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New York Times October 19, 2001

TV WEEKEND | 'VICTORIA AND ALBERT' 

A Marriage Like Other Marriages, Only It's Victoria's

If ever a young woman suffered under a manipulative mother, Victoria, the future Queen of England, did. The Duchess of Kent refused to let her daughter have a bedroom of her own, insisting on sharing the room, even when Victoria was in her late teens. The duchess, with the help of Sir John Conroy, even stole her daughter's mail (from the king!) and dictated her responses. 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 Ms. Hamilton's credit that only later does Julia Roberts's "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. He feels only "great affection, great warmth," he says, and that turns out to be a good enough start.

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's marriage, 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 illness. He died in December 1861 at the age of 42. He and Victoria had had 22 years together.

"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 at 9 p.m.

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).



NY Daily News | Arts and Lifestyle | Television | 
 Saturday, October 20, 2001 Thanks Grace

 Victoria's Secret Side

 By KAY GARDELLA
 Daily News TV Critic

Victoria and Albert," A&E's two-part drama starting tomorrow night at 9, offers viewers a welcome escape into the past. But it does something more.

It showcases many of Britain's finest actors including leads Victoria Hamilton and Jonathan Firth lending considerable weight to this otherwise light, romantic and utterly charming look at the early life of Queen Victoria, whose reign lasted from 1837 until her death on Jan. 26, 1901.

Victoria Hamilton, Jonathan Firth and a baby star in 'Victoria & Albert.'  However, the visually stunning production, directed by John Herman ("Roots") and scripted by John Goldsmith, fails to deal with any social issues of the time, leaving the impression that the queen operated in a vacuum.

The opening episode of the drama (the conclusion starts at 9 p.m. Tuesday) is by far the stronger edition. Dealing with Victoria's ascent to the British throne at age 18, it demonstrates her naivete and unpreparedness for such a
role and her need to depend on advisers but her determination to break with her domineering mother and grasp her new responsibilities.

Hamilton delivers a spirited, wide-eyed portrayal of a vacuous yet sexy young Victoria who liked to have fun hardly the usual image of her as unsmiling and dour. The handsome Firth is consistent in projecting an image
of her husband, Albert, as a moral, civilized and knowledgeable person capable of more responsibility then he's given. (cont.)

As Victoria's first cousin, Albert, a German, was not in love when her when he proposed marriage, but eventually he grows to love her. Later, their relationship is viewed as one of history's great love affairs.  

Yet these earlier hectic, door-slamming scenes demonstrate Albert's impatience with his powerless role. Because he's a foreigner, he's not allowed to be at the queen's side when she receives dignitaries and 
heads of state.

As for supporting players, Peter Ustinov gives a brief but colorful portrayal of King William IV, who defies Victoria's mother and demands Victoria's presence at court.

Diana Rigg, host of the "Mystery!" series, turns up as Victoria's loyal governess, Baroness Lehzen, who has served the queen since childhood.

David Suchet ("Poirot") is superb as the very subtle, influential Baron Stockmar, a German and Albert's mentor;through the assistance of Victoria's uncle, Belgium's King Leopold (Jonathan Pryce), he arranges the marriage.

Also outstanding is Nigel Hawthorne, who once played an ancestor of Queen Victoria in "The Madness of King George" and here is Lord Melbourne, adviser to Her Majesty. His low-key performance lends real substance to the earlier
scenes.

A bonus are scenes with Lord Melbourne and Stockmar, two pros delicately discussing how to steer the queen into marrying Albert.

 Such rare TV moments are to be savored.



L.A. Times

Saturday, October 20, 2001

TUNED IN
A&E Film Plumbs History's Heart

By MARK SACHS, Times Staff Writer

     This year marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Britain's Queen Victoria, but director John Erman's fascinating two-part A&E movie breathes new life into her legend.

     Erman knows his way around historical drama, having directed the miniseries "Roots" and "Scarlett," among others. For "Victoria & Albert," Erman has teamed with writer John Goldsmith to get inside the queen's defining relationship.

     With a cast that includes Peter Ustinov, Diana Rigg, Nigel Hawthorne and Jonathan Pryce, Erman couldn't have gone far wrong, but it's Jonathan Firth as Albert and especially Victoria Hamilton as the queen who set this four-hour work apart.

     It's nothing short of mesmerizing to watch Hamilton's development from an insecure teenager into a strong-willed leader and to see how Albert's considerable influence as her husband and partner helped serve as a catalyst for those changes.

     Their complex relationship and the off-balance love that grows between them are at the center of the drama, and their story is handled with deft shading and nuance. Other figures jockey for footholds within her royal orbit only to be embraced and then shunted aside as Victoria's lingering neediness ebbs and flows. Only Albert finds a lasting place in her heart, but not without much turmoil along the way.

     This one's ripped not from the headlines but from the history books, yet the human emotions in play are fully of the moment.

     "Victoria & Albert," filmed on location in England, debuts Sunday night at 9, with Part 2 airing Tuesday, also at 9.



People Weekly
29 October 2001

Victoria's Secret

Jonathan Firth - Actor Colin's baby bro - canoodles with a queen in a romantic Drama

A veteran of the Masterpiece Theatre imports Middlemarch and Far from the Madding Crowd, British actor Jonathan Firth, 34, knows a lot about Victorian male fashion. Coiffures, for instance. "Doing their hair didn't mean just running a brush through it," he says. "They used tongs." 

Like his older brother Colin, 41, who became a sex symbol in A&E's Pride and Prejudice, Firth does especially well when he lends his smoldering looks to period pieces. "He's a beautiful man," says Victoria Hamilton, his costar in the imperial love story Victoria & Albert, airing on A&E Oct. 21 and23. 

With scenes of the hot-blooded young queen getting alllovey-dovey with husband Albert, "this is Victoria when she was the life of the party," says Firth. "She's likely to confound viewers' preconceptions." 

They may find it harder to shake off the still-single actor's resemblance to Colin, who grew up with Jonathan and sister Kate, 37, a voice coach, in Hampshire, some 75 miles from London. But the age difference prevented any rivalry. "He was very much the little brother," says Colin. And maybe still is. When the script required Albert to frolic about in a bear suit, "Jonathan stayed in it all day," Hamilton says. "We had trouble getting him out of it." 
 

PHOTOGRAPH BY GEOFF WILKINSON