Radio Times

When love reigned 

After Victoria lost Albert in 1861, England's longest ruling monarch went into seclusion for 25 years, and a generation grew up never having seen the face of their queen. Now, however; a star-studded BBC drama is about to unlock hidden passions and reveal parallels with our own time 

It was hardly the stuff of high romance. Victoria, heir presumptive to the crown, had been thrown together with her German cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, since childhood. The match had every constitutional advantage on its side, but constitutional advantages do not make the heart race, and as Victoria remarked, Albert did "lecture one so". Yet, in the spring of 1839 when Prince Albert came to England, in military uniform, to pay his respects to the queen, the royal hormones kicked in. She took one look at her cousin's "exquisite nose" and" delicate mustachios" and fell in love. 

This week, an new BBC I drama Victoria and Albert, explores the passionate  side of the relationship that defined an era, and as this lavish two-parter reveals, there was more to their married life than matching writing desks. Victoria is revealed as a surprisingly worldly figure-indulgent towards the love affairs of others and appalled by her new husband's Teutonic rectitude. The early days of their union were also marked by Albert's frustration at being sidelined to 
walking the royal spaniel as his young wife saw to affairs of state, and Victoria, used to unquestioned authority from an early age, was no less put out by her husband's lack of respect for her position. Her almost continuous pregnancy (they had nine children) did not  help matters. The film offers a more sympathetic portrait of Victoria than we are used to, a glimpse of the wife and mother trying to "have it all" a century before the world had heard of feminism. 

Victoria Hamilton and Jonathan Firth as Victoria and Albert head a cast list that reads like a Debrett's of British drama, fleshing out the 9 famous names of the 19th-century  establishment whose personal fortunes depended on the success of the royal marriage. One cross word between the spouses could send shock waves across Europe. 

Viewed through a distinctly contemporary lens, Victoria and Albert's relationship has a clear resonance for our own times. There are parallels with modern monarchy: the tensions of maintaining a successful private life in the public eye; the pressure of providing a suitable role model for the nation; the fear, that tickled in the wrong place, the nation might turn on its monarchs. In Victoria's personal development there is a foretaste of today's cult of "the surrendered wife", the woman who finds peace in submission. 

Above all, Victoria and Albert is La love story, not just between man and woman but between queen and country, a reminder that duty is not necessarily the enemy of domestic happiness. Modern royals could do worse than watch it. 

Jane Dickson 

Victoria and Albert 
Sunday Monday BBC 1




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