The Crown

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After several friends recommended , Netflix’s The Crown, I’ve started watching. It’s no secret that I have a soft spot in my heart for British historical dramas from Downton Abbey to Victoria. The BBC and itv have won me over.

I did wonder how the American Netflix would do telling the story of the current royal family. From the start it’s clear that Netflix spared no expense in this lush drama with exquisite, expensive costumes and magnificent palace settings. I’ve finished the first season, which contains a lot of flashbacks to contextualize the history. When the story begins King George is sickly and Elizabeth is newly married and while educated to become queen, she figures that’s a ways off. Within a few episodes, King George passes away and Elizabeth becomes queen.

Her first Prime Minister is Winston Churchill, who’s played by John Lithgow. Lithgow does a splendid job as Churchill.

One major plot line, that I wasn’t aware of, is Princess Margaret’s romance with Peter Townsend, her father’s personal secretary. Townsend is much older than Margaret and married. This is quite a juicy part of the series. When Townsend gets divorced, he hopes to marry Margaret, however, these plans are foiled because there’s a Royal Marriage Act that prevents royals from marrying without the Sovereign’s approval until they’re 26 years old. In season 1 Margaret is 23. The new queen can’t approve the wedding because although people are starting to divorce more, the royal family is not supposed to in any way approve divorce. Elizabeth is head of the church and the church is against divorce. That confused me since the reason the Church of England began was because Henry VIII wanted to get a divorce. He was a terrible model for morality so I’m wondering how the modern royal family became bound to live by high standards.

Claire Foy does an exemplary job as Elizabeth II. Her voice and mannerisms make me believe she is the queen. Matt Smith does resemble Prince Philip whom I knew was no saint, but now see his cavalier, playboy-ish. I think Smith’s prince is a bit gawkier than the real one, but I wasn’t born at the time shown in the series. Perhaps Philip’s posture was more bent over.

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Victoria, Season 2, Finale

Comfort and Joy

Sunday was the finale for this season’s Victoria. I’m not sure what I’ll do on Sunday evenings till Poldark returns in September. (I realize Little Women comes in May, but I’m not that sold on it. I think it’ll be fine but not as captivating. I hope I’m wrong.)

This episode mainly takes place at Christmas and Albert has Christmas Fever. His enthusiasm for having lots of Christmas decorations and carols was fun at first, till his desire for a perfect Christmas becomes irrational and annoying. It’s actually his subconscious way to cope with Uncle Leopold’s claim that he is Albert’s true father.

 

The episode begins with an officer in Africa saving a little girl whose tribe has been decimated. She’s a princess of a defeated tribe, and  Forbes, told the winning chief that his Queen wanted her. So the poor girl is traded off and Mr. Forbes and his wife take her in. Eventually, the officer takes her to the Queen who takes her in and treats her just line any of her own. Well, in fact, she seems more caring towards Sara, whom she feels great sympathy towards. Yet, all the while, Sara misses her new home with the Forbes.

Uncle Leopold has forced himself as an uninvited guest, his favorite role. Albert tries to force himself to be kind as he’s got Christmas Fever. Victoria is less blind to Leopold’s faults. Like all Brits, she’s not used to Christmas trees and such for Christmas. It was Albert who’s responsible for bringing German traditions to England.

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As if Leopold wasn’t a bad enough, Victoria’s most envious, plotting uncle has returned from Germany – Duke of Cumberland. He came to claim a favorite, expensive diamond necklace. Distressed by the uncle who wanted her dead, Victoria hoped to get some support from Albert, but he was so concerned with his perfect Christmas that he brushed her off. Since Victoria was still getting used to living in the palace without Lehzen, her lifelong supporter. She sure could use a husband who’s offers some support. Albert thought the necklace was insignificant, though giving it to Cumberland gives him strength and probably would result in emboldening him to try some other power play. Then Albert was critical of Victoria for mothering Sara as she did.

Yet in spite of Albert’s behavior, when Victoria was out with Sara and she sees Albert skating on thin ice, when he falls through the ice, Victoria goes into rescue mode and risks her safety, perhaps her life, to pull him out. That was quite a scary moment, and one that actually happened.

While Ernest manages to show kindness to Harriet, who’s understandably upset with him for standing her up when she expected he’d propose. Yet that nasty rash persists, and though Uncle Leo thinks it’s no big deal to hide his condition from a fiancée, Ernest has more principles. So he does tell Harriet it’s over, though he should have.

The episode concludes with Ernest giving Albert some brotherly advice and perspective. Albert’s dreams of a perfect Christmas is a delusion. They did not grow up with ideal Christmases. Victoria comes to see that Sara misses life with Mrs. and Captain Forbes so Victoria sends her back with them, though she always stayed in contact and did pay for her education.

I’ll miss my Sunday night Victoria episodes. Little Women debuts in May, but I don’t know what’s on PBS in the meantime. I’m not expecting much from Little Women, but I hope I’m wrong. I think my feeling’s due to my familiarity with Little Women, while Victoria and Poldark were all new to me.

I’ve enjoyed this second season, despite Albert’s occasional peevishness and the departure of Lehzen, Drummond and Lord Peel.

 

Victoria, Season 2, Week 3

Entente Cordiale

This week Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and her court journey to France. She hopes to convince her cousin Louis Philippe not to marry his son off to a French princess, which would bring about a terrible political alliance as far as England’s concerned.

A corny subplot was the Duchess of Buccleough complaining about all things French, the baguettes, the people, the lack of toast. I feel sorry for Diana Riggs as this role is something of a poor man’s Violet of Downton Abbey.

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Château d’Eu in Normandy where Victoria et al visited the Louis-Phillipe

Albert pouts and broods a lot as he’s carrying the secret that he might be illegitimate.

Victoria feels insecure about being unfashionable compared to the French ladies. She asked Skerret to get her some rouge. Skerret delegates the task to Miss Coke, who speaks some French and we all learn that French women not only wear more make up than the French but they take veal, put it on their face and then put a leather mask over their faces while they sleep. And you thought K-Beauty had some strange products!

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Painting from this event, by Eugene Lami

Victoria is well received at the French court despite her qualms. When she wears rouge, it creates a bit of a stir. Albert chastises her for that later. He’s disgusted by the artifice of French society. He is out of place there. However, midway through the show, he’s walking in the woods with the French prince and some British nobles. He spies a waterhole and is compelled to disrobe and skinny dip! Soon all the men except the French prince are in the water. Then Victoria and the ladies happen by. Victoria is amused to glimpse Albert frolicking. There’s a rather overdone camera effect with all this diffuse sunshine on Victoria. A more natural effect would have been more fitting.

Back at the castle, Victoria teases Al for his skinny dipping. Then he confides to her how he fears he’s illegitimate and she responds by telling him she doesn’t give a hoot about his pedigree. She loves him.

Albert moves on to another success when he uses a grape metaphor to illustrate how politically bad a marriage between the French prince and a Spanish queen would be for England. King Louis-Philippe concedes and promises our royals they have nothing to worry about.

Back home, the duchess is happy to tuck into some boiled mutton or toast. (She’s far from a foodie.) Albert’s relaxed. And as absence makes the heart grow fonder, Victoria embraces her children with joy. There’s a bit about how Mr. Francatelli’s received a perfumed love letter. Mrs. Skerret feigns indifference.

Then da da da daa, Lord Peele announces that That tricky Louis-Philippe is hitching his son to the Queen of Spain. Seems the trip was a failure. All that seasickness for naught.

As Victoria had nine, count ’em nine, children the episode ends with her telling Albert is is pregnant.

All in all, the episode, which was based on history, was good. I didn’t expect the double cross. I didn’t miss the usual storylines with Skerret’s ungrateful cousin.

Next week we’re to see the Irish Potato Famine.

 

Victoria, Season 2, Ep 3 & 4

Warp & Weft

There was plenty of sadness in the first hour of Victoria this week. The episode began with Lord Peel talking with a phrenology expert, i.e. someone who measures a person’s head to determine by its size and shape his personality. The subject of this study is the guttersnipe, Boy Jones, who snuck inside the palace on several occasions. (Boy Jones’ escapades are based on history.)

This tomfoolery alarmed Albert who began complaining about how poorly the palace is run. There’s poor plumbing, poor budgeting, etc. and Victoria told Albert he could direct his energies on this and so he starts examining the cleanliness of the windows or any waste from the wine cellars, which makes that annoying Mr. Penge think twice.

Though she’s with child Victoria is not going to let that hinder her carrying out her duties, much to Duchess Buccheuch’s dismay. The duchess is particularly shocked that Victoria granted an audience with the silk maker who made her wedding dress. The silk maker wanted to present the queen with information on how the import of cheap silk is putting him and his colleagues out of business. To help the silk makers, ignoring Lord Peel’s and Albert’s advice, Victoria decides to throw a ball and require that her guests come in silk costumes.

Word gets out about the ball and the high price of Victoria’s gown (64,000£) and parliament and the poor are outraged.

Yet the ball starts out wonderfully. Lord M comes and shares a nice moment with Victoria, whom he’s been avoiding since he’s become ill and doesn’t want to worry her. There’s plenty of flirtation and dancing, but also a broken heart. Miss Coke, who’s recently come to the palace with the duchess, has eyes for Prince Ernst, Albert’s brother, but he’s still sweet on his paramour who’s now faithful to her husband.

However, when all the guests are dancing in their finery, the poor are out front of Buckingham Palace screaming for just since they don’t have enough to eat. Coincidentally, in front of the angry mob is Mrs. Skerret’s cousin, who doesn’t care for royalty. I’m not sure whom she left the daughter Skerret financially supports with.

When Victoria sees them she’s shocked and no doubt thinking of Marie Antoinette, who didn’t realize that if you can’t afford bread, cake is not within your price range either. Victoria simply tried to help and it backfired. She’s guilty of poor planning not indifference. There’s a scene with Victoria staring at all the left over food the day after the ball. While I do believe she’d give the remainders to the poor, I don’t think all this food would be left out over night and into the morning.

The episode ends with Victoria learning that Lord M is terminally ill. She visits him in the country bearing a gift of a mechanical musical bird that sings Mozart. It’s a touching scene where their sorrow is communicated more through looks and actions than through words. Bravo.

Finally, to make things worse, Dash, Victoria’s beloved dog is dead. Victoria finds him spread out on the floor when she returns from seeing Lord M. As the Armchair Anglophile points out, a servant should have noticed a dead dog, given that the palace is full of servants. Poor Victoria is distraught. Who can blame her? We’ll all miss Lord M and Dash.

Sins of the Father

Victoria gives birth to her first son, Albert. We’re presented with the typical labor scene and soon Vicki is getting around in that stroller for new moms. As with her daughter, Victoria finds it hard to find pleasure in her newborn. She thinks babies look like frogs when they’re first born. She falls into postpartum depression and there’s little help available. I was glad that they didn’t just give her some drug that knocks one out. As queen, the courtiers urge her to buck up, but she wasn’t removed to an asylum as was sometimes done in the era. (See this article.)

The big event in this episode is that Prince Albert’s father died. Hoping to lift her spirits, Victoria asks to go with Albert, but he thinks the journey is too exhausting for a new mother so he goes solo.

In Coberg, Albert sees his troublemaking Uncle Leopald, who can’t resist the temptation to make things worse for Albert so he plants the seed that Albert is illegitimate into his nephew’s head. Since his parents were estranged for much of his growing up, Albert believes this. It sure makes for a sensational story, but according to this article*, it’s impossible. Albert also worries that his children would be illegitimate. Well, no. Since Albert and Victoria are married they wouldn’t be, but a checkered past wouldn’t help Albert with the gossip-mongers.

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Albert, hist mother and brother Ernst

Back in London, Lord Peel tries to get Victoria back into action. With her first child, she couldn’t wait to be out and about, now she’s so languid and depressed. It’s not till a bomb explodes at the Tower of London and the Queen should visit and console the injured. She realizes she must, so Victoria forces herself out and does cheer up the wounded. It does them all a world of good. Is this an oversimplification of depression? Perhaps, but I found it plausible and can still offer sympathy to those suffering with it.

Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London 1841 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

J.M.W. Turner’s Fire at the Tower of London, 1841

To get an idea of the scope of the fire, I did some research. It was bigger than I imagined from the program. There was a fatality and some injuries. The fire raged from 11:30 pm till about 4 am the next day. J.M.W. Turner made several sketches of it.

Albert returns and matters turn to the poor run of the household. Rumors have gotten out about the royal family and the servants are suspected. The scandal is about Boy Jones, the guttersnipe who’s wily enough to somehow get into the palace. This was a real historical event. Heads may roll.

Since the chef Francatelli is spending freely and buying some luxuries he’s the prime suspect. However, Mrs. Skerret is sweet on him and confesses that her no-good cousin, who’s now drinking too much and continuing to just sponge off Skerret has been selling stories to the tabloids. I’m not alone in thinking this storyline has been week. Victoria felt she had to fire Skerret, though she admits the ladies’ maid has done a better job than any before her. It seems the norm, even today. However, upon his return, Albert insists Skerret gets a second chance, which was nice, but hard to believe since Albert is so concerned about security.

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Anyone catch the breed?

Victoria gets a new puppy from a royal in Muscat, who originally thought of sending something like a tiger. Really? Check with people, even royals before you send them an animal. The puppy does seem to work wonders for her mood. I love the program so I’m not going to analyze whether animals are that therapeutic. I know in many ways they are.


* The article appeared in The Sun, which is a sensationalist paper. My take is if they don’t think Albert was illegitimate, he wasn’t.

Interactive Television

Back in the 1990s, when I worked at DDB Needham, Kevin, my boss and friend, knew that I was interested in screenwriting and he suggested I create a show for Viacom, which had three networks: MTV, VH1 and at least one other channel at the time. This show would emulate an interactive book where at different stages a choice would be posed to the viewers and they’d have to decide what the character should do. Then they’d be directed to change the channel to see the consequences of that decision. I designed some stories. Kevin knew someone at MTV and soon we were in contact.

The executive was a bit curious, but didn’t understand what technology was needed. The answer was simple: their remote. People would just change the channel to see the consequences of their decision.

Well, fast forward to today. HBO and Steven Soderbergh have come up with Mosaic, an interactive story which uses people’s phones and an app to view this show. Soderbergh’s got a reputation for good story telling so it should be well written and more than just a gimmick. Computer games have been around long enough so people expect quality. However, I’m not a big fan of HBO’s cursing and dark view of life so I’m not sure I’ll watch. Well, maybe if friends say it’s worthwhile.

12 Days of Christmas Stories, #4

Doctor Who Last Christmas is an outstanding episode, that’s funny, mind-bending, and emotionally satisfying. It delivers smart science-fi that makes you think about our dreams and our dreams within dreams. We see Clara missing her boyfriend Danny, who had died (I haven’t seen that episode. I’m quite behind in my Doctor Who viewing. As usual Peter Capaldi is a frantic, whip smart and yet annoying Doctor, who usually makes a good point when you think about it.

It’s got the gross monstrous villains you expect. The twists and turns that make the plot unpredictable and moments between Clara and Danny and the Doctor and Clara that provide emotion that’s more real than what’s on a lot of television. It does a lot of questioning our dream states that was compelling.

Oh, and Santa, Santa and elves with attitude and smarts feature prominently.

You can find it on Amazon or DVD. Give it a watch!