ITV’s Victoria Is Silly, Facile and Irresponsible – I Blame the Feminisation of Culture

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.

Why Does TV Assume Everyone Is So Thick They Have to Have Everything Explained?

The Scandalous Lady W, a relentlessly 21st-century version of a great period scandal, spells out the social implications with a giant trowel.

My favourite moment in The Scandalous Lady W (BBC2, Monday) was when the heroine played by Natalie Dormer was shown being taken vigorously from behind by one of her 27 lovers. It wasn’t the sex that did it for me but the appalled expression on the face of Girl, who, with perfect timing, had just poked her head round the TV room door to see what the grown-ups were watching. She let out a little yelp of horror — and ran.

Which was rather how I felt during a lot of the sex scenes. ‘Do you think they put in this stuff for us? Or the women?’ I said to the Rat (over on a flying visit from Hong Kong, where he’s doing very nicely as an interior designer, thanks for asking). ‘Oh, the women, definitely. We’re much more Game of Thrones. Straight in there. Tits and arse,’ he replied.

He’s right too. You know where you are with Game of Thrones: pert breasts, heaving buttocks, with sex portrayed as men understand it — as a form of conquest and possession, or a jolly bit of rumpy-pumpy. That’s why you can safely keep your eyes on the screen at all times, unlike with all this female-friendly soft porn such as The Scandalous Lady W or Poldark — or the new Lady Chatterley, by the sounds of it — which just makes you want to hide behind the sofa.

Though Poldark porn — or perhaps it ought to be called Mr Darcy porn, because that scene with Colin Firth was the originator, wasn’t it? — is less visually explicit, it’s actually a lot filthier. As women’s minds are, of course. It’s about white linen shirts, bare male torsos and lush fabrics. Fingers creeping higher and higher up soft legs towards expectant, ahem, thighs. Lips parted in rapture. Terrifying, in-the-head girl-fantasy stuff. Like being forced actually to read Fifty Shades of Grey, which, obviously, any normal man would rather be gang-raped by the Samoan rugby team than ever have to do.

Not that I didn’t enjoy most of Lady W hugely. Natalie Dormer was wonderful, as she invariably is, with that slightly unconventional, almond-eyed beauty and the apparent intelligence and poise enhanced by that sleazy, knowing smile. And the Georgian interiors, exteriors and outfits, as sumptuously shot by director Sheree Folkson, were a visual treat. But I definitely got the impression throughout that I was being sold a relentlessly 21st-century young female version of events, rather than any attempt at objective social history.

Read the rest in the Spectator.