Thanks, Anne

New York Daily News
Sunday, October 21, 2001

The strait-laced Victorian era wasn't known for passion, lust and power struggles.

Maybe it should have been.

The story of the royal marriage between British monarch Victoria and her German cousin Albert may not play quite like "Temptation Island," but A&E's four-hour miniseries "Victoria & Albert" (beginning tonight at 9 and concluding Tuesday at 9 p.m.) does hint at some decidedly un-Victorian behavior.

Queen Victoria (played by Victoria Hamilton) reigned in Britain from 1837, when she was just 18, until her death in 1901 at the age of 82. She spent the last 40 years of her life mourning the early death of her beloved husband.

The era came to be known as one of virtue and corsets, with Queen Victoria seen as the stodgy, austere and earnest namesake of an equally stodgy time.

"It's a common image," says Jonathan Firth, who plays Albert. "Her in mourning, the rather austere old lady, dressed in black, who never goes out very much and is never amused by anything."

In fact, before her husband's death, Victoria's true nature was contrary to that of the forlorn monarch most imagine. Victoria had a sexier, passionate side and loved her husband intensely. She also bore him nine children in 20 years of marriage.

"This is a woman who would quite happily dance until dawn," says Firth. "Albert was the one who was, like, 'Can we go to bed now?' "

Director John Erman (who directed the acclaimed miniseries "Roots" in the '70s) was also surprised to discover how sexual and frivolous Victoria was.

"She was really into parties, plays and gossip," says Erman, who read up on Victoria's pre-Albert history before taking on the project.

Nor was Albert exactly what he appeared to be.

"He's not an immediately likable person," says Firth. "But he was much more relaxed in private than he was in public. ... He's very much a character that, the more you scratch the surface, the more likable he becomes."

Erman chose to tell their tale as a love story, the relationship in the royal boudoir proving to be much more interesting stuff for a drama on the small screen.

The two parties to this marriage had distinctly different reasons for committing to the union. Victoria, surprisingly, was driven by lust - she fell for him immediately.

Albert, on the other hand, felt a sense of duty. He was convinced a marriage to the ruler of Britain would be strategically beneficial for his family, so he accepted her proposal.

They eventually discovered a mutual respect for one another.

"Albert fulfilled every need she had," says Erman. "He became the father, lover, mentor, governor."

A composed, intelligent, German-born prince, Albert could have simply acted as aloof father to the future heirs to the throne, but chose instead the path of politics, changing the nature of Victoria's reign from one of relaxed public morality to upright virtue.

"This foreign prince came in and completely turned that around and reinvented the royal family," says Firth.

"I felt they really changed the course of the way people lived in England," adds Erman.

"Victorian values," point out Erman and Firth, should rightly be called Albertian.

"He was the one who talked about love of family," Erman says. "He was the one who talked about moral rectitude. He was the one that brought Christmas to England." (cont.)

Of course, the crown belonged to Albert's spouse.

"Particularly for a male, 19th-century aristocrat, you would expect the guy to be wearing the trousers," says Firth. But it was Queen Victoria who wore the pants in the beginning, and only in time did Albert emerge as a behind-the-scenes force.

"He simply wasn't allowed to do it," Firth adds. "You could say he was emasculated by that." So he sought a new role for himself.

Thriving on work and taking an interest in art, science and culture, Albert took charge of some household operations - and eventually more official duties - rather than drink, hunt and frolic in the country as he could have done.

"Albert's journey is winning her respect," explains Firth. "He does that by asserting himself in the political arena and proving to her that he's extremely valuable."

The miniseries focuses on their passionate, ever-transforming relationship, Victoria's role as monarch and mother, and several of Albert's endeavors, including his work on the Great Exhibition of 1851, a successful international showcase for art and culture.

Erman believes their saga is also a look at "how people can grow through their dependency on each other."

"It's the story of a couple who really didn't particularly want to get married and who ended up being one of the happiest couples in history."

Part one of "Victoria & Albert" airs tonight at 9 on A&E. Part two airs Tuesday at 9 p.m.

Thanks, Dottie

A&E telefilm 'Victoria &
Albert' lively showcase of
acting talent

Oct. 23, 2001

By Robert Osborne

Few television movies, whether aimed for the networks
or cable, have had the sumptuous cast that inhabits
director John Erman's "Victoria & Albert," which airs
its second and final half tonight on A&E following Part
1's debut Sunday. Besides the two actors playing the
title roles (Victoria Hamilton, who's also co-starring on
London's West End with Clive Owens in "Joe Egg,"
and Jonathan Firth, Colin Firth's younger brother),
there's Diana Rigg, Nigel Hawthorne, Jonathan Pryce,
Peter Ustinov, David (Hercule Poirot) Suchet, John
Wood and even a cameo by the too rarely seen Joyce
Redman, who's probably best known around these
parts for her Oscar-nominated turn in Tony
Richardson's randy "Tom Jones" three decades ago. "It
is the most amazing cast of actors I've ever worked
with," said Erman, who has worked with his share of
heavy-kilowatt stars, including Marlon Brando, Henry
Fonda, Olivia de Havilland, Woody Allen and
Ann-Margret. Said Hawthorne, "I've never been in a
company like this before." Added Erman, "It's one of
the wonderful things about working in England. You
have the pick of the most talented actors in the world,
and all are willing to work in television." Erman, who
will be watching tonight's "V&A" stanza at his
Watermill digs in the Hamptons, said the two most
exasperating things about shooting the four-hour
blockbuster were: "First, having to wait the two years it
took for the producers to raise the money to do it," he
said. "We'd have a start date, but then it would be
postponed, then rescheduled, postponed again, and so
on. I was having to constantly put my life on hold,
which was very frustrating. But then Allen Sabinson and
Delia Fine of A&E came riding to the rescue and not
only helped enormously with the financing but also gave
me, personally, the best support and encouragement
I've ever had before." Then there was the weather:
"V&A" filmed in England between mid-September and
mid-December, "the worst weather they'd had in years,
with rain and sleet and hail almost every day," John E.
said. "It not only posed a problem when we needed to
shoot a garden scene but made it unbearably cold
inside some of the stately homes where we filmed."
Despite the freezing temperatures and delays, Erman
said, "This was one of the best working experiences
I've ever had, for which I gratefully thank that cast and
those incredible people at A&E."

Robert Osborne is the primetime host and anchor
of the Turner Classic Movies cable network.

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