The Crown

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After several friends recommended, Netflix’s The Crown, I’ve started watching. It’s no secret that I have a soft spot in my heart for British historical dramas from Downton Abbey to Victoria. The BBC and itv have won me over.

I did wonder how the American Netflix would do telling the story of the current royal family. From the start it’s clear that Netflix spared no expense in this lush drama with exquisite, expensive costumes and magnificent palace settings. I’ve finished the first season, which contains a lot of flashbacks to contextualize the history. When the story begins King George VI is sickly and Elizabeth is newly married and while educated to become queen, she figures that’s a ways off. Within a few episodes, King George passes away and Elizabeth becomes queen.

Her first Prime Minister is Winston Churchill, who’s played by John Lithgow. Lithgow does a splendid job as Churchill.

One major plot line, that I wasn’t aware of, is Princess Margaret’s romance with Peter Townsend, her father’s personal secretary. Townsend is much older than Margaret and married. This is quite a juicy part of the series. When Townsend gets divorced, he hopes to marry Margaret, however, these plans are foiled because there’s a Royal Marriage Act that prevents royals from marrying without the Sovereign’s approval until they’re 26 years old. In season 1 Margaret is 23. The new queen can’t approve the wedding because although people are starting to divorce more, the royal family is not supposed to in any way approve divorce. Elizabeth is head of the church and the church is against divorce. That confused me since the reason the Church of England began was because Henry VIII wanted to get a divorce. He was a terrible model for morality so I’m wondering how the modern royal family became bound to live by high standards.

Claire Foy does an exemplary job as Elizabeth II. Her voice and mannerisms make be believe she is the queen. Matt Smith does resemble Prince Philip whom I knew was no saint, but now see his cavalier, playboy-ish. I think Smith’s prince is a bit gawkier than the real one, but I wasn’t born at the time shown in the series. Perhaps Philip’s posture was more bent over.

Continue reading “The Crown”

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Victoria, Season 2, Finale

Comfort & Joy

Sunday was the finale for this season’s Victoria. I’m not sure what I’ll do on Sunday evenings till Poldark returns in September. (I realize Little Women comes in May, but I’m not that sold on it. I think it’ll be fine but not as captivating. I hope I’m wrong.)

This episode mainly takes place at Christmas and Albert has Christmas Fever. His enthusiasm for having lots of Christmas decorations and carols was fun at first, till his desire for a perfect Christmas becomes irrational and annoying. It’s actually his subconscious way to cope with Uncle Leopold’s claim that he is Albert’s true father..

The episode begins with an officer in Africa saving a little girl whose tribe has been decimated. She’s a princess of a defeated tribe, and  Forbes, told the winning chief that his Queen wanted her. So the poor girl is traded off and Mr. Forbes and his wife take her in. Eventually, the officer takes her to the Queen who takes her in and treats her just line any of her own. Well, in fact, she seems more caring towards Sara, whom she feels great sympathy towards. Yet, all the while, Sara misses her new home with the Forbes.

Uncle Leopold has forced himself as an uninvited guest, his favorite role. Albert tries to force himself to be kind as he’s got Christmas Fever. Victoria is less blind to Leopold’s faults. Like all Brits, she’s not used to Christmas trees and such for Christmas. It was Albert who’s responsible for bringing German traditions to England.

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As if Leopold wasn’t a bad enough, Victoria’s most envious, plotting uncle has returned from Germany – Duke of Cumberland. He came to claim a favorite, expensive diamond necklace. Distressed by the uncle who wanted her dead, Victoria hoped to get some support from Albert, but he was so concerned with his perfect Christmas that he brushed her off. Since Victoria was still getting used to living in the palace without Lehzen, her lifelong supporter. She sure could use a husband who’s offers some support. Albert thought the necklace was insignificant, though giving it to Cumberland gives him strength and probably would result in emboldening him to try some other power play. Then Albert was critical of Victoria for mothering Sara as she did.

Yet in spite of Albert’s behavior, when Victoria was out with Sara and she sees Albert skating on thin ice, when he falls through the ice, Victoria goes into rescue mode and risks her safety, perhaps her life, to pull him out. That was quite a scary moment, and one that actually happened.

While Ernest manages to show kindness to Harriet, who’s understandably upset with him for standing her up when she expected he’d propose. Yet that nasty rash persists, and though Uncle Leo thinks it’s no big deal to hide his condition from a fiancée, Ernest has more principles. So he does tell Harriet it’s over, though he should have.

The episode concludes with Ernest giving Albert some brotherly advice and perspective. Albert’s dreams of a perfect Christmas is a delusion. They did not grow up with ideal Christmases. Victoria comes to see that Sara misses life with Mrs. and Captain Forbes so Victoria sends her back with them, though she always stayed in contact and did pay for her education.

I’ll miss my Sunday night Victoria episodes. Little Women debuts in May, but I don’t know what’s on PBS in the meantime. I’m not expecting much from Little Women, but I hope I’m wrong. I think my feeling’s due to my familiarity with Little Women, while Victoria and Poldark were all new to me.

I’ve enjoyed this second season, despite Albert’s occasional peevishness and the departure of Lehzen, Drummond and Lord Peel.

Victoria, Season 2, Week 6

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Luxury of Conscience

This week’s Victoria we see the end of the Corn Laws that protected farmers’ income, but also artificially kept food prices high. Lord Peel fights for this change, but it cost him politically. It was the right thing to do.

Albert fusses a lot about Lehzen, Victoria’s governess who’s now caring for their children. Albert has a host of complaints including  that she leaves the windows open in the nursery, which a lot of nurses today will say is good practice. When Victoria sided with the Baroness, Albert is in a state and he announces that he’ll visit  Parliament to lend his support to Peel. Victoria wisely counsels him not to, but he’s obstinate. That’s a shame because his presence was a political blunder and Peel got taunted by his opponents for being weak and needing a royal to prop him up.

Uncle Leopold makes a surprise visit. He seems to have no sense of what’s appropriate. No one wants him there, but he’s hell bent on forcing himself upon Victoria and Albert. I’m not sure why they didn’t have someone tell him he had to leave.

Victoria’s oldest daughter Vicky gets a fever and is very sick. Lehzen was inclined to let time do its thing, while Albert insists the doctor should be called. The child gets worse and they do call the doctor. This conflict spurred Albert to issue an ultimatum: “choose me or Lehzen.” it’s an impossible choice and of course, as much as it hurts her, Victoria chooses her husband. Poor Lehzen is forced to return to Germany. She hasn’t lived there in a good twenty years and is heartbroken that her devotion to Victoria ends with this dismissal.

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Ernst’s doctor says his STD is in remission so Ernst decides to propose to Harriet. The couple has some tender moments together and he promises to talk to her one evening. In preparation, Ernst bathes and gets spruced up. However, his valet notices that the rash is back. So Ernst stands up poor Harriet.

After the Corn Laws are repealed, an angry farmer tries to shoot Lord Peel. Drummond, the young noble whose heart belongs to the blonde nobleman, but who’s engaged to some noblewoman is shot while shielding Peel. I was surprised that this character would die this season.

This was a sad episode with a lot of loss. It was a solid episode, but not as interesting as the potato famine episode. I was disappointed that Albert’s jealousy won out over Lehzen’s devotion. As adults they should have been able to reconcile, but that could be said of a lot of us.

Who will be the next governess? The next Prime Minister?

Victoria, Season 2, Week 5

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The King over the Water

The episode begins with an assassination attempt while Victoria and Albert are out for a carriage ride. When talking with Lord Peel, the PM, Victoria suggests she smoke out the assassin by going for another carriage ride. Albert’s astonished and thinks it’s foolish, but Peel agrees and admires the queen all the more for her courage. Seems like a genius double win for Victoria.

So off they go for another ride and this time Victoria’s got a super, bullet-proof parasol, which Albert made. He sure is handy.

The assassin, who’s an unfortunate, poor man with a club foot and a hump back, again tried to shoot the queen. He was quickly arrested and the palace security is increased, which is tedious.

Needing a change of pace, Victoria proposes a trip to Scotland, where she always wished she could go when she was growing up. Off they go to a Duke’s home where there’s lots of “foreign” food and dancing in the woods. Still as host, the Duke keeps a tight schedule including the blaring of bagpipes for an alarm clock and mind-numbingly boring poetry readings for the visit.

To cure the boredom, while on an outing, Victoria and Albert quickly tell the Duke they’re riding home separately. Albert assures the Duke they’ll be fine because he has a great sense of direction. (Famous last words.) Off they gallop into the highlands. We’re treated to beautiful scenery.

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Scenic Schotland – I’d love to see this

Turns out Albert’s sense of direction isn’t that keen. With no compass or map and with gray clouds looming, our royals realize they’re lost. No matter which way they turn, they can’t find the way back to the castle. As night falls, they realize they must find shelter and wide up staying with an old crotchety couple in their cottage. Plenty of humor is drawn from the peasant farmer and his wife not knowing who their visitors are. Victoria learns to darn socks and Albert tells the farmer that he works at a big factory. The night is a true vacation from their real roles. (This trip with the night in the cottage is pure fiction. Victoria’s diaries show no such experience and there’s no reason her daughter would have expunged it.)

At the castle everyone’s in a state because the queen is lost. The next day, Victoria and Albert are “rescued” by dozens of guards and soldiers. The farmer and his wife learn that they were hosting royals.

As for some subplots:

  • Mrs. Skerret dances night after night with a dashing Scottish lad, who’s smitten. She will not let him write to her in London. So she’s leaving herself open to Mr. Francatelli’s advances, though she’s also been snippy with him.
  • Ernst, who’s seemingly come to terms with his illness, offers Harriet, his lover, condolences for her husband’s death. She’s in no mood for this and rebuffs him. Their relationship is dead though Harriet doesn’t know Ernst has syphilis. So we’re treated to this impossible tension about a relationship that can’t be. It’s tough being all all-knowing spectator. We can try calling out to the TV, but we know that doesn’t work.
  • The assassin, a character based on “Hunchback William Bean,” gets off lightly with a jail sentence rather than execution since there were no bullets in his gun. He was homeless and prison was a home.
  • The Duchess hoomphs and comments sourly once or twice, so nothing’s moving forward there. She doesn’t get lines that are all that funny. A lot of the dialog, that’s meant to be funny is just cliché.
  • The two gay noblemen have a romantic moment in the Highlands, though the blonde man is quite jealous that his lover is engaged to be married. I can see the jealousy, but doubt anyone in his shoes would be surprised. I bet what would normally happen is both men would marry and they’d carry on their relationship in secret. The only thing that would endanger the situation would be if one had to move far from the other because of family property that had to be managed.
  • Albert is increasingly critical of Lehzen, Victoria’s maid and governess. She wasn’t allowed to go to Scotland. Albert sees her as a threat and doesn’t like how she does things.

After the serious Irish Potato Famine episode, this week we had a pastoral vacation and some light entertainment. While the assignation attempt was real, the night at the farm wasn’t. Thanks to the Internet we can know what’s historic and what’s not and enjoy a night of fine British drama.

Victoria, Season 2, Week 4

Faith, Hope and Charity

This week’s episode centered on the Irish Potato Famine and the British lack of response. First we see a meeting of Church of Ireland pastors, which is connected to the Anglican Church, where the men discuss their response to the potato famine. They’re offering soup kitchens to the Catholics who agree to switch denominations. They gripe about the poor Catholics who haven’t tithed to the Church of Ireland, which the law required them to do. Yes, later in the episode Victoria appalled, too. Why donate to a church you don’t belong to?

In the 19th century anti-Catholicism is in high gear. Only one pastor, Dr. Traill, objects and sees that all the Irish need food. The rest are quite un-Christian and wiling to let their neighbors starve. I suppose they’re unfamiliar with Mark 25: 35-40.

At Kensington Palace, Victoria and Albert welcome Ernst who’s got some mysterious health problem, which turns out to be an STD. The condition is slowly revealed.

Lord Peel and a new character, who’s a real churl, Charles Trevelyan, Assistant Secretary to the Treasury, explain to Victoria why they can’t help the Irish. Trevelan hates the Irish whom he thinks are subhuman. In fact he thinks the famine is a boon, because it will cull the herd. Victoria was rightly appalled. She seeks solutions, but neither Peel nor Trevelyan want to rock the boat in Parliament. Victoria wants to feed these people and she wants to repeal the Corn Laws, tariffs that protected the price of grains. Peel and Vrevelyan worry that if we give free food to the starving, everyone will expect free food.

Victoria confers with Albert over the matter, but Albert’s so upset with the stench of the old plumbing that he brushes her off. He’s hellbent on getting more WC’s in the palace. I’m not sure why he couldn’t manage both issues. He’s basically an executive. His job is to make decisions while someone else installs WC’s or sends the food to Ireland.

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Downstairs our attention is drawn to the servant girl who’s from Ireland. She’s lied about being Protestant to keep her job. Her family is starving back home. She needs to get money to send to them so they can eat. One great scene is when she tells off Penge, who makes snide remarks about Papists and the famine.

Ernst is told that his mistress Harriet’s husband has died. This should be a great opportunity for him to court her openly. (Though this is not historical at all. The real Ernst was already married by now and this particular lord did not die in a hunting accident or in this year. He died later.)

I can’t feel sorry for Ernst. Actions have consequences. Fooling around with prostitutes comes at a cost. Laughing off his choices as following in his reprobate father’s footsteps is ridiculous. Ernst gambled with his life. I will feel sorry for any woman the show might marry him off to.

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A diseased potato

When Victoria asks the duchess about her land in Ireland, Charlotte, dismisses the country as an uncivilized spot with no real society. She should stay in London. The duchess is a poor traveler.

Mr. Francatelli is seen consorting with some woman who wants him to sell palace secrets and go with her to America. Apparently, she’s the source of all the finery he’s been able to afford. However, he decides to stay put (so the storyline with Skerret can continue). He gives the Irish servant girl his gold watch so she can sell it and send the money home.

The queen does send the Irish some help, which is true to the history. In spite of his wife’s protests, Dr. Traill does the Christian thing and opens a soup kitchen at the vicarage. He contracts typhus and dies. The episode ended with a montage of the starving of Ireland. Hats off to the show for using Irish music throughout, but to squeeze a famine that went on for years into one episode is just wrong. I think the issue should have come up throughout this and probably next season.

Here’s a collection of tweets that an Irish newspaper collected in response to this episode.

Victoria, Week 2

Warp & Weft

There was plenty of sadness in the first hour of Victoria this week. The episode began with Lord Peel talking with a phrenology expert, i.e. someone who measures a person’s head to determine by its size and shape his personality. The subject of this study is the guttersnipe, Boy Jones, who snuck inside the palace on several occasions. (Boy Jones’ escapades are based on history.)

This tomfoolery alarmed Albert who began complaining about how poorly the palace is run. There’s poor plumbing, poor budgeting, etc. and Victoria told Albert he could direct his energies on this and so he starts examining the cleanliness of the windows or any waste from the wine cellars, which makes that annoying Mr. Penge think twice.

Though she’s with child Victoria is not going to let that hinder her carrying out her duties, much to Duchess Buccheuch’s dismay. The duchess is particularly shocked that Victoria granted an audience with the silk maker who made her wedding dress. The silk maker wanted to present the queen with information on how the import of cheap silk is putting him and his colleagues out of business. To help the silk makers, ignoring Lord Peel’s and Albert’s advice, Victoria decides to throw a ball and require that her guests come in silk costumes.

Word gets out about the ball and the high price of Victoria’s gown (64,000£) and parliament and the poor are outraged.

Yet the ball starts out wonderfully. Lord M comes and shares a nice moment with Victoria, whom he’s been avoiding since he’s become ill and doesn’t want to worry her. There’s plenty of flirtation and dancing, but also a broken heart. Miss Coke, who’s recently come to the palace with the duchess, has eyes for Prince Ernst, Albert’s brother, but he’s still sweet on his paramour who’s now faithful to her husband.

However, when all the guests are dancing in their finery, the poor are out front of Buckingham Palace screaming for just since they don’t have enough to eat. Coincidentally, in front of the angry mob is Mrs. Skerret’s cousin, who doesn’t care for royalty. I’m not sure whom she left the daughter Skerret financially supports with.

When Victoria sees them she’s shocked and no doubt thinking of Marie Antoinette, who didn’t realize that if you can’t afford bread, cake is not within your price range either. Victoria simply tried to help and it backfired. She’s guilty of poor planning not indifference. There’s a scene with Victoria staring at all the left over food the day after the ball. While I do believe she’d give the remainders to the poor, I don’t think all this food would be left out over night and into the morning.

The episode ends with Victoria learning that Lord M is terminally ill. She visits him in the country bearing a gift of a mechanical musical bird that sings Mozart. It’s a touching scene where their sorrow is communicated more through looks and actions than through words. Bravo.

Finally, to make things worse, Dash, Victoria’s beloved dog is dead. Victoria finds him spread out on the floor when she returns from seeing Lord M. As the Armchair Anglophile points out, a servant should have noticed a dead dog, given that the palace is full of servants. Poor Victoria is distraught. Who can blame her? We’ll all miss Lord M and Dash.

Sins of the Father

Victoria gives birth to her first son, Albert. We’re presented with the typical labor scene and soon Vicki is getting around in that stroller for new moms. As with her daughter, Victoria finds it hard to find pleasure in her newborn. She thinks babies look like frogs when they’re first born. She falls into postpartum depression and there’s little help available. I was glad that they didn’t just give her some drug that knocks one out. As queen, the courtiers urge her to buck up, but she wasn’t removed to an asylum as was sometimes done in the era. (See this article.)

The big event in this episode is that Prince Albert’s father died. Hoping to lift her spirits, Victoria asks to go with Albert, but he thinks the journey is too exhausting for a new mother so he goes solo.

In Coberg, Albert sees his troublemaking Uncle Leopald, who can’t resist the temptation to make things worse for Albert so he plants the seed that Albert is illegitimate into his nephew’s head. Since his parents were estranged for much of his growing up, Albert believes this. It sure makes for a sensational story, but according to this article*, it’s impossible. Albert also worries that his children would be illegitimate. Well, no. Since Albert and Victoria are married they wouldn’t be, but a checkered past wouldn’t help Albert with the gossip-mongers.

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Albert, hist mother and brother Ernst

Back in London, Lord Peel tries to get Victoria back into action. With her first child, she couldn’t wait to be out and about, now she’s so languid and depressed. It’s not till a bomb explodes at the Tower of London and the Queen should visit and console the injured. She realizes she must, so Victoria forces herself out and does cheer up the wounded. It does them all a world of good. Is this an oversimplification of depression? Perhaps, but I found it plausible and can still offer sympathy to those suffering with it.

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J.M.W. Turner’s Fire at the Tower of London, 1841

To get an idea of the scope of the fire, I did some research. It was bigger than I imagined from the program. There was a fatality and some injuries. The fire raged from 11:30 pm till about 4 am the next day. J.M.W. Turner made several sketches of it.

Albert returns and matters turn to the poor run of the household. Rumors have gotten out about the royal family and the servants are suspected. The scandal is about Boy Jones, the guttersnipe who’s wily enough to somehow get into the palace. This was a real historical event. Heads may roll.

Since the chef Francatelli is spending freely and buying some luxuries he’s the prime suspect. However, Mrs. Skerret is sweet on him and confesses that her no-good cousin, who’s now drinking too much and continuing to just sponge off Skerret has been selling stories to the tabloids. I’m not alone in thinking this storyline has been week. Victoria felt she had to fire Skerret, though she admits the ladies’ maid has done a better job than any before her. It seems the norm, even today. However, upon his return, Albert insists Skerret gets a second chance, which was nice, but hard to believe since Albert is so concerned about security.

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Anyone catch the breed?

Victoria gets a new puppy from a royal in Muscat, who originally thought of sending something like a tiger. Really? Check with people, even royals, before you send them an animal. The puppy does seem to work wonders for her mood. I love the program so I’m not going to analyze whether animals are that therapeutic. I know in many ways they are.


* The article appeared in The Sun, which is a sensationalist paper. My take is if they don’t think Albert was illegitimate, he wasn’t.

A Soldier’s Daughter

Season 2 of Victoria opens as the queen is ready to get back to work after a month of confinement (i.e. rest after childbirth). At first she must fight her way to get the reins back. The British army has just suffered a huge defeat in Kabul. Albert and some of the nobles have kept this from her. I expect the lords to keep things from her, but Albert? He should know how hands on she wants to be. It’s her country. He’s just lived there a few years, at most. He’s not a Prince.

Albert keeps crossing Victoria such as the time he decides not to approve an appointment of a courtier’s brother. He thinks he knows better. He also doesn’t realize that he’ll have some explaining to do if Victoria, as she’s bound to, finds out.

Second seasons usually bring new characters. With Victoria we have Diana Rigg as the Duchess of Buccleuch, who’s added as a version of Maggie Smith’s Violet on Downton Abbey. In the first episode it doesn’t work well. The Duchess makes annoying comments about how women shouldn’t read novels and how her niece has a red, strawberry-like face, but the wit is missing. Time will tell. In the two hour episode we Yanks got, The Duchess didn’t add much.

There was a bit of comedy about the chef Francatelli having left. The new chef’s food tastes and looks horrid and at one point he’s about to stab someone who made a mistake. Penge insists he hand over the knife and upstairs the queen insists Francatelli returns. Skerett, who’d turned down Francatelli’s marriage proposal has no luck getting him back. The royals can’t very well starve so his new boss is forced to fire Francatelli, who’s soon back in the palace kitchen, very much annoyed. I expect we’ll see this romance continue, though it wasn’t that thrilling last year.

The Green-Eyed Monster

In the second episode shown in the US, Albert is enthralled with mathematician Lady Ada Lovelace, who invented a calculating machine and early computer programming. Caught confusing pi and pie at a social gathering and frustrated that she can’t understand Thomas Mathus’ idea population increasing geometrically, Jeremy Victoria feels threatened by Lovelace. She’s certain that Albert will start an affair with her.

To seek some counsel, Victoria turns to Lord M, who’s a sight for sore eyes. As usual, he is wise and kind. Albert and Lord Peel don’t want her to see Lord M as he’s no longer in power as Prime Minister. Victoria argues that she’s just seeing him as a friend, not for political reasons, but Albert insists she’s naive, which doesn’t help the bumps in their marriage.

We glimpse Lord M as tired and not himself in his greenhouse, which foreshadows serious illness ahead.

Albert resists his father’s requests for money and ignores the reminders of his home region of Colberg’s many financial needs.

A young maid is hired, but must hide her Catholicism as Penge hates Catholics. This young girl gets spooked by a mysterious figure running through the house. Victoria’s undergarments have gone missing, which convinces the maid that the palace is haunted. By the end Victoria and Albert discover that a second child is on the way and we discover the ghost is really what Violet, I mean the Duchess of Buccleuch, calls a guttersnipe.

The costumes and settings were majestic and elegant. I enjoyed Jenna Coleman’s fiesty, yet vulnerable performance. The writing was good, though I hope the screenwriter could be freed from the need to add in Downton-esque elements. The show has plenty of its own merits it doesn’t need to pander to Downton fans. Downton fans are Masterpiece fans; let Victoria be Victoria.

Victoria, Season 2 Begins