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When it comes to historical monarchs, Britain’s Victoria is one of the best known throughout all the lands. And we’re watching her story unfold in critically acclaimed period drama Victoria (2016-current, Seasons 1 and 2 are streaming on Showmax).
But while Season 1 was fun and games with 18-year-old Victoria getting her first taste of rule, the second instalment is shows how tough it can be to adjust to a royal role.
“She wants the simple things to balance the more difficult aspects of being queen,” explains Jenna Coleman, the actress tasked with playing the long-serving Victoria. “I like watching her [newborn Princess Victoria II] sleep.”
Sounds normal for any new mom, right? Nope – Victoria has a lot to deal with behind the scenes, including sexism, being walked over and even watching her marriage bend and buckle while she tries to keep her crown on straight.
Who’s the mama?
Being a mother is a huge change for the monarch, who spends Season 2, episode 1 confined to her chambers while recuperating from “the procedure”.
She feels isolated because her government has simply skipped over her with certain affairs of state so as not to disturb her or cause unnecessary grief. One minute, she is furious about her government not telling her the truth about the Anglo-Afghan War that has cost Britain’s army countless casualties, the next she is going goo-goo for her daughter. This back-and-forth of emotions isn’t easy to control, but Victoria tries her best.
It’s this exact treatment by her government and even family that Jenna says will also spur the queen to be firmer with her rule.
“In so many ways we’ve moved forward, but the same conversations are going on today – a hundred-and-sixty years later. Victoria was the first queen who was also a mother and it’s fascinating. There was an assumption of, ‘She’s pregnant, once you’ve had a baby you have to be confined, lie down for a month and have everyone do everything for you.’ And of course people thought she should step back away from her role – which Victoria vehemently pushed against. Having fought so long for her independence, she didn’t easily give it up. She wasn’t resentful of her children, but she was resentful of her pregnancy in many ways. It’s quite a complex relationship and not something I’ve seen onscreen before, let alone acted out.”
Husbands and heartache
While Victoria doesn’t add motherhood to her official list of duties (because, you know, she’s got servants to take physical care of the baby), she is forced to deal with the change in her relationship to her cousin-husband Albert (Tom Hughes).
While it’s as strong as ever, there have been “adjustments”, explains Jenna. “He wrote her music and carried her to bed during her pregnancy. This is quite amazing – he was the first male to be present at the Queen’s birth. Men were never present but Albert was there when Victoria gave birth to their daughter. That tells you so much about their relationship.”
There’s a “hiccup” in episode 2 when Victoria notices Albert’s friendship with Lady Lovelace (Emerald Fennell), whose father was infamous for extra-marital affairs.
While it’s not clear at first if the apple falls far from the tree, Victoria isn’t taking chances and tries to shut down any possibility of an Albert-Lovelace affair. Who does she go to for reassurance? Her very own “extra-special” friend Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell).
Granted, they’re not doing anything dodgy themselves, but it’s difficult for Victoria that her husband has a close friend of the opposite sex. “It’s not on,” says a stern Jenna. “But at the same time, she is trying to protect her heart. You see her in those black-and-white photographs and she looks stern. But she is a passionate young queen who is the opposite of the image in her photographs. That will play out over the episodes. It is simply magical.”
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