Queen Victoria Series Will Take 'Downton' Place In 2017

USA Today, 20 January 2016
By Maria Puente

Those crafty devils at PBS have come up with a plan to ameliorate viewer withdrawal symptoms when 'Downton Abbey' ends soon: 'Queen Victoria'.

The thinking goes: If American viewers loved the manners, costumes, settings and soapy plots of 1920s Downton, they'll love the real-history story of teen-queen Victoria from an era almost 100 years earlier. Won't they?

PBS pooh-bahs announced Monday at the TV critics conference in Pasadena that the eight-part series 'Victoria', starring Jenna Coleman, will settle into the Masterpiece time slot on Sunday nights at 9 pm (ET) starting in January 2017.

Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton has no doubts.

“Downton Abbey has proved that millions of viewers will turn up year after year for a beautifully crafted period drama," she said. "Victoria has it all: a riveting script, brilliant cast, and spectacular locations. And it's a true story! This is exactly the kind of programming Masterpiece fans will love.”

We shall see, but it's worth remembering that a movie on the same subject, 'The Young Victoria', starring Emily Blunt, didn't set movie-goers on fire in 2009.

On the other hand, this series will star Coleman as the 18-year-old queen, which should attract scores of 'Doctor Who' fans. The Whovians mourned en masse in November when Coleman's beloved character on the long-running British series, companion Clara Oswald, shuffled off this mortal coil.

There's plenty of evidence American viewers do love the British royals on PBS, especially the current Windsors, who all descend from the imperial and imperious Victoria Regina, a short (just over 5 feet) woman with a long reign (63 years) and a long life (she died in 1901 at age 81). Until last September, when her great-great granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, surpassed her, Victoria was Britain's longest-serving monarch.

But her early life was pathetic, even tragic. Held almost prisoner in a palace by her manipulative German-born widowed mother and her mother's devious majordomo, Victoria was a powerless pawn of her royal relatives and her feckless uncles-turned-kings. Then the last one died in 1837 and, as the next in line, suddenly she was queen of the world's then-most important country. She was barely 18.

Her first royal decision: Good bye mom.

The series follows Victoria from the time she becomes queen, through her courtship (under protocol, she had to do the proposing) and passionate marriage to her German cousin, Prince Albert, her prince-consort and the father of her nine children.

Victoria was by turns stubborn, spirited and flirty with her ministers, jealous of her power as sovereign and weary of its burdens, horrified about pregnancy and obsessive about running every detail of her children's lives.

When Albert died young, she retreated into decades of grim, black-draped mourning, rarely seen by her subjects. But she never stopped scribbling in her journals and writing thousands of letters, pouring out her thoughts with a candor so striking that one of her daughters hastily burned some parts after her death.

And regarding her heir, Prince Bertie, later Edward VII, Victoria was even more abusive of him than her mother was to her, blaming him unfairly for, among other things, Albert's death.

All in all, her early life has plenty of fodder for another epic PBS Brit-soap.

In addition to Coleman, the series cast will feature Rufus Sewell ('The Man in the High Castle') as Lord Melbourne, her first prime minister whom she adored; Tom Hughes ('Dancing on the Edge') as Prince Albert; Alex Jennings ('The Lady in the Van') as King Leopold of Belgium, who was uncle to both Victoria and Albert; Paul Rhys ('Borgia') as Sir John Conroy, overweening adviser to Victoria’s mother; and Peter Firth ('MI-5') as Victoria’s conniving uncle, the Duke of Cumberland.

The series, a co-production with Mammoth Screen ('Poldark') for ITV, was created and written by best-selling novelist Daisy Goodwin, who, PBS said, read up to 62 million words from Victoria’s diaries as part of her research for the series.

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