Fascinated by the Poldark versus Victoria dust-up on telly at the moment. I never saw the first Poldark but have seen enough Romany gypsy types with their tops off in the flesh for a mini series to raise any more than a smile. To read the Daily Mail lusting over Poldark you’d think the ladies of Great Britain were absolutely starved of handsome men in their lives…
So instead I opted to ‘jump onto’ Victoria mid-series and see what all the fuss was about. Well, it looks good I’ll give you that and Jenna Coleman is as cute as a button as is dark and broody Prince Albert. But as all the TV reviewers have pointed out, the jeopardy of ‘will she or won’t she marry Albert?’ is redundant for all but the under thirties and Americans.
We know Queen Victoria and her Prince Consort’s was one of the greatest love matches in the history of the British monarchy … to the detriment of their hopelessly neglected and bullied children as it happened. Prince Albert was the quintessential domestic control freak and Queen Victoria operated on a level of imperiousness, entitlement and hysteria that would make Lady Colin Campbell look like the Singing Nun.
I rather like Jenna Coleman but she’s as sweet as a Ladureé macaroon. Victoria was a complicated woman much abused by her mother the Duchess of Kent and the perfidious Conroy. On her accession, Queen Victoria grasped her freedom and wielded her power to wreak revenge on all who had ‘done her wrong’.
It is terribly hard to get Emily Blunt’s Young Victoria out of one’s head when watching Jenna Coleman turn Queen Vic into a romantic heroine. I thought Miss Blunt nailed the young, lonely girl imprisoned in Kensington Palace with only her Cavalier King Charles spaniel Dash to love and give love in return. Miss Blunt’s eyes were as dark and melancholy as a Cavalier and for me that was what made Queen Victoria the monster she became.
Should you wish to see the definitive portrayal of Queen Victoria on screen look not to Dame Judi’s twinkly effort in Mrs Brown but at Annette Crosby’s performance in the TV miniseries Edward VII. Crosby takes Victoria from her marriage to Albert in 1840 to her death in 1901 and hers is a bravura performance. In youth she manipulates and demeans Prince Albert. After his death, she forms a cult of perfection around a man she mistreated in life.
What Annette Crosby achieves in Edward VII is making the old Queen an endearing character having portrayed Victoria as a monstrous harridan for most of her life. Despite the miniseries being about her eldest son Bertie, it is Queen Victoria who dominates. Her volatile temper is a joy to behold as are the few occasions when she IS amused and a smile dances on those pursed lips.
Annette Crosby’s performance proves that age is irrelevant to great actors. She can’t have been more than in her thirties when she made Edward VII and yet she takes Queen Victoria to the grave and you believe every flutter of the eyelid despite the horrendous prosthetic make-up.
My favourite Crosby scene in Edward VII is when the old queen and her eldest daughter ‘Vicky’ (Empress of Germany) visit Prince Albert’s tomb at Frogmore on the Windsor estate. The Queen has just celebrated her Diamond Jubilee and was quite delighted by a carriage ride to St Paul’s Cathedral for a service of thanksgiving.
During the ride towards the cathedral, a Cockney had shouted towards Queen Victoria’s carriage ‘Go it, old girl’. Crosby twinkles and says, ‘I rather like that’ before turning away from Prince Albert to return to the responsibilities of an ageing, reigning monarch. As she walks off camera, Queen Victoria says with weary determination, ‘Go it, old girl’.
I think the problem with costume drama on the BBC or ITV today is the desire to simplify and romanticise every story because the producers don’t think the public want to see the unvarnished truth. We all know that life is complicated. There is a lot of light and shade. Queen Victoria’s life was not a fairy tale and good God it was no story about strong women before suffragettes and feminism.
Jenna Coleman plays Queen Victoria as a woman with 21st century values. Perhaps that was the writer’s intention so we can ‘relate’. But that’s the point of history don’t you know. We can try to relate and themes do echo in life but the past is a foreign country and the language is not our own.
One could no more understand Anne Boleyn than one could Attila the Hun. For one, Anne’s religious beliefs – not her libido – guided her life. I would surmise that Anne Boleyn used her body as a vessel to forward the cause of what she considered the true religion. You have to imagine the Catholic and Protestant factions in Tudor England like a fight between ISIS and the Western World. The hatred and intolerance for each other was exactly the same.
How did we get on to Anne Boleyn? Well, for me any historical discussion always ends with Anne Boleyn. But Queen Victoria lived three times longer and is much closer in the historical abyss to our own age. I have warmed to Queen Victoria the more books I read about her. She definitely wasn’t mother of the year material and she neglected her monarchical duties to indulge in grief. But Britain wasn’t ever greater than under her reign.