Alright, Lords and Ladies of Greater Bostonia – get ready for the ride of your lives, cause I just rewatched all of Masterpiece’s Victoria in three days, and I am ready to spill. that. tea.
Unlike our other perennial favorite, Poldark, Episode One of Victoria barely skips a beat, dropping us in on a couple-days-post-natal Victoria, who barely lasts through a minute of people fussing over her before she rebels, hopping out of her postpartum wheelchair and marching off to her office ahead of her court… and right into a war meeting. Peel and Albert meet on the state of the war England is currently (cough, cough) losing (cough) in Kabul, Afghanistan. While Albert and darling Mamá would like to keep her calm, good old Victoria wastes no time in letting them know who is boss.
Unfortunately, Albie hasn’t received the memo, and continues to push back at her return to other Queenly duties — from going through the bills and proposals before they reach her, to sketching out uniform changes for her army. And, of course, all of Albie’s work necessitates a closeness with his ride-or-die, now-Prime-Minister Peel.
And as if her husband and his hetero-life mate weren’t getting her down enough, behind the scenes Victoria is dealing with a mild bout of postpartum depression. She can’t seem to bond with her daughter, Vickie. Add to that the departure of her confidant, Harriet, and two new ladies-in-waiting (the aged, opinionated, and eccentric Duchess of Buccleuch and her clumsy niece), and you’ve got the recipe for one moody queen.
But when it rains, it pours – and Uncle Leopold, Ernest and Albie’s father, the Duke of Coburg, decide that the christening is the ideal time to
descend visit. Before he even enters the palace, Albert’s father is calling for a male grandchild and Leo is telling Victoria not to worry — he’ll be helping Albert rule while she’s in the nursery. Oh, and while you have a minute, maybe consider betrothing Baby Vickie to the Baby German Prince? Just a thought...
Downstairs, Skerrett has been promoted to Head Dresser, and a young Irish girl is hired as her second in command. A new chef has taken over Francatelli’s role, but it soon becomes clear that his skill is nowhere near his predecessors. When Skerrett is sent to inquire Francatelli’s interest in returning to the role, he not only rebuffs her, he actually flees his own kitchen, reducing Skerrett to tears. Unfortunately for Francatelli, Victoria’s word is law, and it’s not long before he finds himself back in the palace kitchen.
With Victoria officially back in the saddle, Albie occupies himself with the Royal Astronomical Society, where he makes acquaintances with early mathematicians Charles Babbage… and certified historical hot fire, Ada Lovelace. He’s instantly taken with their invention – a primitive calculator – but his excitement is lost on Victoria, who sees nothing but a competitor for Albert's attention.
In an effort to gain control over the situation, Victoria throws an arts and sciences ball, and just happens to have extended an invite to good old Lord Melbourne. Unfortunately for our Queen, things don’t go quite the way she expects. Not only can she not keep up with Albert and Lady Lovelace’s conversation, but then Lord M — like a true friend — calls her jealousy out. What’s a girl to do?!
Unfortunately, what a girl does (ought to or not) is find out she’s pregnant again. But before she has the chance to tell Albie, he decides to pick a fight with her about her recent attentions to Lord M, before trying to stomp off to a Statistical Society Dinner. When she asks him to stay home, he demands to know if she is asking… or commanding. When Victoria does not reply, Albert leaves. Throughout the night they struggle with this power play, Victoria sending his valet with requests to come home, and the valet returning with Albert’s regrets. And when Albert finally does return home, he finds himself relegated to the couch.
The course of true love, etc.
Naturally, this all leads to Victoria visiting Lord M at Brocket Hall the next day, where she delivers the absolutely most perfect line for every boss lady out there who struggles to balance her life:
Despite his good counsel to trust Albert, once Victoria leaves we see the dark sight of Lord M meeting with his doctor, complaining of head pains, fatigue and weakness on his left side – and receiving leech treatment. Believe you me, that’s never a good sign in Victorian England.
Back at the castle, Albie is trying to locate Victoria for a long-needed talk… only to find out through the grapevine that A) Girl is pregnant and B) Girl is off at Brocket Hall. This is a less than auspicious way for a husband to learn about his wife’s ‘delicate condition,’ wouldn’t you say?
Looking to better understand Albert’s interest in the Royal Astronomical Society, Victoria pays them a visit. As she enters, Lady Lovelace is in the middle of running out – her son has fallen out of a tree and needs her. While Victoria tries to hide her delight at finding out Lovelace is married, their discussion turns to the struggles of being a woman of ambition, but a woman with family . With a grin, Lovelace tells the Queen there are times she wishes she had been born a man. Victoria’s reaction?
Back at the palace, Albert comes across Victoria in the garden. They finally discuss the baby, each other, and rule of the country. While Victoria is queen, and always will be, she still wants him. And, he promises, she shall always have him. [insert sobbing emoji here]
Meanwhile, downstairs, Penge and the servants have a bit of a poltergeist problem – or at least they think they do. An industrious street urchin has crept into the house, stealing food here and there, and spying on the royal family. It takes them a minute, but the boy is finally caught – by the Duchess of Buccleuch of all people.
Oh, I’m sure that won’t get out.
Sure enough, the palace interloper is the talk of the castle at the start of Episode Two. A distraught Albert continues to bug Victoria about his unwanted status until she finallly tells him to tighten castle procedures and safety if he’s so concerned about it.
At Brocket Hall, we find Lord M once again with his doctor, discussing his ‘grave condition’. The doctor recommends that Lord M get his affairs in order.
After finding out that the Spitalfield silk weavers are losing business to the foreign silk market, Victoria decides to throw a medieval-style ball, encouraging the wealthy of London to purchase local silk for their costumes in large portions – despite Peel’s suggestion that it might be a tad ‘Antoinette’-ish.
While the ball does generate a great deal of silk for the Lord and Lady’s attending the palace, it also generates a lot of negative attention, the poor gathering outside the gates to protest the ball in frustration – including Eliza Skerrett, Mrs. Skerrett’s cousin.
At the ball, drama-with-a-capital-D abounds. Ernest and Harriet dance together, and confess that they cannot forget each other. Lord Alfred and Peel’s secretary Drummond are becoming fast friends – or maybe more. And when Victoria and Lord M dance, Lord M suddenly stumbles from the dance floor.
To top it all off, when Victoria goes in search of a missing Albert, she discovers the protesting crowds outside the castle gates, and finally (finally!) see’s the error of her plan.
Visiting the Parliament building the following day, Albert finds Lord M sitting in a hall, staring off into space. When Albie asks about his health, Lord M confides in him, but asks one thing – don’t tell Victoria. He can’t bear to be the cause of any of the Queen's distress.
Naturally, Albert tells Victoria. [insert angry emojji here]. He does tell her that Lord M wanted to keep it from her, to prevent her distress, which is probably what tempers her reaction. But all the same, she’s off to Brocket Hall once more, bearing a mechanical bird music box that sings Mozart – Lord M’s favorite. In a tearful discussion, they talk about the past, and make promises for the future that they both know are false. After Victoria bids him goodbye, he watches the music box play. It winds down, and stops.
But that’s not all that’s in store for Victoria – returning home, she finds Dash, her beloved dog and companion since before her reign, has passed away in her absence. She is beside herself.
Fast-forward a few months, and Victoria has given birth to a son in a particularly difficult labor. After the dual-hardships of losing Lord M and Dash, post-partum depression has reared its ugly head once again, and Victoria can’t bear the thought of returning to the throne.
But fate plots against our dear Queen, and the Duke of Coburg passes away, necessitating Albert's return to his homeland. While he’s away, an explosion rocks the Tower of London, killing two and injuring many more. Peel basically has to drag her down to the hospital to visit the survivors and their families. After shaking hands and offering condolences, Victoria flees the sick room on the verge of tears.
Somewhat surprisingly, this time it’s the dotty Duchess of Buccleuch who brings Victoria comfort. She promises her that the way Victoria has been feeling is normal, and that it happens to a lot of women. That things will get better, day by day. And if her words weren’t comforting enough, the Duchess throws in a new puppy for good measure. Our Queen is once again on her way to recovery.
Meanwhile, in Coburg… Uncle Leo decides that the death of the Duke is the perfect time to start dishing out the hot goss, and starts with the biggest bomb of them all – he just might be Albie’s real father. Albert, of course, handles this in the most princely, mature way possible, and gets absolutely twisted with permanent-bad-influence Ernest, confronts Leo in a drunken rage, and then storms off back to England.
Downstairs, there’s been a leak. Word has gotten out to the newspapers about the castle interloper. As Penge and the Baroness investigate the problem, one suspect rises to the top: the recently re-acquired Chef Francatelli. Since his return, the chef has been seen toting a fancy pocket watch, new clothes, and upon a thorough search of his rooms (wow, rude), 10 pounds.
But just as the axe is about to fall, it’s Skerrett to the rescue, as she finds out that Francatelli had nothing to do with the leak, and it was in fact… herself?! The ever-embittered Cousin Eliza, having heard the news in confidence from Mrs. Skerrett, turned around and sold it to the paparazzi. Naturally, dear Mrs. Skerrett can’t betray Francatelli (again) so she turns herself in, spilling the whole sordid tale — false backstory and all — to the Baroness and the Queen.
It’s a good thing girl’s so talented at doing the queens hair, because they let her stay.
Francatelli is thankful for Skerrett's intervention, but the return of his pleasant attitude toward her doesn’t last long. At the start of Episode Three, Albert’s valet, Brodie, spots him meeting with a rich lady in the street, kissing her hand and helping her into a carriage. While the downstairs crew takes delight in teasing him about this, it’s instantly obvious that Skerrett is crushed.
Meanwhile, upstairs, a trip to France is in the offing. King Louis Phillipe is seeking to engage his son, Prince Antoine to the not-yet-of-age Queen Isabelle of Spain. Peel fears that this alliance might result in another Napoleonic situation, with the continent united against the UK. But when he brings this up to Victoria, she thinks the best solution is to head on over to make friends and influence people. When Peel asks his BFF Albie to intervene with her, it becomes clear that Albie is still brooding about his possible parentage. The trip to France goes forward.
Once there, Victoria finds the French Court charming; Ernest, meeting them there, finds the French women charming. But not everyone is as delighted – with the Duchess of Buccleuch condemning the entire country as modern day Sodom and Gomorrah, it seems that Albert can’t help but agree. When he’s not railing about the vulgarity of the French King, he’s frustrated with the artifice of the court, and even goes off on Victoria for trying to fit in with the courtiers by wearing makeup.
This trip seems to be the straw that breaks the German’s back, because Albert finally comes clean to Victoria about Leo possibly being his father. Naturally, Victoria doesn’t give a damn, telling Albert that whoever his father is, it’s him that she wants by her side. They reconcile… and probably a fair bit more.
Now that Albert's got his groove back, he finally joins in the attempt to convince Louis Phillipe to not engage Antoine to Isabelle. He brokers an agreement – the French Prince will not marry the Spanish Queen, so long as a Coburg doesn’t either. Unfortunately, Louis seems to have lost his short term memory, because almost as soon as Albie and Victoria arrive back at the palace, they find out that Antoine has become engaged to Isabelle. As Albert threatens to slip back into his depressive brooding, Victoria pulls out her Ace card to cheer him up – she’s pregnant.
Episode Four sees a change of tact, almost exclusively taking on the Great Famine in Ireland. Through the eyes of the Dr. Robert Traill, we see the horrors around the famine in Ireland – as parents die of starvation, while they try to feed their children, and the food that Ireland grows is being shipped off to England. A Protestant, Dr. Traill is infuriated by the work of his party, where a Catholic cannot benefit from the church’s soup kitchen unless they convert religions. Traill fights an uphill battle to save the people in County Cork, writing to the papers, and trying to get his parish to help those in need.
In England, Victoria hears of his travails, reading his letters in the paper. She and Peel fight over turning over the tariffs on grain from Ireland. He brings in Sir Charles Trevelyan who’s just a real…
… and tells Victoria that the only problem with the Irish is that they drink too much and don’t know how to manage their money. Right. Somehow, our girl knows that he’s full of it.
And being the smart, competent Queen that she is, she writes to Traill and brings him to England. She talks with him, listens to the plight of the Irish, and promises him money to help bring succor to his region. What’s more, she sways Peel to her side, getting his promise to fight in the House to repeal the tariffs.
As Victoria, Traill and Peel take on the Famine, a more personal tragedy is at foot in the household. Ernest, plagued by odd symptoms since his romp through France, has finally visited a doctor, incognito. He’s diagnosed with syphilis, a disease that did not yet have a cure in the Victorian era. His doctor prescribes him ten 30-minute sessions of sitting in a room of mercury vapors. I’ve never been so happy about the invention of penicillin, and I’m allergic to it!
Downstairs, we discover that the mysterious woman that Francatelli has been meeting is in fact an American (gasp!) who wants to make him a star chef in her country (double gasp!). While he very seriously considers the opportunity, in the end he stays.
And I think we all know why. [wink]
Episode Five starts with yet another assassination attempt on the pregnant Queen – but, for the second time, the gun wasn’t loaded, the man simply seeking fame, rather than her death. Albie insists on an increase of soldiers everywhere, which drives Victoria to distraction. Seeking to take her freedom back, Victoria is like – hey, I’ve heard Scotland is beautiful this time of the year?
And it is, except for the bagpipes, which drive Albert into a rage nearly every time they play. And their host is paranoid about Victoria’s safety, surrounding her with even more soldiers. So, she and Albert cook up a solution that takes on a life of its own – taking a ride in the countryside with their host, they get lost in the infamous Scottish mist, happily riding by themselves until they realize – oh dip, they really are lost.
A typical man, Albert refuses to stop for directions, continuing to forge ahead through the countryside as the royal party grow more and more distressed back home. It looks like the end for our adorable couple as the day turns into dusk, but just before the night takes them, they find a tiny thatch cottage with a tiny old couple who invite them in to share a tiny trout dinner.
The couple clearly doesn’t get the paper here. They put Albie and Victoria to work washing dishes and helping stoke the fire. Raised in the lap of luxury, both of our kids are delighted by this change of events, grinning happily at the simplicity. Alas, in the morning they are found. After a heartfelt goodbye with their hosts, they return home.
Likewise, the rest of the household seems to love the romanticism of Scotland. It certainly serves as a panacea for the will-they-or-won’t they that has been growing between Lord Alfred and Peel’s secretary, Drummond. Skipping out on one of the royal dinners, the boys head to a reel that the servants hold in the woods. Heading home, they stop to watch the sunset over a small pond – and taken by the moment they finally kiss. The romance! [crying emoji]
Similarly, Mrs. Skerrett is also taken with Scotland – or at least one Scot in particular. One of the Highlanders invites her to a reel, and after only one rousing dance, our girl is like:
But faster than we can collectively squeal “But what about Chef Francatelliiiiiiiii?!”, she’s bidding the handsome lad goodbye, and rebuffing his request to write. I guess what happens in Scotland stays in Scotland, because she's not home more than a day before she and Francatelli hop back on that flirting train – Hurrah!
But the joy of Scotland can’t last forever, and like a bad penny Uncle Leo turns up again in Episode Six. Albie returns to his angsty brooding that, while oh-so-alluring, puts a strain on the relationship between him and Vic. Especially when his frustration takes the form of disapproval of how Lehzen cares for the children.
Unfortunately his criticism’s come to pass when a fierce fever takes hold of little Vickie, and the girl takes to bed ill, much to everyone’s distress. No one takes it harder than Victoria, who feels like her defense of Lehzen resulted in her daughter’s illness. And though little Vickie eventually recovers, Victoria feels that to preserve her relationship with Albie, and the safety of her children, she must ask Lehzen to leave.
In Parliament, Peel continues to try and repeal the tariffs on Ireland, known as the corn laws. Not only does this go against the general opinion of his party, but it betrays the party’s supporters in the agriculture community. He’s accused of betraying every virtue of the Tory’s, and for calling for the death of English agriculture. It’s a lot for one man to bear on his shoulders, but Peel stands strong, and the corn laws are repealed.
But the victory is short-lived — as Drummond and Peel leave the House, a shooter comes out of the crowd, taking aim at Peel. Being the best personal secretary ever, Drummond shoves Peel out of the way, taking the bullet full in the chest.
Struck by the death of his personal secretary, and the betrayal of his party during the repeal of the corn laws, PM Peel gives Victoria his resignation, which she accepts.
Elsewhere, Ernest has seen success with the mercury vapors (literally, WHY??). His doctor clears him of the illness, and with this new lease on life, he approaches the very-recently-widowed Harriet, telling her he has a very important question to ask her. They agree to meet.
But, as this is Victorian England — and a drama — that happiness is short lived. As Ernest steps from his bath that night, his valet catches sight of a rash growing on his back. The syphilis is back. Harriet receives word that Ernest is indisposed.
Downstairs, Francatelli and Skerrett finally go on a proper date. It goes well, it seems, if the following episode has anything to tell us – because in the next episode, when he proposes, she accepts – regardless of the impact it may have on their employment at the palace.
But outside of the delightful (and fast. That was fast, right?) engagement of Skerrett and Francatelli, Episode Seven is a celebration of everything that is Christmas. We discover that Albie is a bit of a closet Noel-fanatic, and he jumps into celebrating the season with both feet. And promptly puts his foot in it, when he invites Uncle Leo and Victoria’s Mamá to the palace. Victoria is less than delighted, despite the news she has to share with everyone – she’s pregnant. Again.
With Uncle Leo comes the Princess Gertrude, his latest suggestion of a wife for Ernest-the-syphilitic. When Ernest, who really is a mensch, tries to explain why he can’t get married at present, Uncle Leo is basically like “Lol, who doesn’t have syphilis?” But Gertrude isn’t the only woman Ernest has to turn down in this episode. Despite his previous dismissal of Harriet, she has made up her mind – whether they get married or not, she’s going after Ernest. After showing up in his room for an intense makeout session, Ernest has to come clean with her about his problem. And even though she accepts and still wants him, the suddenly-grown-a-conscience Ernest tells her that it can never be. Sniff!
Meanwhile, Albie and Victoria have another problem on their hands – the Dahomey King has sent, as a gift to them, the young princess of a neighboring tribe that he defeated. Eight years old, the young girl has been renamed Sarah by her foster family, the Forbes. Victoria is startled with being presented a child as a gift, but invites the girl to live with them at the palace, seeking to treat the girl as one of her own. But as time passes, it become more clear to Albert that the girl is increasingly unhappy at the palace – she’s scared of the dogs, she hates the snow, and he’s pretty sure she misses Mrs. Forbes. Victoria, struggling with what is right resists him at first, accusing him of disliking the girl.
After a particularly intense fight, Victoria is crying on her couch when Sarah comes upon her. They talk, and Sarah reveals that she does miss Mrs. Forbes, that she enjoyed living with their family. After much thought, Victoria decides to send the girl back to live with the Forbes, though she promises to continue to support her.
Elsewhere in the Royal Court, Lord Alfred and Wilhelmina begin to grow closer in the time after Drummond’s death. After her support at the funeral, Alfred states that he doesn’t know where he would be without her – that he doesn’t know if he could have endured the intervening weeks without her. After some thought (and some intervening from the good old Duchess of Buccleuch), Alfred proposes.
In the final scenes, we see Albie’s grand vision for Christmas come to pass, the ballroom full with a variety of Christmas trees, and each child with a pile of presents. At a dinner where all animosities are laid aside, and her nearest and dearest are happy, she finally understands Albert’s true vision for the holiday, and thanks him for bringing her the holiday spirit. The kiss, sealing Season Two of Victoria with a bow.
PHEW! With all that background, who can foresee where Season Three is going to take us?! Check out the preview for Season Three, and join us Sunday, January 13 for the premiere!