Pop Culture Princess

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Parting from PBS' Victoria is a sweet sorrow that gives us more to savor

For many of us this weekend, the major departure from our TV schedule will not be the Winter Olympics(congrats to all of the winners) but the season 2 finale of Masterpiece's Victoria.

This second outing with the iconic queen and her beloved Albert has given us plenty of insights into history, such as the Irish potato famine, prime minster Robert Peele's stand against his party to repeal unfair trade laws and Her Majesty's visits to Scotland and France.

 We also saw the final farewells to Victoria's beloved "Lord M" along with her faithful canine companion Dash, witnessed the aftermath of Prince Albert's complicated family affairs and the departure of Lehzen, Victoria's childhood protector. Quite a lot to unpack in seven episodes(it does feel like this series was much longer and I mean that in a good way) but thankfully, we have a third season to look forward to.

To prepare myself for the Victoria less Sundays to come, I plan to watch a prior BBC-made miniseries about her Royal Highness and her great love.

Victoria and Albert stars Victoria Hamilton(known best as the Queen Mother on Netflix's The Crown as well as Lark Rise to Candleford's Miss Ruby) as the queen, Jonathan Firth as Prince Albert and much to my pleasant surprise, Diana Rigg(who is a major supporting player on the current Victoria) as Lehzen.

This two part series covers Victoria's early days but focuses primarily on her romance with Albert, including his growing public responsibilities and their growing family, right up to his death which put her in deep mourning. I haven't seen this miniseries before and very anxious to see how it measures up to the latest Victoria show. Not as anxious as she was to propose to Albert but anxious nonetheless:

I also find the older Victoria just as interesting as the younger,so earlier this month, I checked out the film that is up for two Academy Awards(Costume and Make-up/Hair Design) this year. Sadly, Judi Dench is not nominated for her leading actress work here but we'll get to that soon enough.

Victoria & Abdul is set near the end of her life, when she was going through the motions of her dull daily routines. What gave her fresh interest in life was meeting Abdul(Ali Fazal), a clerk from India who was tapped to present a ceremonial coin for the Golden Jubilee.

At first, Victoria was simply delighted to have someone new around her(and yes, she found him rather handsome to boot) but started to gain an interest in the culture of India from the conversations she had with Abdul, who was more than happy to give her a broader view of his homeland:

Eventually, Victoria decides to make him a permanent part of the household by engaging Abdul as a language teacher(she learned to read and write Urdu) and later as a spiritual advisor.

Over time, their bond grew stronger, even when she discovered that he was married(Abdul's wife and mother in law were sent for ), not to mention the various scandals that her staff and relatives searched in vain for to pin on him.

One of the strengths of the movie is the blatant hypocrisy of the royal household, who consider Abdul an unwelcome outsider at best. Accusing him constantly of unduly influencing the queen is rich, coming from such a pack of social climbers who are envious of anyone having Her Majesty's complete attention, let alone a foreigner:

 Included in the hypocritical attacks was Victoria's eldest son Bertie(Eddie Izzard),a pompous fool who was shameless in trying to drive a wedge between his mother and Abdul. Granted, she wasn't the most loving of mothers but his actions were less about her welfare and more about his eventual ascension to the throne.

While I have no doubt that some historical tweaks were made here, the basic story holds up rather well and does manage to give the viewer a glimpse of what it was like for the people of India under English rule. Faval and Dench do have great chemistry on screen, which makes it easy to understand why these two would have developed such a devoted attachment to one another.

It does help tremendously that Judi Dench has portrayed Queen Victoria before, in a rather similar story(Mrs Brown back in 1997). She does know this lady well, showcasing the various emotional layers of such a powerful woman who was isolated by her position and needing to seek the friendship of someone that did seem to care about her as a person rather than a monarch. She did get an Oscar nomination for Mrs. Brown and it would've been nice to have her get one for this cinematic bookend as well:

If you do go through some Victoria withdrawal, I highly recommend Victoria & Abdul(along with Mrs. Brown) as a good cure for that pop culture ailment. As for me, I not only have the V&A miniseries to watch but a copy of Julia Baird's Victoria biography to tide me over until next time.

I do find it fitting that the second season finale is a Christmas episode, as this series has become quite the gift that keeps on giving to fans of British fare as well as those finding welcome relief in seeing a competent ruler that was truly interested in the welfare of her people:

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