Taking the odd liberty with the facts is one thing but doing so with such brazen shamelessness feels like one giant upraised middle finger to those of us who value history.
Did you know that Queen Victoria might never have married Prince Albert had it not been for an amazing stroke of luck on a woodland walk in Windsor Great Park, involving the queen’s beloved spaniel Dash.
Dash, as good fortune would have it, managed to break his leg on a handy knife that someone had left lying around. And the hitherto remote and stuffy German princeling, carelessly ripping yet another of his shirts (the second in about a week) to create a makeshift bandage, splinted Dash’s leg with such tender care that flighty Emma knew at once that cold, disapproving Mr Knightley was the man for her.
And that, I’m afraid, is why I’m not going to be watching another minute of this silly, facile, irresponsible series. Yes, of course I see why Victoria (ITV, Sunday) continues to do so well in the ratings, pulling in a very respectable 5.2 million viewers. Jenna Coleman looks gorgeous (more so than the dumpy Victoria ever did); Rufus Sewell smoulders so tastefully as Lord M he makes Cap’n Poldark look like a dirty old tramp; and, lawks a mercy, what characters they all are below stairs. But the problem is, it’s all made up bollocks, isn’t it?
Making stuff up seems perfectly reasonable when it’s fiction: Poldark can do whatever he likes within the vague realm of plausibility, because he never existed. But when you’re dealing with the life of an historical character, especially one as relatively recent and well documented as Queen Victoria, I think you owe it to your audience to cleave as close as you reasonably can to the known biographical facts.
Rats, for example. There was almost certainly never a moment in young Queen Victoria’s life when she was frightened into hysteria by vermin suddenly materialising on a giant cake, thus causing onlookers to speculate that she might have inherited the Madness of George III. Nor, I don’t think, was there an occasion where her favourite maidservant stole jewellery in order to satisfy the needs of an audience which still hasn’t quite got over the demise of Downton Abbey.
There are a lot of viewers, I’m sure, who appreciate this fluffy escapism and who would not enjoy Lord Melbourne nearly so much if he were shown as he really was — a portly gent in his late fifties, 40 years Victoria’s senior; very much a father figure — rather than, as Sewell portrays him, twinkling with but barely sublimated desire.
Read the rest in the Spectator.