Victoria and Albert face swift change and second chances in a superlative episode full of surprising secrets and stellar showmanship.
We’re still reeling from the joint departures of Dash and Lord M from last week’s episode, but time waits for no man – not even a queen. Episode 4 gets right down to business, jumping forward to the birth of Victoria’s second child, “little Prince Albert”. The palace celebrates the arrival of the new Prince of Wales, but all is not well for the royal parents. No matter how hard she tries, Victoria just cannot bond with new baby Bertie. “All babies look like frogs to me,” she comments. Meanwhile, Albert receives some tragic news from Germany – his father is dead. Already torn apart mentally, Victoria and Albert are now torn apart literally to deal with their respective dilemmas. But how will they cope without their other half there to support them?
What follows is an impressive hour of television that deals with difficult themes and shifting tones, all delivered through incredible performances from the series’ core cast. It’s no secret that Victoria is a show bursting with aesthetic beauty, but this week has a particularly unique flavour. Maybe it’s down to different direction, or a different writer (Ottilie Wilford is on script duty this week rather than Daisy Goodwin), but something about Episode 4 feels splendidly original. For starters, we spend more time than ever away from Buckingham Palace. Albert’s “melancholy journey” takes him to Coburg, distinguished by its red and black colour scheme and underscored by a sinister soundtrack. There’s a shadow looming over the German landscape, and not everyone is who they seem…
“You always talk about the importance of truth”
But let’s start a little closer to home. Lo and behold, the ongoing ‘palace thief’ sub-plot rears its head yet again, but finally it hits home with some proper substance. Word of the intruder has reached the press and someone in the palace must have been the informant. Everyone is suddenly a suspect as the Baroness plays detective. At first, it appears that Mr Francatelli is the culprit, flashing about his expensive new pocket watch. But, naturally, that’s a red herring – it’s actually his former love interest Mrs Skerett who’s (unintentionally) to blame. Her double life, in which she is pretending to be her cousin Eliza in order to care for her child, threatens to blow wide open. To get Francatelli off the hook, she bites the bullet and confesses all to the Queen. Understanding, but disappointed, Victoria has no choice but to dismiss her.
It’s hardly been a pleasant time for the Queen, after all. She has not been herself since the birth – and with no Dash, no Lord M, and no Albert by her side, she must make it through alone. She doesn’t want to go out in public, and it’s not until Robert Peel insists she visits the victims of an explosion that she concedes. It becomes clear that Victoria is suffering post-natal depression, and the topic is treated with utmost respect. Jenna Coleman plays the suffering and the struggle beautifully, feeling like an “impostor” who cannot do anything to please her child. Amazingly, she gets help from the unlikeliest of places – Diana Rigg’s Duchess, who is for the first time not only complimentary, but also resourceful. It’s a touching and emotional arc for both characters, and Victoria finds some solace by the end.
“Everyone deserves a second chance”
Albert, equally, is not taking his father’s death very well. Especially not when Uncle Leopold takes him to one side and claims he might be his real father. Albert is horrified by the notion – his life might be a lie and his legitimacy might be in tatters. But with no 19th Century Jeremy Kyle on hand to do a DNA test, the truth remains unknown. Damaged, Albert joins Ernest in a “tribute to Papa”, getting completely and hilariously drunk (“it feels as if I have elves around my person!”). After the funeral, he doesn’t hang around and heads back to England to be with his wife. Tom Hughes puts in an exceptionally good turn – you really feel the sadness and rage emanating from his heart.
Despite all this though, this chapter of Victoria and Albert’s lives ends on a hopeful note. Victoria receives a tiny new puppy called Isla, who is as cute as cute can be (even if she does wet the bed!). Albert lets Mrs Skerett off the hook, telling her that the Queen needs her now more than ever. And Victoria finally sees herself in baby Bertie, allowing a bond to begin forming between them. Back in their groove, Victoria and Albert leave us with a duet, serving as a bookend and role-reversal of an earlier scene. If you’ve ever wanted to hear Jenna Coleman sing (in German, no less!), you’re in for a treat. She’s got the looks, she’s got the talent, and now she’s got the voice. It’s a wonder they haven’t tried to get her on The X Factor…!
The characters may all just be putting on a show, but boy, what a show it is. With performances like these, Victoria cements itself once again as the jewel in ITV’s crown. And the best part? We’ve still got half of Series 2 to go! Even now, the show continues to exceed itself and reach new heights – and it shows no sign of stopping yet…