Victoria, season three, has begun, and if the premiere is any indication, we’re in for more romance, lacy shawls, and a hearty dose of 19th-century European social issues.
We open on a rousing verse of “La Marseillaise” in 1848 Paris. Rioting is heard outside the French palace as aristocrats run about and the French king hurriedly shaves. In case you’re unaware, 19th-century French political history is a nightmare. The country is about to segue into the Second Republic, which was swiftly followed by the Second Empire, which was toppled by the Third Republic, which at least had the decency to stick around through the end of Victoria’s reign, which is all we really need to concern ourselves with for this show.
The king hands a letter for “the English queen” to an envoy and dramatically eyes himself in the mirror while murmuring farewell to Her Majesty, then escapes into some dank tunnels. And to England!
Victoria, now a mother of five with the sixth clearly on the way (remember when she was jumping up and down in season one to avoid pregnancy?), is informed of France’s revolution by Albert, who references the other wave of revolutions that are sweeping 1848 Europe. “Thank God for the English Channel,” Victoria replies very Englishly. To which Albert says, “Ideas can swim.” SNAPPY, but also, no they can’t, Albert.
Jenna Coleman has taken a turn this season down the path of Dour Matron Not-Amused Victoria. Her voice has grown a shade darker and heavier, and she is noticeably less sprightly (although that could also be due in part to how immensely pregnant Victoria is throughout this episode). As the show is currently slated for six seasons, it will be interesting to see how she continues.
One of our new characters/historical personages this season is foreign secretary Lord Palmerston. We are not supposed to like Lord Palmerston. He praises the revolution in France and makes some comment about the “autocrats of Europe,” which is quickly harrumphed by Parliament, more particularly by the Tories. Palmerston carries with him an inordinate amount of Smug, which translates to your immediately wanting him to get decked. This desire does not fade throughout the episode, but rather increases, which is a shame for Real Life Lord Palmerston, who clashed with Victoria, but was apparently an excellent foreign secretary.
Victoria gives us her most delightful moment of the episode when Albert whispers in her ear about Palmerston’s praise of the revolution. She looks up, affronted, and says, “Without our permission? That Lord Palmerston needs to explain himself.” I am dying to do this at a dinner party.
Palmerston is summoned to Buckingham Palace to do said explaining, which he does with a hand on one jaunty, smug hip and the air of a man about town. He says he decided on his own to congratulate the revolutionary government, and Victoria and Albert are left seething. The prime minister is there but fading into the wallpaper in all their scenes. He is Lord John Russell, who did some tremendous things in England’s past, but will probably not do much this season except fail at his job.
Meanwhile, there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark — er, London. A group with a distinctly rabble-ish appearance is shouting about the power of the people in England, with one leader proclaiming that they should swear allegiance not to the crown, but to the People’s Charter. It’s worth noting that this charter had been knocking around since 1838 and consisted of some extremely reasonable requests, like universal (male) suffrage, equal representation, and a salary for members of Parliament.
These protesters are called Chartists, and we get to know some of them. A young woman flirts with a Mr. Fitzgerald, who is later seen standing next to some imposing-looking guns (foreshadowing). Though the Chartist leader, Feargus O’Connor, encourages peaceful protest, his efforts are stymied by William Cuffay, who wants to echo France. Cuffay later leads the people to the palace.
Albert reads Victoria some Marx, saying “we cannot be too complacent.” Victoria looks exasperated and continues reading her book.
Victoria has not completely shied away from depicting Victoria’s lack of awareness about what’s happening in her country, or at the very least, her choice to focus instead on her own interests. Albert is of immense value here, as he pushes her to try out new things like the locomotive, impresses on her the importance of plumbing, and gently points out that perhaps her people may, in fact, not accept rotten boroughs, limited suffrage, and what amounts to an oligarchy just because she thinks “we are not a revolutionary people.”
It’s impressive and ambitious for the show to take on why England remained relatively stable as revolutions broke out across Europe. As a sign of the monarchy at least attempting to listen, Albert declares to Victoria that neither of them knows anything about the people, but that in typical Albert fashion, he is going to find out. He does this by inspecting tenements and discovering that it may not be reasonable to expect his country’s citizens to tolerate dozens of people sharing single rooms, filthy living conditions, and overall terribleness.
Meanwhile, a number of guests arrive at the palace. The deposed French king, Louis Philippe, begs asylum and is granted it at the risk of angering revolution-minded British citizens. There’s a new duchess on hand, whose husband is terribly embarrassed by everything she does, but who is greatly admired by the extremely tall new footman. And a scheming-looking woman shows up and turns out to be Victoria’s half-sister Feodora, who “abandoned” her to get married when Victoria was being emotionally abused as a child. Victoria has some leftover feelings about this. It doesn’t help that Feodora later sweeps into the room wearing one of Victoria’s dresses and everyone gazes at her like she’s Rachael Leigh Cook at the top of the stairs in She’s All That (she looks okay).
Feodora seems like she has something up her sleeve, but by the end of the episode, it’s unclear what that is. She does show Victoria up by demonstrating her superior piano skills, and the dog growled at her, so I’m pretty sure she’s up to no good.
Victoria is having a rough time of it this episode. She’s immensely pregnant, her taller, better-at-piano half-sister is there reminding her of her wretched childhood, her people are possibly on the brink of revolution, and her husband won’t stop reading her excerpts from Marx like he’s a freshman philosophy major. As the episode crescendos, the Chartists are at the palace gates. Someone hurls a rock through a window, narrowly missing Victoria, and (of course) her water breaks.
Questions for Next Time:
• Will the new giant footman have a dalliance with the neglected duchess?
• Will someone punch Lord Palmerston?
• Will the show go completely off the rails of history and have a second English Revolution, leaving Albert and Victoria to forge a new life for themselves and their 5,000 children in the wilds of Canada? Only in my dreams.