Victoria Pops The Question
Will anyone be able to compete with Rufus Sewell as leading man?
We're three hours into Victoria now -- high time to start playing some trump cards if you're trying to get audiences talking/swooning/buying into the five more hours of expensive historical TV you've made. In the latest episode, the series does just that, sending Victoria to Lord Melbourne's country house on a mission: to propose.
What's he doing when she gets there? Oh, just reclining, watching the creepy crows that gather over the fountain in his front yard and definitely are not an omen of anything to come. But as soon as Victoria shows up, things are straight out of Pride And Prejudice, and rightly so. Arguably the best scene in any adaptation of that story is Mr. Darcy's passionate, botched first proposal, and Daisy Goodwin was wise to borrow from that setup as she settles the question of Victoria and Melbourne once and for all. And it did need settling -- there's no moving forward without a yes-or-no answer on this, and while mixing Melbourne up as a lingering love interest and a competitor for Albert would be one way to approach what's to come, it's only delaying the inevitable, and not necessarily in narratively helpful ways. And anyway...that's not how the story went, as far as we know. (Hey, history!) Better to free Victoria up so that, in about thirty-five minutes, she can look up from her pianoforte at Cousin Albert sad, but relatively free.
But this scene isn't great because it's useful; it's great because it's dreamy. There are lots of reasons why you cast Rufus Sewell in a series like this -- if a period piece gets made in the UK and he's not in it, did it really get made at all? -- but this scene really shows why he's worth every pound ITV invested. He's selling this wise, kind, lovesick version of Melbourne so hard, and it is WORKING. That wistful clasping of the hand! That knowing, sad expression! Part of what makes the scene so effective is that it's very nearly successful as a proposal scene: the force of the affection between Victoria and Melbourne is so strong and communicated so clearly that it doesn't feel like a rejection. It's just the truth coming out in, inevitably and in a surprisingly compassionate manner -- and because of that, Melbourne is more attractive and more clearly a catch than ever. But not even Victoria, who recently responded to the threat of his leaving like he wouldn't let her go to the New Kids on the Block concert, can hold this unintentional breaking of her heart against him, and neither can the rest of us. It's nothing personal, guys! He's just like a giant, freaky black bird! He mates for life! What are you gonna do? And THAT, considering who Melbourne's dealing with and how Victoria feels about him, is a feat of strength, ingenuity, and pure presence.
Incidentally, Jenna Coleman brings her A game to this scene as well. Whether it's a response to the intensity of what Sewell's doing or not, when she says she's approaching him "as a woman," we believe her, and that's a change from what we've seen from her and from Victoria so far. It's a heartening sign that she may, in fact, be up to the task of capturing the power and seriousness of the Queen as the series continues.
Where does Victoria's heart go from here? This scene is, of course, only the starter course of romantic things that will happen to the Queen in the next few TV hours, and it'll be interesting to see whether her scenes with Albert are able to compete with the tension and passion in what Coleman and Sewell are doing, or whether Tom Hughes's Albert will look suspiciously like the teenage boy he actually was. Your move, Albert.