Holly Eckersley is a final year PhD student at Keele University. She may be contacted at: email@example.com
The British Association of Victorian Studies’ conference theme this year centred on ‘the consumption of the Victorians’. This I felt was incredibly interesting to consider in relation to ITV’s latest offering of a historical drama; Victoria (2016). Documenting the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, Victoria re-imagines and re-historicises the era for new audiences, tastes and production agendas.
The main focal point of intrigue in the early episodes of the series, is the love triangle between the Queen, Prince Albert and the current Prime Minister Lord Melbourne. Jenna Coleman’s performance is particularly good, and perfectly articulates the young Monarch’s development as she eases into her role as Queen. Additionally, Rufus Sewell who plays the part of ‘Lord M’, is seductive and charismatic. I found myself hoping that the plotline was the historical version of events. This is something The Telegraph commented on stating that ‘the fictional flirting was charming’, and likens the series’ narrativising of history to a ‘teen romance’. Additionally, Thomas Chapman from The Radio Times (2016:1) argued that
The whole thing. The sets, the costumes the actors just everything screamed perfection! Jenna showed a brilliant sense of struggle, showing us a real picture of what it must have been like for Victoria when entering the throne at 18.
Further to the wonderful characterisation of the series’ protagonists, the use of CGI to create images of Victorian London were spectacular. In Episode one, a tracking shot of the new Queen’s arrival by horse and carriage at Buckingham Palace, allows the audience to get an image of the city in 1837. Additionally, much like Wolf Hall (2015) Victoria uses a large amount of candles to give an atmospheric impression. The lighting gives a warming ambience to scenes, and particularly enhances the lingering stares shrouded in shadow between Victoria and Lord Melbourne.
There have been numerous criticisms arguing that the series is factually inaccurate. The Metro lists the programme’s historical ‘embellishments’ for the purposes of television. Olivia Waring (2016: 1) writing for the publication suggests that Victoria was never ‘infatuated’ with her Prime Minister, the Duke of Cumberland and the Duchess of Kent ‘did not plot to steal her power’, there were many more palace servants than shown, ‘Victoria did not care for the starving poor’, questions of Victoria’s ‘sanity’ did not occur and Jenna Coleman does not look like Queen Victoria physically as she is too ‘poised’ and ‘thin’. I argue that these imprecisions are by and large irrelevant. Victoria has offered a valuable re-articulation of history that refreshes it for new audiences. It should not be viewed as parasitic and as having eroding qualities, as for many viewers it has prompted them to learn about history and to qualify the events on screen with their own research. One twitter user @JaneHillNews, commented on the excessive use of ad-breaks during the programme and stated ‘Thank god for the ads – gives you time to google various historical figures #Victoria’. This reveals how the series has allowed many people who would not necessarily interact with historical narratives first-hand to learn about the era and to gain an impression of it. In many ways, Victoria and other historical dramas like it, preserve the lifespan and relevance of history to contemporary audiences. This medium is easily consumable for audiences, as television series often take a relatively short amount of time to watch, and do not require literacy. Historical dramas and adaptations have become important sources that many people draw on to formulate their views of the Victorians.
The Victorian period was a time of change and expansion that changed the face of Britain forever. Not only was the landscape literally transforming but the way that people considered and thought about the world around them. People were starting to question and critique their place in the world in different ways. Queen Victoria, the head of the most powerful nation of the time, had a lengthy reign from 1837- 1901. The nineteenth century is associated with a time of immense social political and industrial progress. Britain was at the height of its influence as an imperial power and was a leading industrial nation through colonization and trade monopolies in countries all over the world. Victoria charts the Monarch’s early years on the throne. The last episode premiered on the 8th October 2016 and ended noting that the next series would be produced in 2017. It will be interesting to see how the Queen’s later years will be portrayed. I will definitely be watching!
Victoria. (2016). [TV series] 3: ITV.
Wolf Hall. (2015). [TV series] 2: BBC.
@JaneHillNews. 2016. Thank god for the ads – gives you time to google various historical figures #Victoria. Twitter, 28th August 2016. https://twitter.com/JaneHillNews?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor. Accessed: [13/10/16].
Jones, P. (2016). Rufus Sewell, ad breaks and Doctor Who get viewers talking as ITV launches new period drama Victoria. The Radio Times, [online] p.1. Available at: http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2016-08-29/rufus-sewell-ad-breaks-and-doctor-who-get-viewers-talking-as-itv-launches-new-period-drama-victoria.
O’Donovan, G. (2016) Victoria and the fictional flirting of the Queen is charming: episode 3 review. The Telegraph, [online] p1. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/2016/09/04/victoria-and-the-fictional-flirting-of-the-queen-is-charming-epi
Waring, O. (2016). 6 things a historian has claimed are inaccurate about ITV’s new drama Victoria. The Metro, [online] p.1. Available at: http://metro.co.uk/2016/08/28/6-things-a-historian-has-claimed-are-inaccurate-about-itvs-new-drama-victoria-6095087/