Vive la France! Victoria and Albert go Channel hopping this week for a stylish (if not altogether respectable) trip across the waters…
Britain may be turning its back on Europe in the present day, but Victoria is positively embracing it. Last week we ventured to the castles of Coburg, and this week we’re off to the fields of France. We do love the familiarity of Victorian Britain, but it’s always nice to see the characters (quite literally, in Albert’s case) out of their comfort zone. The story set-up is simple: King Louis Philippe wants his son to marry the Spanish queen so he can extend his empire in Europe. Understandably, the British government aren’t quite on board with the idea. However, the alternative – the Spanish queen marrying a Coburg – would similarly upset the French. Quite the conundrum! In an attempt to talk him round, Victoria decides to pay Louis Philippe a visit. After a sunny (if slightly sickly) boat ride, she becomes the first British monarch to visit France since Henry VIII. Allons-y!
The way France is presented in Victoria is really quite something. Certainly in comparison to the more gothic Germany last week, France (or, in reality, Lincolnshire!) is bright and colourful. The music is jovial and everything is delightfully over-the-top, just as you’d expect. The term ‘French fancy’ has perhaps never been quite so apt. Of course, Diana Rigg’s Duchess is on hand to provide her usual unflattering commentary: “the country has no shame!”. We’ve seen some quite extravagant scenes on the British side of the Channel, but France threatens to out-do them all. At one point Victoria even feels conscious of what the French ladies think of her, before going “native” and putting on some rouge. But for all her trying, Victoria struggles to achieve the one thing she came here to do. Louis Philippe puts it simply: “in my country, we never mix business with pleasure”.
“France is a godless country!”
Something isn’t quite right about the whole trip, and Albert isn’t coping with it well. Following Leopold’s bombshell in last week’s episode, the Prince is completely out-of-sorts and very anti-extravagance. He describes Louis Philippe as a man “of the most vulgar taste” and gets visibly upset that Victoria “painted her face”. He’s visibly damaged and very, very tetchy about how freely the French think they can act. Soon enough it all becomes just too much for him to bear. In an act of spontaneous rebellion, Albert decides to go for a spot of skinny dipping (with Alfred, Drummon, and Ernest in tow). Looking past the obvious gratuity, it’s a transformative scene for the man from Coburg. The French think his actions to be “not civilised” but Victoria, giggling away, finds much to love about her “noble peasant”.
After a tender embrace, Albert finally confesses that Leopold might be his father in the episode’s standout moment. Tom Hughes is on top form throughout but here, bearing his soul to Victoria, he truly shines. He admits he feels like an impostor, but Victoria doesn’t care who his father is: “I know who you are, even if you don’t”. We’ve seen them quarrel over the last few weeks, but this is the scene where Victoria and Albert finally reconnect. Just in time, too, as they’ve only got one final attempt at negotiating with Louis Philippe. By means of a fascinating analogy that compares the Spanish queen to a bunch of grapes, the monarchs agree to “mutual neutrality”. If neither touches the grapes, neither gets bitten by the dog, and neither makes a declaration of war. All’s well that ends well and out comes the champagne. Magnifique!
“There is beauty in a cabbage as well as a rose”
Or at least it would be. Turns out Philippe the creep isn’t a man of his word, and his son gets engaged to the Spanish queen anyway. A ripple appears on the Buckingham Palace pond, and war is on the horizon. But that’s a dilemma for another time – and whatever happens next, Victoria and Albert stand united. Besides, the trip to France wasn’t all for nothing: baby number three is on the way! We’re still adjusting to having Vicky and Bertie around, and already the pitter-patter of tiny feet beckons once more. At least Victoria seems more pleased this time around: third time’s the charm, eh? Only six more to go after this one…!
In conclusion, this week’s episode provided a welcome change from the “rain and roast beef” that we’re used to. It was so much more than an obligatory ‘going abroad’ story, with plenty of ramifications for the series ahead. The supporting cast even got some development, particularly where the Alfred/Drummond relationship was concerned. Everyone really threw themselves into the spirit of the occasion – Jenna Coleman continues to impress with her language skills! – and it was nice to see Victoria in full-on “Queen” mode for the first time this series. Last but not least, we got a star turn from Tom Hughes that made Albert appear more captivating than ever. If he keeps this up, he may prove to be a worthy equal to Victoria yet.
Still, for all of its flair, we (like the Duchess) are happy to be home again. The advent of war aside, normal service has been resumed and next week it’s presumably back to what we know and love. We enjoyed France and its funny-shaped baguettes, but you can’t beat the tried and true. Give us some boiled mutton and turnips any day…!