Saturday, August 25, 2001
ARTS - Prepare for some right royal treatment
TELEVISION CHRISTOPHER DUNKLEY.
BBC1's three hour drama Victoria And Albert, which is shown in 90-minute episodes tomorrow and on bank holiday Monday, arrives on the screen heralded by all sorts of claims and accusations: it contains explicit sex of a sort which no one has previously dared to associate with the royal family; though concerned with events occurring more than 100 years ago, it has much to tell us about Princess Diana and Prince Philip; it is more revealing than any previous screen account of Victoria's marriage.
These claims, whether misinformation or clever promotion, are virtually unadulterated nonsense. This drama is rather less sexy than Milly Molly Mandy And Little Friend Susan Play Hopscotch, with one entirely conventional kiss and a single shot of two heads on a pillow.
If it says anything about latterday members of
the royal family, it appears to be by chance; Prince Philip's position
may be similar to that of Prince Albert, but there is no sign here of any
deliberate drawing of parallels. The one little grain of truth is that,
while there is nothing here which has not already been revealed in the
numerous written biographies,Victoria And Albert does contrast vividly
with the familiar screen image of a dumpy and grumpy old woman who summed
up her attitude
This time Victoria is a decidedly attractive 17-year-old when we first meet her and, like so many teenage girls, gets on better with her dog than her mother. Naturally enough, she is perfectly capable of giggling and running down corridors.
At this stage her life is dominated by her arrogant
and manipulative mother, played with delicious bravura by Penelope Wilton,
and her mother's adviser, Sir John Conroy. In this version, written by
John Goldsmith, Victoria's life can be seen as a progress from one set
of dominant advisers to another, including the governess, Lehzen (Diana
Rigg) who stayed with her far into adulthood, her first prime minister,
Provided they have enough to do, as with David Suchet playing Baron Stockmar ("Stocky"), confidential adviser to the Saxe Coburg family, this is fine.
But when they are trotted past the camera and given just long enough for their faces to register - as with Richard Briers playing Paxton, designer of the Crystal Palace, and Jonathan Pryce playing King Leopold - it can serve largely as a distraction.
With themes including palace against politicians,
and Albert's campaign for a proper role, as well as the central royal romance,
this is a story with plenty of meat. Victoria Hamilton and Jonathan Firth
in the title roles are well up to the task, and since royalty seems to
be a subject of endless fascination, Victoria And Albert may well prove
a ratings winner.
A lovingly made and shamelessly nostalgic two-part drama which is as regal and opulent as a period piece can be without collapsing into fairy tale. This is the story of one of the most adoring relationships in British history, though one not without it's rocky patches. Everything suggests the contrived relationship is doomed to failure, but love conquers all, as the saturnine Albert refuses to sit in his formidable wife's shadow, and becomes an equal partner in the marriage. Rather refreshingly, the producers have selected the two leads on talent, not star status, and Jonathan Firth and Victoria Hamilton fit their roles like gloves. Elsewhere the serial is a gallery of theatrical giants, including Nigel Hawthorne, Penelope Wilton (a brilliant performance as Victoria's truculent mother) David Suchet and even a loquacious Peter Ustinov! It all looks as sexy and sumptuous as great period dramas are expected to, and with performances to match, this is perfect Bank Holiday escapism.
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