Welcome to Television Scheduling 101.
If you want to garner audience interest, pour some money into a high-quality series involving royalty, and you are guaranteed an audience. Which is why there are currently two high-profile royal series on our screens—The Crown on Netflix, and Victoria on Foxtel’s BBC First.
These two series keep it in the family, as The Crown focuses on Queen Elizabeth II, while Victoria tells the story of her great-great-grandmother.
Victoria opens with a teenage Princess Victoria (Jenna Coleman), who has the crown thrust upon her 18-year-old shoulders, and she is certainly a girl in an adults’ world, ripe for manipulation and political power-broking.
But she also has a keen sense of being right for the role of Queen, and aware of insidious influences around her who wish to control her to achieve their own ends.
Enter the nasty Sir John Conroy (Paul Rhys), confidant and possibly more to Victoria’s lonely mother, the Duchess of Kent (Catherine Flemming). Rhys gives us a superb study in self-interested manipulation, but young Victoria will have none of that, and eventually bundles him off to Ireland with a title.
The mentor who does capture Victoria’s heart is her beloved Lord Melbourne, a stunning performance from velvet-voiced Rufus Sewell. He is a kindly mentor, though he falls for Victoria’s charms to the extent that gossip soon has her referred to as ‘Mrs Melbourne’.
It’s a fascinating relationship between an impressionable young girl and a father figure. Although it’s clear that both parties have a definite attraction for each other, Melbourne’s moral wisdom means that he guards the young Queen’s reputation and steps back from any romantic possibilities.
The romantic tension between Coleman and Sewell is palpable, and the viewer is well and truly hooked. Fine performances from both actors.
The series also has us follow the stories of more minor characters in the royal household, in a way reminiscent of the hugely successful upstairs-downstairs series Downton Abbey.
Costumes and locations are lavish, and the casting is exactly right. Tom Hughes is totally believable as the serious Prince Albert, who must go to great lengths to attract Victoria’s interest, and Peter Firth is a splendidly repugnant uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, who is determined that this slip of a girl has no right to reign.
When dramatised well, history makes fascinating viewing. As an example of a successful reign, Victoria could take as her role model King Solomon, probably the wisest monarch in the Bible. The head that wears the crown needs that kind of wisdom, and history proves that Victoria’s reign was a long and successful one—perfect material for a 21st century television series.