Must Knows: Everything You Need to Know Before Watching Victoria
If you're eagerly awaiting Victoria's premiere, but are short (like the queen herself) on historical context, here's everything you'll need to know before watching Victoria. From Whigs to Tories to Doctor Who connections, get the pre-Victoria royal treatment before the anticipated series' January 15, 2017 premiere on MASTERPIECE!
At the age of 13, in 1832, young Victoria was given a diary by her mother so that she could record her thoughts and the details of her day. She kept a journal until her death in 1901, and it was from them that Victoria screenwriter Daisy Goodwin drew inspiration for the series. So if you have trouble believing how spirited—and sexy—the queen's life was, check the source. Just know that you're going to need a lot of time: over her lifetime, she filled 121 volumes!
Victoria viewers may think the young queen was a little hard on her mother and her close confidant, Sir John Conroy. But a little background explains a lot: Victoria's father died when she was still a baby, leaving her to be raised in isolation under the strict and controlling regimen that the power-hungry Conroy and her mother enforced, the Kensington System. Constant monitoring, no playmates, and restriction to Kensington Palace grounds were the backbone of a system designed to make the youth dependent on her mother and Conroy. To say that the system backfired would be putting it mildly.
A Dashing Co-Star
During her secluded childhood at Kensington Palace, the lonely young Victoria's closest friend was her Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Dash, whom she spoiled, bathed, slept with, and made her constant companion. Viewers may be surprised to learn that Tori, the dog who plays Dash in Victoria, also portrayed the queen's beloved spaniel in the 2009 feature film Young Victoria.
God Save the Queen!
Much is made of Victoria's ascension to the throne in the series, and if you already understand how it came to be, move on. Otherwise, here's the bare bones of what you need to know: King George III (the mad king on the throne during the American Revolution; he gets a couple of great songs in Hamilton) had a ton of children. His son George Augustus Frederick inherited the throne on his death, ruling as King George IV. George IV's daughter, Charlotte, would have become queen upon his death, but she died in childbirth. Now Victoria became fifth in line for the throne, behind her father (who died when she was a baby) and elderly uncles. By process of elimination (death) she became the presumptive heir following King William IV, her last surviving uncle ahead of her in line for the throne. Upon his death, and only 18 years old, she became queen.
Another Dashing Co-Star
Victoria's Prime Minister, confidant, and ally, Lord Melbourne, is portrayed by Rufus Sewell as a father figure/romantic interest to the young queen. In real life, Melbourne was forty years Victoria's senior; their complicated friendship is present in Victoria's diaries, but a younger Melbourne in a quasi-romantic context is certainly more palatable to viewers, given the queen's tender age! Melbourne knew a thing or two about scandal: early in his marriage, his wife conducted a public, lurid affair with the Romantic poet Lord Byron. The two reconciled, but after her death Melbourne become involved with a married woman whose husband tried, unsuccessfully, to blackmail the Whig leader. Though the affair became public, he remained Prime Minister, and came to his relationship with the young queen with the faint whiff of scandal still clinging.
Need to brush up on your Whigs and your Tories? The Whig party in the first half of the 19th century was a political party that advocated for reform and the common people (though their rivals, the Tories, accused them of hypocrisy). Their ideology included the supremacy of parliament over the monarch and the abolition of slavery, and they evolved into the Liberal Party. Tories, on the other hand, advocated monarchism and adherence to the Church of England, and evolved into the Conservative Party. Victoria's Lord Melbourne is a Whig, and the queen's villainous uncle Cumberland, the Duke of Wellington, and Melbourne's successor as Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, are all Tories.
Heiliger Strohsack! Why So Cruel?
If the enormous scar down the Duke of Cumberland's face doesn't clue you into his shady aspect, the 19th century rumor mill certainly will: Victoria's uncle Ernest Augustus (Cumberland) was rumored to have murdered his valet. Not to be outdone, his wife, Princess Frederica, was rumored to have poisoned her previous husband to clear the path for marriage to the Duke. But none of this explains why they are so cruel to the young queen. That is a simple case of succession; when his brother King William IV died, Ernest would have been heir to the throne had it not been for his niece, Victoria. Should she be determined to be mentally unstable (like her grandfather King George III), Cumberland is ready and willing to step in.
By the Numbers
Bringing Victoria to the screen was a feat of ambition and creativity: To recreate the interior of Buckingham Palace, the production team used 22,000 seashells, and 3,500 square feet of gold leaf, gilding shells and walnuts to affix to walls to replicate the look of intricate plaster design. And over the course of the production, they burned 12,000 candles—Baroness Lehzen would be horrified—and filmed for seven months.
The Extended Whoniverse
Jenna Coleman, who famously portrayed the Doctor's companion, isn't the only actor from the extended Doctor Who family to time travel to Victoria: Tommy Knight, who plays the ambitious hallboy Brodie in Victoria was Luke Smith in the Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures. Torchwood's Eve Myles plays the queen's dresser, Jenkins, and Adrian Schiller, Victoria's crafty household steward, Penge, appeared in the 2011 Neil Gaiman-penned Doctor Who episode "The Doctor's Wife."