The PBS.org description for the season finale of “Victoria” reads: “On the verge of delivering her first child, Victoria spurns advice.”
And I thought, “Seriously, ‘Victoria spurns advice’ could describe every one of these episodes.”
There’s no doubt that the show wants to show Victoria as an independent young woman who knows her own mind. Parallels are continually drawn between Victoria and the first Elizabeth who was, without question, a fiercely independent woman and one of Britain’s great monarchs. This is done subtly, through the opening music (the word “Gloriana” was one of the names given to Elizabeth I), and overtly, through the prominent display of portraits of the queen. In one episode, Victoria adopts the Virgin Queen’s attire as her costume for a party. She openly admires her predecessor and at times speculates about her own fate: will she have to remain unmarried in order to retain control of her own destiny, as Elizabeth did?
This speculation is not idle, as her advisers and Privy Council and even her family members are all scheming to control her, and if that fails, to provide her with a husband through whom they can control her.
So it is frustrating as a viewer to understand how high the stakes are — to see Victoria surrounded by power-hungry, manipulative, often shallow people, and to see her be fully aware of this, and then watch her behave in ways that play right into their manipulative, shallow plans.
I’ve taken it upon myself to write my own version of PBS’s brief episode summaries. Let me know what you think.
Episode 1: Doll 123
Upon ascending the throne at the young age of 18, Victoria, surrounded by family who would control her, spurns advice. Except she’ll listen to Lord Melbourne, whom she quite fancies because he’s the first person who has ever been kind to her. But in the one case where he tries to prevent her from causing a scandal, she ignores him because she’s angry. And it blows up in her face.
Episode 2: Ladies in Waiting
As Lord Melbourne’s popularity wanes and his government is dissolved, Victoria spurns advice and places her own desires above the good of the country and its Constitutional procedures. In fact, she nearly brings down the government because she won’t make a gesture. Again, her personal feelings take priority over doing what is right.
Episode 3: Brocket Hall
Surrounded by suitors, Victoria spurns advice, putting her personal feelings ahead of all propriety and the good of the country. She runs “incognito” to Lord Melbourne and essentially proposes marriage to the one man who simply cannot (and should not) be her husband. Thankfully, he knows what’s best, even if she does not.
Episode 4: The Clockwork Prince
Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha arrives in England. Victoria doesn’t like him on principle because he’s been handpicked by the family to be her husband (and also because he doesn’t flatter her the way Lord M does). As a reluctant attraction between them grows, however, Victoria spurns advice and refuses to entertain the idea of marriage to him, mainly because that’s what everyone else wants (and Lord M doesn’t like him, so…).
Episode 5: An Ordinary Woman
As Victoria and Albert fall in love and decide to marry, Victoria spurns advice, refuses to compromise, and alienates those she should try to make her allies. And, to top it off, includes in her wedding vows that she will obey her husband, even though she is the queen.
Episode 6: The Queen’s Husband
As Albert seeks a greater role in public affairs, Victoria continues to spurn advice, both his and anyone else’s, marginalizing her husband (who, it turns out, is clearly more suited to governing than she) and basing political decisions on personal enmities.
Episode 7: Engine of Change
Holding tight to her insistence that only she knows what’s best for the country, Victoria spurns advice and outrages those who should be her allies. Thank goodness for Albert and his diplomatic ways… but this just proves that the men around her have been right all along: that she needed a husband to “control” her. Oh, and now she’s pregnant, so she’s fragile and borderline hysterical as well (say the men).
Victoria was a woman of her time, but she was also a woman in a position to make the times. I do think she was a victim of her sheltered upbringing, and her choices were limited by the level of control that people around her had over who she met and what she learned. However, so far, this program isn’t showing us a powerful, independent woman in control of her own life. So far, what we’re seeing is a young woman only interested in getting her own way and pleasing the men she cares about. And, frustratingly for women viewers, the men are always (smugly) right.