Financial Times
Saturday, August 25, 2001

Thanks Anne

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
to life in the phrase "We are not amused".

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,
Lord Melbourne, and, in the end, her beloved Albert. A costume drama of the sort that the BBC is producing less and less frequently, it has all the expected production values: grand locations, horse drawn carriages, costumes dripping with gold braid, and a long list of star actors.

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. 

The Northern Echo 
Friday, August 24, 2001
TV Turn ons and Turn offs

TURN ONS Victoria And Albert (BBC1, Sunday, 7pm, and Bank Holiday Monday, 6.30pm) isn't a documentary about the London museum but the love story of the monarch and her prince, played by Victoria Hamilton and Jonathan Firth. The supporting cast reads like a who's who of the British acting profession (Nigel Hawthorne, Diana Rigg, David Suchet and Peter Ustinov to name but four).

Mirror - Monday  August 27, 2001

Thanks Gill


THE controversial BBC costume drama Victoria & Albert, was a colossal disappointment - not remotely like a French & Saunders sketch, with no one playing the rosy-cheeked Mrs Bridges role and not a dirty-faced street urchin in sight until the start of part two. 

Historically, it was informative, innovative and interesting, with Victoria Hamilton's performance as Queen Victoria, in particular, subtle, surprising and poignant. I mean, HOW BORING CAN YOU GET? 

Added to that, the sexual content, so roundly lambasted by the Daily Mail, was, it transpired, a disgrace - with no nudity and hardly any gratuitous sex at all. What were they thinking of? At this rate, period pieces will become almost respectable. 

It transpires that the young Victoria was wilful, determined and, above all, an absolute fox - with (and it's a surprise to find oneself saying this about Queen Victoria) really great tits. Judi Dench, eat your heart out. 

Like an English Winona Ryder, Her Majesty had a touch of the Posh Spice about her, particularly with her penchant for talking about herself in the third person - "Victoria's never seen anything like it in her life" - like a modern-day pop icon. 

The young Prince Albert from Saxe-Coburg, on the other hand, turns out to have been a Bavarian Basil Fawlty evidently raised by Brian Walden. "I doubt she'd haff me," he suggested of his chances as Victoria's suitor. "Zis little boy hass been regularly entering the palace at night, vandering about vreely." 

And so on. When Albert (Jonathan Firth) first appeared, he looked like one of Spandau Ballet with a ridiculously floppy fringe and a penchant for tucking his boots into his corduroy jodhpurs. Returning three years later, he had made the sensible choice of having a make-over to resemble Mr Darcy's less good-looking brother. 

His beard was actually two sideburns that had grown down the side of his chin like mould but failed to cover any of the chin area so vital in a beard - like a half-hearted Jimmy Hill. 

Still, Albert's brooding, dynamic nature helped make them the Burton and Taylor of royalty. 

They were certainly more interesting than the lavishly-costumed extras, such as Nigel Hawthorne, Peter Ustinov and David Suchet, whose grey mane suggested he was playing Frank Finlay. 

Penelope Wilton, as the aged Queen Victoria, appeared to be stroking a lapdog made out of Pauline Fowler's hair. 

The young couple's real problems began when they got married to what sounded suspiciously like the theme music from ITV's coverage of the last World Cup. 

But they were a curiously likeable and intriguing pair. (And so were Victoria and Albert.) 

Quite how they were responsible for such a ghastly bunch of gormless half-wits and layabouts as the current Royal Family is anyone's guess. 

Return to main V&A articles page

To V&A intro page