This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason While the entire first season has already aired in the UK, it doesn't premiere in the U.S. until a few days after this post's publication.
Should You Crown Victoria Your Queen?
Jenna Coleman is done being a companion. Is she ready to rule?
What Is This Thing?
PBS's airing of ITV's 2016 Queen Victoria series, subtitled Not Only Netflix Can Make Expensive Lady-Royal Biopics, OKAY.
When Is It On?
Sundays at 9 PM on PBS, starting January 15.
Why Was It Made Now?
Well, it wasn't, exactly; it aired last September in the UK, on ITV, possibly as a way of making sure Netflix's The Crown didn't run away with the period piece bandwagon, or possibly as a way of hitching themselves TO that bandwagon. In the U.S., PBS is still hunting for a runaway hit to take over for Downton Abbey as a Masterpiece blockbuster, and this seems like it might fit the bill. It did very well in the UK and has already been renewed for a second series and a Christmas special, both to air this year.
What's Its Pedigree?
Victoria comes from producer/novelist/poet Daisy Goodwin and is, conveniently, based on her 2016 novel of the same name.
So much of the success of something like this rests on how good the lead is: if Jenna Coleman sucks, it doesn't matter how good the rest of it is. If she's good, the rest gets a little wiggle room.
The good news is that Jenna Coleman doesn't suck. She passes for eighteen like I pass for a long-lost Kardashian, but she's a good choice (and two years have already passed by the end of the pilot, anyway): it feels like she's been working up to something like this for a while, and she's feisty and a bit glib without the labored sass of Doctor Who's Clara. She still has plenty to prove as Victoria outgrows the ingenue stage, forcing her to make other acting choices, but I suspect the rest of the series will give her that opportunity, for better or for worse. One choice someone might rethink: those distracting blue contacts.
NO ONE CARES, ITV.
I also assume that, at this point, Rufus Sewell has some kind of hybrid Method/The Secret situation going on; he just wears period clothes every day, knowing that if he puts it out there, somebody will pull him into something historical, right? But he's so soothing here -- as Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, he has convincing chemistry with Coleman's Victoria (as friends or maybe more, depending on how the series approaches them in the coming episodes), and also it's just oddly comforting to have him around? That's how much he lives in the televised 19th century. Also: I dearly hope that he'll start hauling a Leviathan bag as he follows Victoria around, whispering the names of approaching dignitaries in her ear, as he does in one scene.
Luckily, Coleman and Sewell aren't out there trying to carry water buckets full of holes; what they're working with isn't dry or embarrassing, and I think most people will get what they came for in terms of expensive-looking production values and political/romantic/family intrigue presented in that special PBS tone of voice. The events of the pilot are apparently pretty accurate -- as far as what we know from historical documents, anyway -- and Goodwin and Coleman together do a good job of walking the fine line between Mary Sue Girl-Power Queen and God, She's Annoying. That goes a long way.
Comparison is inevitable here, and while it's off to a pretty good start, it's so far neither as gleefully soapy as Downton nor as painstakingly adult as The Crown, which it has the mild misfortune of following closely in the U.S. I suspect this won't be a dealbreaker for the average PBS Sunday night viewer, but it may not have the hook it needs to be a huge crossover hit.
If you like this kind of thing, or if you like Jenna Coleman or Rufus Sewell a lot, you're going to like it. It's pretty, and pretty good, and they are pretty good in it! If you don't already have your DVR set for Masterpiece and/or won't be critiquing the historical details from memory, it may or may not have enough emotional razzle-dazzle to suck you in.