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PBS's 'Victoria' Crafts an Intimate Portrait of a Young Monarch

23 Jan, 2017 By: Stephanie Prange

It was a fight with a teenager that helped crystallize the idea for a book and series about Britain’s Queen Victoria.

“I had a row with my teenaged daughter, who was about 16, and I thought, ‘Oh, god, what would it be like if this small but mighty creature was actually the most powerful woman in the world, and was bossing me around,’ and that was quite a good place to start the drama,” said Daisy Goodwin, creator and writer of the PBS series “Victoria.”

PBS Distribution releases the series on DVD and Blu-ray Disc Jan. 31; it is also available for digital download. The series follows Victoria (Jenna Coleman of “Doctor Who”) from her accession to the throne at age 18, through her education in politics, courtship and marriage.
Victoria’s diaries provided a wealth of information for Goodwin, who first read them as a university history student.

“I read the diaries that she wrote when she was a teenager and they were so fresh and engaging and funny,” Goodwin said.

She found the young woman in the diaries quite different from the traditional portrayal of Victoria, which is usually in her later years as she came to signify a staid era.

“[The diaries] revealed this kind of spirited, passionate teenager that I wasn’t expecting at all because when you think of Queen Victoria, you think of an old lady, but actually when she came to the throne she was only 18, so she was full of joie de vivre,” Goodwin said. “She loved dancing and men. She loved books. I think she was so fresh and so zesty.”

Years later, recalling the diaries, Goodwin began a project on Victoria as a book, with the hope of turning it into a TV series.

“I started the book and I realized the TV show to my amazement was actually going to happen so I had to write the TV show quickly and I went back to the book,” she said. “I think they complement each other. You can read the book and still watch the TV show and vice versa.”
The lively young queen in the series may surprise viewers, Goodwin said.

“I think the thing they’ll be amazed by is how unprudish she was really — and how much she was into sex and Albert [her husband],” Goodwin said. “It was a very, very passionate marriage. They had nine children. We think of the Victorian era as being repressed, but she absolutely wasn’t.”

Not only does the first season of the series cover that steamy courtship and the early days of the marriage, but it also unveils a close bond she forms with her prime minister, Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell). The series portrays the relationship as a teenaged crush, and Goodwin said she “probably heightened it a bit.”

Still, the diaries show the relationship was more than just a friendship.

“If you read her diaries — and I urge anyone who is interested to really read her diaries and they are all available online — she writes about him literally on every single page,” Goodwin said. “It’s sort of like, ‘Lord M admired the picture I did of Dash. Lord M said he really liked my dress, but he didn’t like my bow. He didn’t like my earrings.’ And ‘He’s not here. Where is Lord M?’ If you read them — and remember that these diaries were edited severely by her daughter after her death — there’s no doubt that this is a record of a sort of monster crush.”

In exploring Victoria’s reign, the series also touches on historical developments during the era and the enormous change Britain experienced.
“Britain at this time was kind of the Silicon Valley of the world,” Goodwin said. “The first trains, the first railway, the first telegraph — all this stuff was happening literally minute by minute, so I’m trying to put as much of that into the series as possible. They were really exciting times. The postage stamp revolutionized communications in the way that email or text message has today.”

The series also tasked designers with re-creating mid-1800s Britain, along with Buckingham Palace as it was during the period.

“We built Buckingham Palace in an aircraft hanger in Yorkshire,” Goodwin said.

Disc extras explore that set re-creation and the special effects involved in evoking the era.

The sets will continue to play a big role in season two, Goodwin noted.

“We are changing them as Victoria’s reign continues because at the beginning of her reign, those rooms were pretty much bare,” she said. “By the end they are absolutely stuffed with tables, with photographs. Victoria was a great kind of collector of stuff so we are going to show that.”

As did a previous historical drama from PBS, “Downton Abbey,” “Victoria” explores the life of the lower classes as well as the aristocracy.

“I thought it was very important that you didn’t just have the queen, the rich people,” Goodwin said. “I thought it was very important that in a story set in Victorian England, that you got the whole picture, that you had some idea that there were people out there who were hungry, who were starving, who were doing everything they could to make a living. London, then as now, was a city of huge inequality.”

As for comparisons to that other British historical drama, “I’m a huge fan of ‘Downton Abbey,’” Goodwin said. “I would be delighted if people who enjoyed ‘Downton’ also enjoyed ‘Victoria.’”

© ITV plc (ITV Global Entertainment Ltd)

About the Author: Stephanie Prange

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