It’s been a royally long 15 months since Jenna Coleman was last on UK screens as Queen Victoria. But is Series 3 of ITV’s period drama worth the wait?
It was an oddly comforting moment when the now-iconic Victoria title sequence kicked in at 9pm on ITV last night. For British fans of the smash-hit show, the last year-and-a-bit has been fraught with controversy and delays. But, as the rousing ‘gloriana hallelujah’ chorus sang out, it was as if Jenna Coleman’s young queen had never been away. Compared to the comfort and joy of, well, Comfort and Joy (the 2017 Christmas special), Series 3 kicks off with a bang. Literally! Episode 1 drops us right into the middle of the French revolution, where King Louis Philippe is forced into exile. It’s definitely a dramatic start, heightening the stakes and getting pulses racing from the opening moments.
After a 15 month gap since the last episode, you’d be forgiven for expecting Victoria to take it slow and gently ease viewers back into its world. The reality couldn’t be more different – for better, and for worse. Familiar faces and locations are thrust back onto our screens in a flash. Even the constants, Victoria and Albert, aren’t quite how they were when we last saw them. They now have five fully-grown children – and another one on the way! It’s a breathless introduction that really hits the ground running, but will surely leave new viewers (and maybe even some existing ones) in its wake. Then again, this is Series 3 – you can hardly blame the show for expecting its audience to already be on board.
“Ideas can swim”
It’s not just old faces that we’re quickly introduced too, either. This third season brings a whole new cavalcade of characters, expanding an already extensive cast. Chief among these is Lord Palmerston (Laurence Fox), who Victoria rightly describes as “an awful, awful man”. He’s a thoroughly dislikable presence, seemingly on track to be this year’s villain we love to hate. As well as being the self-proclaimed voice of the people, he’s a smug and smarmy womaniser. One quote sums it up: “Make sure you stay out of sight, girls… no woman is safe!”. It appears he may have his eye on Duchess Sophie of Monmouth (Lily Travers), who has also caught the interest of new footman Joseph (David Burnett). Oh, and did we mention she’s already married to the Duke (Nicholas Audsley)? Our money’s on a complicated love triangle (or should that be love square?!) developing here at some point.
The other major new addition is Victoria’s half-sister, Feodora (Kate Fleetwood). Like Louis Philippe, she turns up at the Queen’s palace seeking refuge from the revolution. She’s a peculiar character and it’s very hard to pin down what her true intentions are. She showers her little sister in praise and adoration, but there’s something strangely suspicious about her actions. Is she jealous of Victoria’s power? We’ll have to keep watching to find out. Needless to say though, the combination of Palmerston and Feodora really does make for an uncomfortable atmosphere – both on and off the screen. This episode’s title is pretty spot on when it says Uneasy Lies The Head That Wears The Crown…
“I don’t believe my people wish me harm”
But the uneasiness doesn’t stop there for Victoria. Outside the palace, the working classes are planning a revolution of their own. There’s something eerily timely about the drama that unfolds in this episode: the ‘will of the people’, mass protests, petitions with over a million signatures. Remind you of anything that’s been in the news lately?! It’s as if ITV were somehow able to see the future of Brexit and decided to premiere the new series at the most politically relevant moment. Heck, it’s almost enough to forgive the agonisingly long delay – however coincidental these themes may be, they only end up adding to the episode’s poignancy. Victoria is convinced she doesn’t need to hide from her subjects, but tensions escalate rapidly. The episode ends with an angry mob at the palace gates and a brick through the window (the shock of which dramatically breaks Victoria’s waters). The final shot? A burning effigy of the Queen herself. To be continued, indeed!
In summary, this first episode is a powerful premiere that moves at a breakneck pace. Daisy Goodwin’s writing is as strong as ever, and Jenna Coleman still plays Victoria to perfection (even if she does spend most of this episode sitting down!). As well as setting up the impending conflict with the Chartists, the premiere sows plenty of seeds for the rest of the season. Will the newly-engaged #Skerrettelli finally reach the altar? Are cracks beginning to show in Victoria and Albert’s relationship? And can anyone convince young Bertie to accept the fact that he will one day be king? It’s all terrific, tantalising stuff. Thank heavens there’s only seven days to wait until the next instalment!