Before we get into the thick of it, let’s take a minute to talk about the production value of Victoria. Man, this is a gorgeous show. “The Engine of Change” isn’t the most thrilling episode, but it is very pretty to look at.
The particular framing of characters, especially Jenna Coleman’s Victoria, has stood out from the beginning. The interiors of Buckingham Palace are a sight to behold. They make me want to buy elaborate candelabras and drapery, which is very beautiful but also an insane fire hazard. Oh well, beauty always wins. “The Engine of Change” sends Victoria and Albert up to northern England, where they bring their drama to some spectacularly lush surroundings. Speaking of framing, the wide shot of Victoria riding away on the train while Albert stands in the middle of the tracks made me gasp aloud. When I say the shots in this episode are breathtaking, I mean it literally.
On to the main course: Victoria is knocked up! Insert your own German-sausage joke here. Albert is predictably excited (well, excited as that mumbler gets), but Victoria is scared out of her mind. It definitely doesn’t help that her mother reminds her on the reg that the only reason she even became queen was because Princess Charlotte died in childbirth. Not cool, mom.
Victoria dying in childbirth is on everyone’s mind. Her first task is to appoint someone as regent, in case she should die but her baby should live. Victoria barely takes a breath before choosing Albert. It seems like the obvious choice, but Parliament is not having it. The Tories, especially, do not want a German running the country — and as with everything Victoria does, Parliament gets to vote on the decision. Since Wellington and other top Tories know Sir Robert Peel has a budding bromance with Albert, they enlist him to attempt to persuade the prince to step aside and let an Englishman fill the role.
Back in Victoria’s bedroom, Albert is feeling pretty great about this bump in power, but he does know that he has a long road ahead to win over Parliament and the English people. Luckily, Albert is nothing if not resourceful. He’s super into boring things like “industry” and “manufacturing” and “trains,” and he’s heard Victoria complaining about having to deal with matters regarding those very things, so he thinks it would be a good idea for him to take over some of the duties she finds less than appealing. For instance, why not go up north where the railways are being built? His reasoning is threefold: 1) The dude loves trains, 2) He wants more power than he currently has, and 3) He could show that he is fully committed to the progress of England, thus easing some fears about his regency.
Victoria is in, but she’s coming along. Since she announced her pregnancy, everyone has been ordering her to rest. But she’s the freaking queen of England. She hates that she’s been reduced to “just a pregnant woman.” Morning sickness be damned! Victoria is getting things done.
She has more to stomach than just morning sickness, though: The people hosting Victoria, Albert, and their people are … well, they are dicks. Lord Piers Giffords and his wife, Beatrice, are loyal Tories and very much stuck in the old ways of doing things. They are not fans of Albert, or Victoria for that matter — anyone whose first lines have to do with making fun of Victoria’s height should be discounted immediately — and they are most definitely not into this railway disfiguring their land. Albert speaks his mind, much to Victoria’s chagrin, and tries to remind them that trains are the way of the future. They signal progress for England.
None of this sits well with the lord and lady of the house, but there is one guest who’s picking up what Albert’s putting down: Sir Robert Peel! Yes, Peel just happens to be “visiting his neighbor” while the queen and prince are there. Turns out, he is also very pro-railway. He even uses the same “this is the future” argument that Albert tossed Victoria’s way enough times for her to forbid him from using it. Seeing Albert’s enthusiasm, he invites the royals to his property, where they’d be able to see a locomotive up close. Albert jumps at the opportunity, but Victoria quickly shuts him down — after all, their host should be in charge of daily activities.
That night, as the royals lay in bed (ALBERT IS THE LITTLE SPOON), Victoria explains that they need to watch what they say and do around people like Sir Piers. They need him on their side and Albert’s directness isn’t helping matters. She wants to guide all conversations from now on.
Of course, Albert doesn’t take his wife’s notes too well. The next morning, he’s up early to sneak off to Peel’s property. They arrive at the site of the locomotive and Albert is basically Sam Neill when he first sets eyes on that brachiosaurus in Jurassic Park. Put your head between your knees, Albert. The guy is as happy as we’ve ever seen him, and as he proves right away, he’s more than just a fan of a prospering industry. He’s also quite knowledgeable about the machine itself. Peel and the engineer are impressed.
The boys take a joyride down the tracks and confront one another as to their true motives. Are they spending time with the other for political reasons? Nope. They genuinely get along. Albert appreciates Peel’s directness; they have similar temperaments. Looks like trains do more than move people and goods across vast stretches of land: They also create friendships! Albert even cracks jokes about himself as Robert laughs along. The bromance is real, people!
Albert returns quite cheery, but his wife isn’t pleased. She reminds him that he disobeyed her and she is the one in power. Boy, do I love when a queen throws around a good “How dare you?!” After a quick argument about England’s future, Victoria decides it’s time she check out this train her husband can’t stop blabbing about. Victoria is stubborn, but she isn’t a fool. She knows that you can’t knock something until you try it.
And try it she does. After her own joy ride down the tracks, Victoria is (ahem) onboard with England’s railroad expansion. With that, the royals head home. Piers and Beatrice are eager to see them go, and they warn Peel that he is aligning himself with a man who has no power. But Peel isn’t a dummy: He knows how much influence Albert has over the queen. Which is why Peel goes back to Parliament and tells his party that the Tories are voting to support the queen’s pick for regent. If they don’t like it, they can find another party.
Everyone returns from the northern excursion relatively happy. Peel has a new outlook on how to deal with Victoria, and the two even share a laugh after he tells her the good news regarding the regency. Victoria’s fears about childbirth are somewhat stemmed, as Albert whisper-tells her how strong she is. And Albert, in reward for his patience, is given a seat at Victoria’s table. He wanted more duties? He’s got them. He’s a weird dude who loves paperwork, but we love him for it.
In non-Victoria-and-Albert news, Cute Valet slaps a guy! While up in the north with Albert, Cute Valet has to deal with the head butler. Like master, like servant: The butler is trying to embarrass Albert through Cute Valet. He gives him the wrong clothing for a hunting expedition, tells him that it is northern tradition that Albert sing while being undressed, and other stuff like that. Thankfully, Jenkins has Cute Valet’s back and explains what is really happening. When the head butler wanders over with more “advice,” Cute Valet smacks him in his lying mouth. It’s awesome.
Also, lest you think all the true-love stuff was only happening upstairs, things are finally heating up with Skerrett and Chef Francatelli. While the royals are gone, Francatelli has time to experiment with some of his desserts. Skerrett is his taster and keeps offering him ways to improve his food. The advice mainly boils down to “put some chocolate on it,” but still — if Francatelli wasn’t in love with her before, he sure is now. When someone inquires about whom he’s trying to impress since the queen isn’t home, he replies, “Yes, she is.” SKERRETT IS HIS QUEEN, YOU GUYS. Don’t tell Victoria he said that, but still. How romantic!