Thanks, Anne for all the reviews
Friday, October 19, 2001
Stiff upper lip - the British are famous for it. It signifies an unrelenting dignity and a level head in the face of crises. Two exquisite miniseries recall just why the starched demeanor has had its uses - even when it seemed most eccentric.
"Victoria and Albert" (A&E, Oct. 21 and 23, 9-11 p.m.) is a vivid, strong-minded dramatic biography of perhaps the most renowned marriage of the 19th century. "The Cazalets" (PBS, Mondays, Oct. 22- Nov. 19, 9-11 p.m.) takes Masterpiece Theatre into the 1930s and '40s with a large and loving family who harbors secrets, sorrows, and sins.
The two minis complement each other. And it's not just because they are both about the English gentry, or even because they are both about family relationships. Each explores character in the face of different kinds of temptations, and the reasons why all kinds of virtues do matter - the difference courage, love, kindness, and honesty make in the face of suffering.
As a teenager, Victoria was required to share a bedroom with her manipulative mother, who wanted to control her day and night.
Victoria and Albert points out that when she became queen at 18, Victoria made some radical changes right out of the gate - choosing to follow the advice of Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (played with rich layers of intelligence and affection by Sir Nigel Hawthorne) rather than that of her overbearing mum.
When it comes to her marriage, her German cousin Albert is her mother's choice. And despite the manipulations of her Belgian uncle, Leopold (Jonathan Pryce), and the general persistence of her mother, Victoria really does fall for the dashing Prince Albert.
For several years, the young queen keeps her gorgeous husband around like a pet, refusing to let him read state papers or help make even household decisions. But eventually she comes to trust his judgement as much as she loves him, and he becomes king in everything but name.
He proves himself a remarkable administrator, a man of vision, and a moral philosopher who never sinks into hypocrisy. Best of all, he actually falls in love with his own wife - after nine children and a lifetime of working side by side for the good of the state.
Albert died in his prime, and with him, some of Victoria's good sense. Victoria mourned for him for 40 years - she spent nearly 65 on the throne.
Without Albert's steadying presence, the series says, Victoria became stuffy and turned to empire-building. And though she enjoyed more privilege than any other woman of her time, she thought feminists deserved a whipping, she was tough on her own children, and she ignored the plight of the poor. But there was greatness about her, too. And she left her name on a fascinating era.
In a star-studded cast, including Jonathan Firth as Albert, Diana Rigg as Victoria's governess, and John Wood as Wellington, Victoria Hamilton as Victoria glistens brightly.
Her Victoria begins as a timid girl and evolves into a giddy lover, a strong queen, and finally, a tender wife, putting up with as much as she has ever dished out.
Nuances of growing affection overlie a developing political savvy and independence - producing something greater in emotional wisdom.
And it is a lesson that's hard to deny. If Albert had been king and Victoria his mere consort, none of the issues of equality and partnership would ever have arisen. But because we see Albert trying to find relevant work under his wife's reign, the wisdom of equality and partnership becomes clear. It is the very basis of lasting love.
In order to describe a marriage that resembles a work of art these days, filmmakers almost have to look at an earlier period. That's because love between husband and wife is treated too often as a cliche or a joke on TV. So The Cazalets, a study of one loving family of brothers and their marriages, is surprisingly meaningful.
The eldest brother, Hugh (Hugh Bonneville), has been wounded in World War I. He and his wife, Villy, love each other and their children with such honest respect that Villy's sudden illness comes as a cruel blow. Meanwhile, youngest brother Rupert (Paul Rhys) has lost his first wife and remarried - to the dismay of his teenage daughter and young son.
The one bad apple in the bunch, a soft-spoken womanizer named Edward, actually loves his wife even more than he loves his mistress. But he loves his teenage daughter a little too much. The libertine mentality can't quite grasp where the line is located that no man should cross.
The parents' strengths and shortcomings are sometimes mirrored in the children's behavior. And, while nothing vile ever happens, it's clear that the children are as capable as the adults in bringing about change for the better. It is Rupert's daughter, Clary, who helps his vain young wife cope with his disappearance during the war and grow up emotionally.
Children are often this wise and this good in real life. And part of their strength in this enthralling family drama comes from the spirit of endurance - that famous stiff upper lip.
Toronto Globe & Mail
Oct. 19, 2001
Sunday, Oct. 21 and Tuesday, Oct. 23
Victoria & Albert
9-11 p.m. EDT, each night, on A&E
When we first meet the pair, Victoria (Victoria Hamilton), niece of King William IV and heir apparent, is a young princess of 15 still under the care of her nanny, Baroness Lehzen (Diana Rigg). Victoria finds her German cousin Albert (Jonathan Firth) stuffy and solemn, and she is far more interested in the politics of her family, most especially the feud between her overbearing mother, the Duchess of Kent (Penelope Wilton), and the ailing king (a very funny Peter Ustinov). For his part, Albert isn't too thrilled with the idea of giving up his life in Germany to go "walk two steps behind Victoria" for the rest of his life.
Once Victoria is crowned at the tender
age of 18, her court and ministers do everything they can to get her properly
wed. Her prime minister, Lord Melbourne (a delightful Nigel Hawthorne),
Albert's advisor Baron Stockmar (David Suchet) and Albert's uncle King
Leopold of Belgium (Jonathan Pryce) push the match. When the future couple
finally meet face-to-face again, Victoria falls head over bustle for the
no longer stuffy Albert. Although he does not yet return her passion and
remains indignant about being her decorative consort, he does the noble
thing and agrees to the match. The rest of the story is a straightforward
and wonderfully entertaining history of the world's greatest marriage of
convenience as it connected with the politics of empire.
New York Times News Service
Friday, October 19, 2001
'VICTORIA AND ALBERT' - TWO-PART
PRODUCTION CAPTURES THEIR DURABLE PASSION.
So it's no wonder that when Victoria became queen, in 1837, less than a month after her 18th birthday, she promptly had her mother installed in an apartment on the other end of Buckingham Palace. (The two didn't make up until Victoria's first child was born.)
In "Victoria and Albert," the first time young Victoria's privy council stand and declare, "God save the queen" in booming voices, it's thrilling not only because of the glory that is England but also because it's about time this poor, put-upon girl got some respect. And that nervous giggle of hers seems to clear up overnight.
"Victoria and Albert," the excellent two-part BBC and Splendid Television movie that begins Sunday night and concludes Tuesday night on A&E, paints a solid, sympathetic and intriguing portrait of the young queen and the man she loved. The film begins with the first meeting of Victoria (Victoria Hamilton, and where has she been all our lives?) and her German cousin Albert - at which time he expresses the opinion that Lord Byron can't be a good poet because he's of such low moral character - and ends with Albert's death.
Luckily, the second time Albert (Jonathan
Firth, brother of Colin) comes to visit, Victoria finds him absolutely
charming. She is soon proposing marriage and shakily awaiting his
answer, and it's to Hamilton's credit that only later does Julia Roberts'
"I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her"
scene from "Notting Hill" come to mind. Victoria and Albert marry in February
1840, although, as Albert confesses to a friend, he doesn't love her.
Right after the wedding, Albert isn't so sure of that. When Victoria goes off to work and he has nothing to do, he's taken aback. In the next scene he's shown walking her dog. It's as if he's accepted a job and, on the first day, learned that the duties had been horribly misrepresented. Plus the palace is very badly run. He can't get a fire made in his room without consulting two separate departments, and when he questions the arrangement, people tell him not to worry his pretty little head. "Do you expect me to endure such a life?" he is soon asking his wife. In these scenes, Diana, Princess of Wales, in the early days of her marriage comes to mind.
Eventually Albert persuades Victoria to allow him to advise and work with her, as well as to manage the royal household. In fact, the queen's men worry that Albert has entirely too much influence. Certainly, the intolerance for sexual indiscretion that we refer to as Victorian could more accurately be called Albertan, a fact that the film illustrates with one incident in which Albert learns that Uxbridge (Michael Siberry) has a mistress.
As the years pass and their children (nine in all) are born, Albert's feelings for his wife do change. John Goldsmith's screenplay is subtle enough not to have Albert declare this realization to the queen. Instead, Albert asks his friend Anson (Crispin Redman), who has been married for almost 10 years, about his own relationship. "Not a grand passion, of course," Anson answers, "but perhaps something deeper, more durable." Viewers are allowed to draw their own conclusions from Albert's interest and nonverbal reaction.
The queen and prince consort, in
fact, face the kinds of problems that many couples in the 21st century
do. They disagree about the proper care for a sick child. He works too
hard, and the stress is making him ill. Their oldest son is wasting his
university years in drinking and carousing. It was after a visit to Cambridge
to give Bertie (Simon Quarterman), the future Edward VII, some stern fatherly
advice that Albert seems to have contracted his final
"Victoria and Albert" has a dream supporting cast, including Nigel Hawthorne as Lord Melbourne, Diana Rigg as Baroness Lehzen, Peter Ustinov as William IV, David Suchet as Stockmar, Jonathan Pryce as King Leopold, Penelope Wilton as the Duchess of Kent and Patrick Malahide as Conroy. The film loses a trace of its dignity with the series of slow dissolve flashbacks of happier times at the end (while Victoria sadly lights the candles on the Christmas tree), but they're minor distractions in an otherwise outstanding film.
'VICTORIA AND ALBERT'
A&E, Sunday night at 9
Delia Fine (A&E), Sue Deeks (BBC) and Doug Schwalbe (Splendid TV), executive producers; John Erman, director; David Cunliffe, producer; John Goldsmith, screenplay; music by Alan Parker. A co-production of A&E, the BBC and Splendid TV.
WITH: Victoria Hamilton (Victoria), Jonathan Firth (Albert), James Callis (Ernest), David Suchet (Stockmar), Diana Rigg (Lehzen), Patrick Malahide (Conroy), Peter Ustinov (William IV), Penelope Wilton (Duchess of Kent), Jonathan Pryce (King Leopold) and Nigel Hawthorne (Melbourne).