The second series of Jenna Coleman’s Victoria bows out on a high in a busy, explosive finale. Prepare to shed some tears – it’s time to say farewell…
These reviews often start by saying that Victoria wastes no time in getting down to business. But this week, it manages to break even its own incredible record. Within seconds, we see Uncle Leopold pop in for a surprise visit that turns the palace on its head. A nice family moment with Princess Vicky is ruined, and Albert understandably starts acting off. But that’s merely one small problem in the grander scheme. Elsewhere, Robert Peel is trying to abolish the Corn Laws and promote free trade. Morally, it’s the right thing to do – but the Tories are having none of it. He’s accused of a “heinous betrayal” for caving in to his beliefs. Even if he succeeds, he fears his career will be over. Politically at least, Peel is a dead man walking. Albert does his best to show his support, but in doing so only makes things worse.
But oh, we’re not even getting started yet. Following last week’s Scottish smooch, Alfred and Drummond go out for oysters and champagne. Drummond decides to break his engagement off, but Alfred doesn’t want him to jeopardise his position. Looks like this romance is over before it’s even started. Contrastingly, Ernest seems to be having much better luck in the world of love. He’s finally won Harriet over and he’s deemed to be symptom-free at the doctors. Clearly besotted, he plans to propose to the Duchess and make her his wife. Naturally though, the course of true love never does run smooth. Just as Ernest is about to make his move, he discovers a horrible rash on his back. Seems he’s not symptomless after all. Ernest claims to be “indisposed” and Harriet is left hurt and wanting. Maybe it’s for the best she never learns the truth.
“It is time for this House to decide the fate of England”
For Drummond though, it looks like his luck will improve – Alfred offers him a second chance at love. But more on that in a moment. Robert Peel, after much shaming and struggling, manages to get the repeal bill through parliament. He may be mentally battered, but he comes out to rapturous applause. (Rightly so, too – we’ve really warmed to him since taking over Lord M’s old position.) However, just then, we see a grimacing figure in the crowds. We’ve been conditioned to know by now that this means someone is about to get shot. The madman leaps out to the foreground and fires at Peel. Drummond takes the bullet and dies. It’s a dramatic twist ending to this year’s will-they-won’t-they subplot and we’re sad to see him go. Alfred is left waiting, thinking he’s been stood up. It’s Diana Rigg’s Duchess who, surprisingly touchingly, passes on the tragic truth.
While it’s definitely good to see the secondary characters getting so much attention though, we mustn’t forget Victoria and Albert themselves. Leopold’s presence and Peel’s downfall has put Albert on edge. He begins to suspect Lehzen is trying to come between them and forces Victoria to make a choice. “Either she leaves, or I do!”. Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes find themselves at greater odds than ever in the couple’s most explosive spat to date. These two were truly made to play Victoria and Albert together, their dynamic so fiery and yet so well-matched. When Vicky comes down with a deadly fever, it only heightens the tension between them. Luckily, she recovers before it’s too late – we can’t take any more deaths this series! Realising that Albert may have been right all along, Victoria reluctantly decides to dismiss Lehzen from the palace.
“It can be very difficult to hold two people in your heart at once”
With so many heartfelt goodbyes, it really does feel like the end of an era. In the wake of Drummond’s death, Peel decides to quit and go into retirement. Drummond is buried in a sombre service, Alfred quietly grieving for the love he never had. Lehzen, a constant in Victoria’s life since the very beginning, leaves unceremoniously as the Queen watches from the window. All these endings have impact and all feel rightfully earned. Which makes this episode’s one weakness – the Francatelli/Skerrett romance – stand out all the more. It’s nice to see the two of them get together at last, don’t get us wrong. But they get about a minute of screen time at most, and have been overshadowed all series by Alfred and Drummond instead. It’s a little underwhelming considering how much everybody rooted for them throughout Series 1.
So, was this the best episode of Series 2? Probably not. In comparison to the last two weeks – which were nothing short of stellar – this didn’t quite hit the same lofty heights. Maybe it’s just strange being back in London for an entire episode after four weeks abroad. This was more like an hour of memorable moments than a finely woven narrative. But, after two months of solid build-up, that’s arguably for the best. There’s a lot of pay off here and it’s definitely an ending we’ll remember. That makes 16 episodes of Victoria now – and we’re yet to have seen a bad one.
Series 2 has left us impressed all over again and we’ll sorely miss having these characters on our screens every Sunday. But while we not be getting Herbert the horse for Christmas, there’s something even better yet to come. We’ll see you back at the palace for a royal appointment this December… ho-ho-hallelujiah!