The Tea Planter’s Wife, by Dinah Jefferies is a beautiful book. I believe I first came to it because I had seen it on a recommended books list, and although it is slightly more modern than my usual choice, I really enjoyed this novel for its references to early 20th century fashion, to events of the time, but most of all, for its heart rending story. Apart from a prologue set in 1913, the main parts of this narrative take place in the mid-1920s to 30s. For those interested in historical fashion, there are plenty of references to the dropped waistlines and hairstyles of the 1920s, through to the butterfly sleeves and two piece suits of the 1930s.
With shadows of a gothic romance, this story concerns a young and naïve heroine, Gwendolyn, who has married a man much older than herself, and who has a dark and secretive past. The novel is set in Ceylon which is where Gwen’s husband, Laurence owns a tea plantation. Not having travelled nearly enough, I wondered whether the setting of the novel would put me off – I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to imagine what it was really like in Sri Lanka. But Dinah Jefferies does such a good – such an evocative – job of describing the scenery, the foliage, the colours, scents, sounds and the weather that whenever I took this novel out to read, I found myself utterly transported. Indeed, I think it’s made me want to travel more.
The characters in this novel are very compelling. Apart from the hero and heroine, there is Verity, Gwen’s petulant and unpleasant sister in law; Christina, a former flame of Laurence’s and Ravi – a charming and handsome Sinhalese man who remains enigmatic throughout. I have named just a few, but each one is carefully sculpted and thought out and, just like the setting, they are all very physical.
The plot to the story mainly revolves around Gwen’s introduction to her new life as a married woman in a foreign country. Having grown up in a privileged household in England, she is swept off her feet by the handsome and successful Laurence. Although it is clear from the start that the couple share a deep love, Gwen later remarks more than once that she was perhaps too young when she married him, especially in light of what has befallen her. She leaves her family and her home, and goes to live in Ceylon, where she has to get used to running her own household, dealing with new people and to the ways in which different people, races and cultures regard each other. This, on its own, provides an absorbing narrative, but it is after Gwen becomes pregnant that the plot really thickens and becomes darker, more compulsive and more affecting.
The Tea Planter’s Wife is – in places – not an easy read. It is emotional and there is a feeling when one reads it of its realism. There are certain writers whom the reader can trust not to do anything too upsetting; not to throw anything out there that is too unsettling. Not so with Dinah Jefferies. But it all fits; it is all believable and it all combines to create a truly absorbing, resonant and edifying novel.
This was, as far as I am aware, the first film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. It was directed by John Schlesinger and is the favourite version of many due to its deeply atmospheric feel. The role of Bathsheba is played by Julie Christie. I was not sure about her at first; she has a real ‘60s vibe and look about her even when dressed in her Victorian costumes which messed with my sense of immersion somewhat. However, she grew on me and Christie plays an endearing Bathsheba who likes to think she knows best yet spends the entire film openly questioning the decisions she has made. Alan Bates plays a suitably protective Gabriel Oak, though this is not the version in which I feel we see the best or depth of his character. Terence Stamp plays Sergeant Troy, and again, I did not find him particularly believable in this role at first but the chemistry between him and Christie later convinced me otherwise. Interestingly, the two actors had a romance off screen too, which is referred to in the Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’.
One of the best things about this film is the music. It includes the English folksongs, ‘One Morning in May’, and ‘Bushes and Briars’, both of which compliment the story hauntingly, and the soundtrack in general has a very rustic yet brooding feel to it that suits the fatalistic nature of the story. The main characters are accompanied in true Hardy style by a host of interesting and tangible side-line characters, acted superbly by actors such as Brian Rawlinson and Fiona Walker, who watch as the protagonists make their decisions and their errors.
The next version of Far from the Madding Crowd was made in 1998 and starred Paloma Baeza and Nathaniel Parker. It was a television mini-series, shown on ITV, and was the first version that I saw. Due to its length and the time that it devotes to the narrative and character development, this is my favourite version. Baeza’s Bathsheba matures throughout the film, as she does in the book and there is not such a feeling that she has simply settled for Gabriel, as there is in the 1967 version, but rather that she has come to realise her true feelings and to notice the merit of the man who has stood by her throughout the years. The scene in which Gabriel proposes is particularly touching and is accompanied by the lovely pastoral music that introduces and runs throughout the narrative. One of the things I like most about this version is, as mentioned before, the attention to characterisation. Nigel Terry and Jonathan Firth give brilliant, emotional performances as Boldwood and Troy and present us with fully rounded characters whom we can dislike, pity and also empathise with. Unlike in the 1967 version, the story of Fanny Robin is followed as a side-line plot to the main story and we see something of how she ends up at Casterbridge Workhouse towards the end.
Natasha Little plays a slightly more mature and passionate Fanny, so it is easier to understand what Troy feels for her and how once he wanted to marry her. This version feels a little more polished than the earlier ‘60s version, which some may feel does not reflect the feel of Hardy’s novel, but if it is the characters that one is interested in, then this is the version I would recommend.
The most recent version of Far from the Madding Crowd was released in 2015 and starred Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts. This is a very pleasing film to look at, with beautiful cinematography and another compelling soundtrack. However, it is the one I have the least to say about, firstly because I have only seen it once, and secondly because it did not leave a very lasting impression on me. One thing that did intrigue me was the decision to cast Schoenaerts as a rather dishy Gabriel Oak. The merits of Oak’s character in the novel and in the two older adaptations have always been his loyalty, his patience, his perceptiveness and his protectiveness. I therefore thought it would be interesting to see how an Oak who was also notably attractive would work alongside the contrary and impressionable Bathsheba. The result provided an intriguing contrast to the youthful, delicate features of Tom Sturridge’s Sergeant Troy, suggesting Bathsheba’s transition from girlhood to womanhood in her preference in the end for a ‘real man’.
One thing which disappointed me about this version was one of the key scenes in which Troy returns to re-claim Bathsheba at Boldwood’s party. In the novel and in the earlier versions, shortly prior to this, Bathsheba has finally agreed to marry Boldwood at the end of six years. It is therefore a little more fathomable when, at the unlikely reappearance of Troy, Boldwood at last loses his mind and shoots him dead. The problem is that in this film, that particular conversation is not included and so events seem to escalate from zero to one hundred with no clear reason. The motivation for Boldwood shooting Troy alluded my partner who accompanied me to see this film and I wondered if it might also do the same for most people unfamiliar with the original story.
This film delivers a version of Far from the Madding Crowd which gives the viewer some lovely scenery, some good looking actors and the gist of the story. It is worth a watch if you are looking for something romantic, and with a bit of an edge.
I first saw that the BBC was going to make a drama about the Brontë sisters a few months ago, and I have been looking forward to it ever since. The Brontë sisters are some of my favourite authors and reading Jane Eyre at the impressionable age of 15 was, I would say, the beginning of an interest bordering on obsession which has lasted for years.
To Walk Invisible was directed and written by Sally Wainwright, and aired on BBC One on 29th December: a festive TV treat. It began with a surreal opening scene, featuring the four surviving Brontë siblings playing one of their favourite childhood games, set in their own fictional world of Gondal. This is pretty much all we see of their childhood and next thing we know, the siblings are grown adults; the girls busy writing and going for walks across the dramatic Yorkshire moors, and Branwell is drinking himself into an early grave. All of the actors were well-cast for their roles. I particularly liked Chloe Pirrie as Emily Brontë. She gave a very earthy yet at times, very impassioned, portrayal of Emily that seemed to reflect the characters from her only published novel, Wuthering Heights. Charlie Murphy played Anne as she is always shown to be: sweet tempered, gentle and a bit of a pushover. I did not warm to Finn Atkins’ Charlotte Brontë, but then neither did I warm to the (what I assume to be accurate) account of the real-life Charlotte I have come across in several biographies. Of course, Jonathan Pryce could not fail to give a compelling and empathetic performance as the Reverend Patrick Brontë and Adam Nagaitis was a pathetic and at times, hateful Branwell.
The first half of this drama was rather slow, I felt, and for those of us who may already know a few facts about the Brontës, it was a somewhat frustrating pace. In particular, the drama seemed to focus very heavily on Branwell and how he drank. I felt it was a shame for the drama not to show much of the childhood of these extraordinary people. It might have added context to the way in which the sisters treated Branwell in their adult life. I also felt it was something of a disservice to show only this side of Branwell, which sadly is pretty much all he is ever known for anyway. Given that in one of the final scenes, the famous portrait of the three Brontë sisters is shown, it might have been nice to have had the artist – Branwell Brontë – credited earlier. His end was sad and untimely and self-inflicted, but that is not all that there was to him and it is interesting to consider what he might have achieved had alcohol and drugs not had such a hold over him.
The pace picked up a little once the girls began to write their most famous novels and sought out publishers for them. The scene in which Charlotte tells her father that she is the famous author of Jane Eyre is particularly touching and one gets a real sense of how brave, how thrifty and how ground-breaking these young women were. The script alludes to the fact that at the time, Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey and Jane Eyre were all viewed as fresh and radical. It gives an idea also of how celebrated Charlotte was in her own lifetime and how successful. This is further accentuated in another charming scene when Charlotte and Anne visit London and reveal themselves to their publishers.
After this, the drama moves quickly towards its tragic and, in my opinion all too abrupt close. Inevitably, Branwell drinks himself to death and the sisters have to deal with the aftermath. Charlotte and Patrick are shown in tears – a hint of what was to come. The scenes we then view are from the modern day: images of the Brontë parsonage as it is now with its plastic covers protecting the table at which the novels were written and its bright and airy visitor centre and shop. I liked the contrast and how tangible it made the history feel. However, what I did not like was that the end of Emily and Anne’s lives was relegated to some typed text at the bottom of the screen, and the odd choice not to feature the rest of Charlotte’s. Although sad, I think it a shame that we did not see how Charlotte dealt with the death of her siblings, or how went on to be celebrated further and to marry before she died of pneumonia in 1854.
I do not know if the writer had a specific purpose in showing only this small section of the life of the Brontë family, but as a viewer and a fan, it did seem that several important episodes which might have shed a little more light on the quiet and largely unfamiliar Brontë story, were unfortunately omitted. That being said, To Walk Invisible was an interesting drama and worth watching for the performances of the actors.
Elizabeth of York was the first Tudor queen. When we think of the Tudors, our thoughts fly first to the notorious Henry VIII, and to another queen called Elizabeth, but Elizabeth Tudor is often overlooked.
I first became intrigued about this interesting and admirable lady when the BBC showed an adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen. This is a brilliant, engrossing series which I would recommend to anyone with an interest in historical drama but what it led me to read was something more factual and more focused: Alison Weir’s Elizabeth of York, The First Tudor Queen. Though fascinating and unbelievably dramatic, I was always felt very confused about Medieval royal history in Britain. I know there were several kings called Edward, there was someone called Elizabeth Woodville (whom I had previously supposed was the same person as Elizabeth of York), and there was a long series of wars called ‘The Wars of the Roses’, which ended with Richard III’s death, and Henry Tudor’s ascent to the throne. After that, things become clearer to me with the dawn of the Tudors. I was very thankful, therefore, to find that Alison Weir begins her biography by explaining something of the politics of the time and about Elizabeth’s parentage. It turns out that Elizabeth Woodville was Elizabeth Tudor’s mother. A young widow with two children, she married King Edward IV in 1464 and bore him several children, of whom Elizabeth of York was one, as well as two sons who went on to become those poor little princes in the Tower of dark historical fame. The marriage was a happy one and Elizabeth Plantagenet enjoyed a happy childhood, but her troubles began when her father died suddenly in 1483. This is perhaps also when Elizabeth’s true strength of character was formed. A hangover from the years before Edward IV’s relatively stable reign, as soon as he was dead, various factions began vying for the crown. His sons were probably captured and murdered; by whom remains a mystery to this day. Elizabeth Woodville kept the rest of her family safe in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey.
In July 1483, Richard, Elizabeth’s uncle was crowned king and Elizabeth had to live not only with the devastating realisation that two of her siblings, (to whom she was allegedly very close) were probably dead, but also with resentment as, in these tragic circumstances, she should have inherited the throne. To appease matters, Richard eventually invited Elizabeth, along with her sisters to court. At this time, several rumours began to circulate that Richard in fact desired his niece and even killed his wife, Anne Neville so that he could marry her. In her biography, Weir dismisses these rumours, and clears Elizabeth of any desirous feelings herself. Instead, she had her betrothal to a young man named Henry Tudor to keep her going.
In 1485, King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Shortly afterwards, Henry Tudor, against whom he had been fighting was crowned king. One of his first actions was to inform his parliament of his intentions to marry Elizabeth of York. The wedding took place in January 1486, and resulted in widespread celebrations and jubilation all over the country.
From the very beginning, Elizabeth was a popular queen. She represented a unity between two families and an end to the bloody wars that had raged on for years. She also conducted herself exactly as a renaissance queen was expected to. In many ways, she complimented her husband, who is generally remembered as someone who could appear rather cold and harsh. Elizabeth emerges from the pages of Weir’s biography as someone who was warm, grounded, clever and loving. She enjoyed a very happy marriage to Henry Tudor, who seems genuinely to have loved her despite the arranged and political nature of their union. Together, they had several children, one of whom grew up to become King Henry VIII. He was allegedly always very fond of his mother and felt her loss acutely when she eventually died. One interesting narrative thread that Weir explores is the sense of quiet and uncomfortable unease with which both Elizabeth and Henry must have lived surrounding the legitimacy of their claims to the throne. As far as many people were concerned at the time, Elizabeth was the true royal in their marriage and it was through Henry’s marriage to her that he achieved his right to the throne. There was also the dark shadow cast over Elizabeth by the uncertainty of what had happened to her brothers all those years before when she was effectively a captive in Westminster Abbey. If it ever turned out that her brother, Edward, had not been killed, but had in fact perhaps been living abroad until it was safe for him to return, then where would that place her and her husband. More tantalising is the question of how would she have felt? In 1497, she was faced with such a dilemma when a young man named Perkin Warbeck claimed that he was Edward V and attempted to invade England. He eventually surrendered to the king’s army and was hanged on 23rd November 1499. Without wishing to trivialise the emotions that must have been felt by the husband and wife, such events must have created a significant amount of awkwardness, resentment, suspicion and maybe even guilt between the couple.
Despite their tempestuous beginnings in life, Elizabeth and Henry were successful rulers; their reign was one of stability, peace and economic growth. Their marriage was mutually supportive, fair and affectionate.
On the 11th February 1503, Elizabeth died a few days after giving birth to a daughter. Her death though the result of a short illness, was unexpected and untimely. She was widely mourned and Henry shut himself away for six weeks after the funeral, suffering mentally and physically. Indeed, Weir argues that from this point on, Henry’s health steadily declined until he died in 1509.
A couple of months ago, I visited Westminster Abbey with my brother. I had not been there since I was a little girl and so my memories were hazy, but I remembered having been very impressed by the glorious and ostentatious tomb of Elizabeth I, and that of her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. This time, it was the tomb of Elizabeth of York that arrested my walking and forced me to stop and contemplate. Standing there below her saintly carved image, it was moving to consider the gentle and romantic queen lying somewhere close by.
As a costume drama junkie with a fondness for comparing different adaptations of the same novel, I have decided to do just this in the hope that some may enjoy the same. Jane Austen adaptations seemed a good place to start as they are amongst some of the most popular.
There are three television adaptations, of which I am aware, of Austen’s lesser-read novel, Mansfield Park. I am going to begin with the most recent. In 2007, ITV showed three new Jane Austen adaptations, each with something new to add to the stories they retold. Mansfield Park starred Billie Piper as perhaps Austen’s least popular heroine, Fanny Price, and Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram – possibly the wettest of Austen’s heroes. In compensation for Fanny’s reputation as an intensely annoying, saccharine character, Piper played her as someone much more wilful and sharp witted. Ritson’s Edmund was still wet but a little more endearing than other portrayals I have seen. Those of you who have read Mansfield Park will know that it is a long novel, which, somewhat unusually for Austen, subtly addresses several key controversial issues of the regency period in England. Of course, there is the usual satire and social commentary. Through her forthright and outspoken anti-heroine, Mary Crawford, she pokes fun at the customs and rules surrounding the idea of a young lady being ‘out’ or ‘not out’*, she makes fun of the clergy, and questions the idea that people of the upper class are really any more refined or sophisticated than anyone else. However, she also explores marital infidelity, the perils of gambling and drinking to excess and a huge amount of literature to date has explored the issues surrounding the head of the Bertram family, Sir Thomas, and his sugar plantations. This is, therefore, a big novel to adapt for screen and each version I have seen has focused on a slightly different area. In this version, Sir Thomas appears as a rather dark and unpleasant character for much of the time, though there are some interesting scenes between him and his children which show a softer, more understanding side to his nature.
The first half of this adaptation is largely true to the novel, save for the slight alterations in Fanny’s character, but I was disappointed that rather than including scenes of Fanny’s return to her family in Portsmouth (for me one of the most poignant and emotional parts of this story) it instead has the Bertram family leaving Fanny behind to be alone at Mansfield Park so that she can see what it would be like to live a life of loneliness if she does not marry Henry Crawford.
The ending of this adaptation was, again, different to the novel, but rather more romantic and not without charm. Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram are shown as being very much in favour of the match between Edmund and Fanny after all the drama they have previously faced, and Fanny becomes a lot more grown up and even more carnal in this final part – something that I feel is needed in this romance between two cousins who have grown up together almost as brother and sister. I have always found it slightly difficult to understand how Edmund comes to see Fanny in this light – how does someone go from seeing someone almost as a sister to seeing them as a lover? But this drama handles the transition as well as possible, and in the end, it is easy to be happy for Fanny and Edmund and to believe that they should be together.
The second adaptation that I am going to discuss is the 1999 film, starring Frances O’Conner and Jonny Lee Miller as the lead characters. This is an unusual adaption in that it merges scenes and writing from Jane Austen’s own life with that of her heroine’s. In one early scene, when we are being introduced to the character of Fanny, we see her writing her own History of England, a work which Austen herself produced when she was fifteen. This version is the fastest paced and most dramatic of the adaptations. Fanny is, again, updated for a modern audience and is presented as feisty and self-assured. There is a strong strain of comedy running throughout this film presented through Fanny’s own interpretation of events, and this is an interesting aspect to add to what is arguably the darkest of Austen’s novels. Perhaps the writer, Patricia Rozema, felt it would be needed as this version does tend to emphasise these baser subjects – I am thinking particularly of the moment when Fanny discovers a sketch book of Tom Bertram’s filled with horrific drawings depicting the cruelty faced by the slaves on his father’s plantation. This is used as the reason behind his difficult relationship with his father. Another difference between this adaptation and the book is the slightly bizarre decision to turn Fanny’s beloved brother from the novel into a beloved sister, or rather, to elevate the relationship between Fanny and Susan and to completely omit the character of William Price. Although this allows for some more intimate conversations to take place between the two sisters, it is a shame, as this is one of more important relationships in the novel, not to mention the role it plays in teasing the readers about the integrity and morality of Henry Crawford’s character. Mary Crawford, played by Embeth Davidtz is almost completely unlikable in this film and, as in the novel, it is when she speaks her mind once too often and reveals her hopes of marriage to Edmund only when he has been elevated to Sir Edmund upon the untimely death of his older brother that Edmund begins to notice Fanny and to see her as a potential wife. What this film has going for it is a lovely soundtrack, a much more modern focus, and lead characters who feel somehow more tangible than in other versions, not to mention the odd laugh here and there.
The final version I am going to discuss is my favourite. The BBC mini-series was made in 1983 and starred Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell as Fanny and Edmund. This is by far the most faithful to the novel and due to its length, it is able to reproduce the story almost chapter for chapter. It is very much of its time in that many of its scenes are devoted to dialogue rather than action, Georgian phrases with which a modern audience may not be familiar are repeated by the actors, and the costumes are historically accurate rather than necessarily attractive or flattering. However, for all these things, I love it and find it rather comforting and engaging to watch. One feels that when Austen wrote this novel, this is what she saw in her head.
As in the novel, the mini-series glosses over much of the darker subject matter which more modern adaptations have brought to the fore, and instead the characters and their interactions with one another are what matter. Sir Thomas Bertram is played by the wonderful Bernard Hepton and although still authoritative, this is probably the gentlest portrayal of the different adaptations. The same can be said Angela Pleasance’s Lady Bertram. Mary Crawford (played by Jackie Smith-Wood) is very likable in this version but, of course, deeply floored. I find it an interesting decision of the writer’s to included so many conversations between Edmund and Fanny in which he tries to understand Mary’s character, and more importantly to explain away her faults due to the people to whom she has been exposed. Farrell’s Edmund is unavoidably feeble in some scenes but he also shows a lot of tenderness towards Fanny which helps to explain the attraction she feels towards her cousin. Le Touzel’s Fanny Price is possibly the closest to the heroine of the novel. She is always good and moral, shy and steadfast. She is also incredibly awkward at times and full to the brim of unexpressed passion and emotion. Perhaps I am alone in not actually finding Fanny Price as insipid as some others seem to, and perhaps this is why I prefer Le Touzel’s portrayal. The final declaration of love in this version is quiet and matter of fact, as it is in Austen’s novel. It could be somewhat disappointing and understated for a modern audience but it is faithful and so, for some, could be just what one wants from a Jane Austen adaptation.
Poldark combines two of my greatest loves – Cornwall and, of course, period drama. This second series was long awaited, as it had been over a year since the end of series one when the first episode was finally aired.
The first series saw the return of Captain Ross Poldark to his home in Cornwall after three years of fighting in the American War of Independence. Here, he is dismayed to find that his father has died, his home is neglected and his former love, Elizabeth, has become engaged to his cousin, Francis. He nevertheless picks himself up and between marrying his kitchen maid, Demelza and re-establishing his home, also becomes a figurehead to the people of his land by helping them to regain control of their homes and their tin mines from the greedy aristocratic Warleggan family.
When, in 2013, it was first announced that there was to be a remake of the classic and hugely popular Poldark (first shown in the 1970s) there was outrage from fans who believed that nothing could be better than the 1975 BBC version. However, since then, this modern version has also enjoyed great success, fetching in an audience of 5.1 million viewers for the first episode of series two.
I cannot comment on the comparison between the two productions, as I have never seen the 1975 version. Nor can I comment on whether Aidan Turner’s Poldark is true to the original character in Winston Graham’s series of novels. However, I can review the series simply as I have seen it.
The music and the scenery in this drama are both stunning. The opening sequence gives me goose pimples each time it is shown, and I particularly liked the way that folk songs, usually sung by Demelza are woven into the soundtrack of many of the episodes. This drama celebrates its location as much time is devoted to showing the breath-taking beauty of Cornwall – its rugged, untamed cliffs, the glittering sea, the grand, elegant houses…they all combine to make this programme a pleasure to watch – a treat for the eyes. Let’s not forget the stunningly good looking cast too; they’re equally as indulgent to watch. Aidan Turner, who has now become almost as famous for his topless Poldark scenes as Colin Firth became for his ‘wet shirt scene’ in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, plays a character who is very human and full of faults, despite being the hero of the piece. In series two, I think we see more of this than in the first when, as far as I can remember, his good-guy status was pretty well fixed. Now that he has been married to Demelza for some years, this series switches focus somewhat to examine Ross’ relationship with Elizabeth and those feelings which we cannot shake that he has never completely gotten over her. This is, of course, is what lead to the controversial episode which caused all the outrage – the one in which he finally seduces Elizabeth, or perhaps it was the other way around. Whichever it was, the only outrage I felt was at Ross’s betrayal of Demelza and I think the emotional fallout was played superbly by all the actors involved, particularly Eleanor Tomlinson. The scenes in which Demelza toys with taking revenge on her unfaithful husband by sleeping with Captain McNeil were horribly believable to watch, but luckily her character was restored to form for any viewer who loves Demelza for her loyalty and innate goodness.
There is also the relationship between Poldark and George Warleggan which takes precedence in this series. After George effectively tries to get Poldark hanged in episode one, the tension understandably grows between the two, to the extent that George seems to be after everything that Ross holds dear – his mine, his family and even the supposed love of his life, Elizabeth. This enmity between the two provides a gripping narrative for the second series that sees many of the other characters harmed or sometimes elevated in the viewers’ eyes.
Poldark is not a cosy, reassuring period drama to watch on a Sunday night as, for example, a Jane Austen adaptation might be. But it is exciting, visually stunning, passionate and engrossing. This second series has certainly persuaded me to go back and re-watch the first series (which did not capture my imagination quite as much) and I am looking forward to series three. Let’s hope it’s not such a long wait this time!
A couple of weeks ago, ITV’s lavish period drama, Victoria finished and this has left many people with an empty void in their late Sunday evenings. These people are, of course, missing the crucial point that Poldark is still showing on BBC One, nevertheless, the fact remains that in losing our weekly dose of Victoria, we have lost a very entertaining, very visually appealing, very engaging piece of drama. The good news is that it is already set to return for another series in 2017, thus continuing the story of Queen Victoria’s life.
I was not sure what I would make of Victoria before it was shown. Regular readers might remember that I mentioned it before in another post, along with my concerns that there already exists a very good drama about Queen Victoria’s life starring Victoria Hamilton and Jonathan Firth. However, this drama, starring Jenna Coleman had a very different feel to it, and I could appreciate it in its own right.
The first episode dealt mainly with Victoria’s life before she became queen, with Catherine Flemming doing a wonderful job of representing the loving but ambitious Duchess of Kent and Paul Rhys playing the notoriously unpleasant Sir John Conroy. And there was Rufus Sewell. He featured heavily in the first few episodes, which was highly pleasing, and then pretty much seemed to completely disappear. At first, I wondered if I had missed something. Had Melbourne mentioned that he was going away? Had he become ill, or had he died and had I simply zoned out at the relevant moment? However, at the same time, I was reading A. N. Wilson’s Victoria: A Life, and this seems to actually be what happened. After Victoria married Albert, Melbourne (with whom, contrary to what I had previously thought, she had shared a strange sort of unsuitable, undeclared romance) was frozen out and forgotten by Victoria so that it soon became painful for him even to ride in his carriage past Buckingham Palace (according to A.N. Wilson). When he did eventually die, Victoria, who was by then the mother of six children seemed to regard the event so little, she gave it one short, sentence-long mention in her diary. So, the loss of Sewell’s character was great indeed, however, this is also when I felt the story line seemed to pick up the pace a little. Tom Hughes, whose looks seem to match Queen Victoria’s own description of Prince Albert played a very convincing role and represented the prince as slightly more introverted and undemonstrative than in other dramas. However, this too, chimes with the way in which history seems to view Victoria’s grounding and intelligent husband. Coleman herself played a very youthful and emotional Victoria who, despite her impulsiveness and at times, her carelessness of other people’s feelings, was easy to warm to. It was the scenes which involved the royal couple that were my favourite to watch. It was refreshing and comforting to watch a drama which, at this stage of the series at least, shows two young people falling in love and making their start in life, and seems to celebrate this. The parts which showed the servants and their story lines were less appealing to me, simply because I was watching this drama to find out about the life of Victoria. To me, their scenes felt like an interruption to the main story line; it felt almost as if the servants should have had their own series, something akin to ITV’s Downton Abbey or the BBC’s Servants.
All in all, I really enjoyed this series. Yes, some events were exaggerated or changed slightly for dramatic effect, but if we’re not too bothered about the historical accuracy and desire instead something that is easy to follow and weaves a strong narrative to the early life of this much-analysed queen, then this drama certainly provides that. I am already looking forward to the next series.