintroduces us to Victoria at 29 years old, expecting her sixth child and not outwardly overjoyed by the whole thing. Beyond the palace walls, unrest is spreading. The King of the French has just had to evacuate his home as the revolution sweeps across Europe. Turmoil follows him to Britain where he seeks refuge at Vic's royal home. But he’s not the only one to turn up on the queen’s doorstep – her long-lost half-sister, Feodora arrives out of the blue, with the shadow of an ulterior motive clouding her every move. When she decides to become chummy with Prince Albert over a game of chess, I can’t help but be nervous about her intentions. Yep, I’m invested now.
While all this is going on, there’s also the arrogantly provocative foreign secretary, Lord Palmerston, whose sauntering around the place grates just enough for me to want to see how long his blatant refusal to respect the queen and play by her rules actually lasts. Where he goes, the hapless Prime Minister Lord John Russell isn’t far behind. For every sentence the prime minister tries to sheepishly deliver in Victoria’s presence, Palmerston is there to interject.
"The British public is like a beautiful woman, and I wish to glory in her smiles," Palmerston tells Victoria when she challenges his shady communication with the French revolutionists. I cringe at his smarmy delivery, but Victoria doesn’t falter. While the threat to the monarchy grows and dynamics within the palace are challenged, Coleman’s queen carries nothing but an air of grace and a determined sense of control. She also manages to portray an undercurrent of rage and resentment towards the hubristic men that surround and doubt her.
Victoria is peppered with quiet references to the forward-facing feminist agenda that runs parallel to the heart of her story. Our queen is more than a mother, despite her parenting being critiqued more than that of any of our other male rulers. When two of her children, Princess Vicky and Prince Bertie, join Victoria and Albert in the bedroom, her daughter tries on her crown – the crown – and they remark how heavy it is. Victoria asks her son if he’d like a turn to wear it, too. "Crowns are for girls," he cries, much to the poorly hidden disdain of his father, observing in the background. Victoria glances at Albert empathetically but there's a knowing behind her eyes. At this moment, crowns really are for girls and Victoria knows that it's on her shoulders that the fate of her family and country lies.
Mobs approach the palace but despite the advice of the men around her, she refuses to run away. Her sister's presence will undoubtedly be a looming strain on her influence and resolve as the series progresses, but Victoria, our second longest reigning monarch, is not surrendering to that any time soon either. The first episode is called "Uneasy Lies The Head That Wears The Crown". No one is more surprised than I am at my newfound interest for the woman whose head it sits on.
Victoria is on ITV One from Sunday 24th March at 9pm