Looking At What's True In PBS' 'Victoria,' As Season 3 Premiere Approaches

Jan 8, 2019
Originally published on January 10, 2019 10:52 am

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Season 3 of the PBS Masterpiece program “Victoria,” about the young Queen Victoria, Britain’s second-longest sitting monarch, airs Sunday and will feature new twists and turns.

Viewers will get a chance to meet the queen’s resentful sister — a Trump-like political figure — and while Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, died at age 42, he will not be lost this season.

The eight-part drama follows the 18-year-old queen as she assumes the throne following the death of her paternal uncle, King William IV. She is forced into the British political arena, and as show creator, writer and executive producer Daisy Goodwin points out, she had a great deal more power than our queen today.

“And she was very happy to use it,” says Goodwin (@DaisyGoodwin), who joins Here & Now‘s Robin Young to fact-check the series.

The major plots don’t just center on politics, though. They’re also about romance: Victoria’s name came to define a prudish era, but her story is one of passion, first for her mentor, Prime Minister Lord Melbourne — also known as Lord M — and then for her husband Albert.

“She was very protected, but that didn’t stop her being very interested in sex and men,” says Goodwin, who thought of Victoria as a “grumpy old lady in black, a sort of sour puss in a bonnet,” until she was about 20 years old and read a diary entry the queen wrote in 1839. In it, Victoria and Albert are recently engaged and have gone out horseback riding, “and it’s got very wet, and [Albert’s] wearing these tight, white, cashmere britches — nothing under them.”

“It was just such an extraordinary thing to read in the journal of Queen Victoria,” says Goodwin. “I was immediately arrested by it.”

Interview Highlights

On some viewers’ objection to Victoria having a crush on Lord Melbourne in the show

“I don’t know why they objected to it. I suppose because they feel that queens can’t behave like ordinary teenagers. But I felt very secure having read her diaries. She writes about nothing else for about three years. Until Albert comes along, Lord M is mentioned on every single page about 20 times, and she almost caused a constitutional crisis, because when Lord M loses a vote in parliament, she refuses to let him go. …

“People used to call her ‘Mrs. M.’ I’m not writing about something that people didn’t gossip about at the time.”

On Albert’s storyline and a scene in the show where he confesses to Victoria that he is the illegitimate son of his Uncle Leopold

“Well, pretty much everything is true about his story. I mean, no one will ever really know whether Leopold was his father or not, but there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence, so it’s not at all impossible, and there was a lot of gossip about it at the time. A lot of people thought that Albert was not the duke’s child.”

On an episode in the series where Victoria and Albert travel to Scotland after their engagement, get lost overnight and have to stay at a poor couple’s home, and the episode’s accuracy

“They did get lost once. They were given tea, and they weren’t recognized, which they thought was hilarious. They probably didn’t spend the night there, but they they did have an experience like that. And I just wanted for once to show what it was like for them to lose the trappings of position.”

On Sara Forbes Bonetta, a West African princess who became Victoria’s ward and god-daughter

“She was the daughter of the Igbo tribe, and she had been sold into slavery by another African chieftain. But the slave ship was picked up by something called the West Africa Squadron, which was commanded by someone called Captain Forbes, and he took this child home and adopted her. And the only reason she was allowed to go free was that she was intended to be a present for Queen Victoria. So he took her to Queen Victoria, and Queen Victoria said, ‘Well, I don’t want a slave, I can’t have a slave, I would never accept a slave, but I will take her on as my ward and my god-daughter.’ So she sort of unofficially took care of her. Sarah tragically died just under the age of 30, but Victoria looked after her [and] was very worried about her welfare all that time.”

On Victoria as a ruler and decision-maker

“I think that when she came to the throne, she didn’t know what she could do and what she couldn’t do, and she was very lucky to have Lord Melbourne there to kind of guide her and to kind of make sure that she thought twice before she did anything. And the one thing he taught her was always delay your decision, always — that the worst decision is a hasty decision. And I think that was a very good lesson for Victoria, who was fantastically impulsive, so it was good to have someone telling her that. And then later she had Albert, who had a very strong sense of public duty, and so they do clash, and sometimes she’s right, and sometimes he’s right.

“When you look at some of her diary entries, she’s got a very shrewd grasp of what the people want, and that’s why I think she was such an incredibly successful queen.”

Lynn Menegon produced this interview, and Todd Mundt edited it for broadcast. Jackson Cote adapted it for web.

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