Choo choo! The seventh episode of Jenna Coleman’s Victoria pulls into the Sunday night station at full steam. As we prepare to depart for the series finale, the show manages to pull off its strongest episode to date.
Events pick up a short while after last week, and everyone seems to have something going on. While Albert is still looking to assert his position, it transpires that Victoria’s no-baby bouncing hasn’t paid off. The Queen is with child, and the nation rejoices – well, everyone except Victoria herself. The young monarch acknowledges the expectation for an heir, but the pregnancy frightens her something rotten. It was a very real possibility back then that women wouldn’t make it through childbirth. It’s a truth she cannot escape as the country insists that a Regency be put in place – who will replace her if the worst happens?
Victoria chooses her husband to take the reins (or reigns? *ahem*), but the government isn’t happy about being ruled by a German. And that’s only the beginning of this week’s exciting escapades!
An underlying theme throughout this hour-long episode is that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Or rather, men are from Germany and women are from England. Take your pick. While Victoria is preoccupied with the pressures of pregnancy, Albert is keen to help introduce the railway. In Victoria’s own words: “as ever, this subject makes men overstimulated”. Upon discovering he has access to a locomotive, Albert strikes up an unlikely friendship with Sir Robert Peel, who has become infinitely more likeable since his earlier appearances. They’re two men with their motor, two boys with their toy, and they relish in riding the rails – and even Victoria gives it a go before long as well. By the end, everyone is getting their way: the Queen endorses the railway, Albert’s Regency is approved, and there’s double bacon and peas on the dinner menu for all!
“We stand on the brink of a modern revolution…”
Now, Victoria has been exemplary from the get-go, but no episode has been quite as assured as this one. While it lacks the passionate drama of previous weeks, it makes up for it with sheer precision and swagger. “The Engine of Change” is an hour-long television masterclass from every angle. With all the foundations laid firm in the six episodes prior, the show is rightfully showing off its pure finesse. Victoria has hit its stride and has pulled off a comfortable, confident production where every department is firing on all cylinders.
As ever, the acting is top drawer. Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes are as good as they’ve ever been as Victoria and Albert. The supporting cast continues to impress as well. There’s more for Eve Myles to do this time around, and the Francatelli/Skerrett romance bubbles away over desserts below stairs. In fact, that’s the real success of this episode: everything feels in perfect balance and harmony. No character feels over or underused and everyone gets their part to play, more so than any other week. This is a true celebration of everything that makes the series great, and it’s a splendid showcase of such a talented cast and crew.
“I am not a German woman… I am the Queen of England!”
The cinematography is especially stunning with lots of eye-popping scenery, but a real scene-stealer this time is the music. For whatever reason, it shines through more than ever, punctuating every moment with powerful atmosphere. The standout moments from the episode have got to be the scenes on the train, flawlessly shot and swirling with euphoric sounds that capture the thrill of the journey. And my, what a beautiful engine it is! The Planet locomotive is an accurate metaphor for the episode itself: a gleaming, steaming, well-oiled machine.
Last but by no means least, Guy Andrews’ script is absolutely on point. This is a sharply written, expertly witty episode from start to finish. Not only is everything extremely well paced, but it’s incredibly quotable too. Lines like “sausage eater can hit ’em!” and “you accuse Sir Robert of looking like a stuffed frog?” will be on t-shirts up and down the land in no time. There’s even some hilarity at the Queen’s expense: the “Last time I saw her she was *this* high”/”Apparently she still is!” dialogue raised a surprisingly big hoot.
With only the series finale to go, Victoria can proudly pull off into the distance in its prime. With a lot of action timetabled for next week, it’s nice that the show has taken the opportunity to let off some steam and revel in its joyous quality. Victorian era period drama simply doesn’t get any better than this. Now, the end of the line is sight: full steam ahead!