Victoria makes a risky marriage proposal
Credit: ITV
S1 E2
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It may be the queen’s kingdom, but it’s a man’s world — and this week, the men want Victoria to get married. They won’t stop talking about it: behind her back, to her face, during a rebellion, while she cries. The men in Victoria’s life want power, and they figure a wedding is the best way to get it, so they push the young queen from the arms of one suitor into the arms of another. If marriage is a political game, that game is starting to feel like a 19th-century version of The Bachelorette. But what if Victoria doesn’t like the rules?

Against everyone’s advice, Victoria gives her first impression rose to Melbourne, who’s basically the Chris Harrison of this scenario. She even tells him that when they first met, she saw him as the father she never had — a bad start to any proposal. Given her drunken confession at the coronation ball, it’s clear that Victoria’s feelings for Lord M started to shift quickly, but until now, she never seriously considered marrying him. What changed? Probably being told that she couldn’t. Victoria’s visiting uncle, King Leopold of Belgium (Alex Jennings), corners her in a carriage and asks if she’s under the illusion that Melbourne could ever be more than her prime minister. She is now, Leo.

Not soon after that little chat, Lord M happens to mention to Victoria that the country would love it if she picked an English husband. He’s talking about Prince George, Cumberland’s nephew — and thus Cumberland’s hot new power play, now that he’s abandoned his plan to convince everyone that Victoria is unfit to serve. But Victoria takes Melbourne’s advice differently, and before he can say, “Look at that rook,” she’s visiting him at Brocket Hall to tell him that he’s the only man she wants to be with. This is obviously where Victoria takes a detour from history, but it would be taking an even bigger detour from common sense if it never acknowledged Rufus Sewell’s chemistry with Jenna Coleman.

But some relationships just aren’t meant to be. Lord M turns down Victoria’s proposal, claiming to be hung up on the memory of his late wife: “Like a rook, I mate for life.” As his friend Lady Emma (Anna Wilson-Jones) later points out to the queen, that’s a convenient excuse, and it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Melbourne admits as much when he dances with Victoria at a costume ball. She comes dressed as Elizabeth I. He dresses as the Earl of Leicester, Elizabeth’s companion. Like Melbourne, Leicester lost his wife. “I think both he and the queen understood that they were not in a position to marry,” Lord M says, “whate’er their inclination.” He really does elide a syllable in “whatever.” Someone’s getting into character.

If Shakespeare over here is out of the picture, Victoria does have other options. Cumberland keeps pushing for Prince George, who bickers with the Grand Duke at public events. The queen is more baffled than charmed by their antics. She thinks George is too full of himself, a theory he proves at the costume ball, where she overhears him calling her a “midget” and whining that he wouldn’t even be master of their house. No rose for Prince George. The Grand Duke, who appreciates the need for a good opera cry, actually goes a long way toward redeeming himself after getting handsy at the coronation ball, but his father winds up calling him back to Petersburg to marry a Danish princess. He can’t even remember her name.

NEXT: You have your cousins, and then you have your first cousins…

As for Leopold, he wants Victoria’s permission to send for his nephew — her cousin — Prince Albert. Victoria resists; she met him once and found him boring. (“He didn’t smile, he didn’t dance, and he fell asleep at half past nine.”) The fact that Sir John is on Team Albert probably doesn’t help. Victoria figures that Sir John plans on advising Albert, and she isn’t marrying anyone who fits in the comptroller’s pocket. Sensing that he’s run out of options, Sir John offers to retire to his Irish estate if Victoria does something for him in return.

The queen has been busy lately. There’s been an uprising in Newport, Wales, by a group known as the Chartists, whose charter is a list of “impossible” demands like universal suffrage and secret ballots. Every rioter who wasn’t killed in the Newport Rising is sentenced to a traitor’s death — hanging, drawing, and quartering — which Victoria finds just a little bit harsh. Mrs. Jenkins agrees; her nephew is one of the men about to die. When Victoria sees Mrs. Jenkins’ horror, she realizes that she’s not the only one who feels the punishment doesn’t match the crime. Lord M points out that, as queen, she can commute their sentence (she really would be lost without him), so she does, sending the rioters to Australia instead.

Empowered, Victoria marches up to Sir John and the Duchess in the garden. The queen acts like she and Sir John have already worked out the terms of his retirement — he’ll get a pension and an Irish title — but she’s clearly springing those details on him for the first time, daring him to contradict her in front of her mother. It would almost be harsh, if I liked him at all. The Duchess can’t believe that he would leave her for some money, but Sir John argues that he’s leaving out of love for her: Victoria will be more generous to her mother if he’s out of the picture. Does he have a heart, or is this just another power play?

Whatever his motives, at least he’ll be out of Victoria’s hair. And he’s right: Her relationship with her mother is better when he’s gone. Victoria raises her mother’s allowance (!) and brings her a gift, then cries on her shoulder. She’s worried she’ll never be happy. She tells Lord M that she’s decided to follow Elizabeth’s example and rule alone — with the occasional companion — but Melbourne knows what that means. She’d rather be alone with him than marry anyone else. But Leopold sent for Albert without the queen’s permission, and Lord M suggests that for the sake of her own happiness, she should at least give him a fair chance. Judging by Victoria and Albert’s electric reunion at her piano (and, you know, history books), I think she’ll give him more than that.

Royal scraps:

  • Episode 2’s wardrobe highlight is easily Victoria’s riding outfit, complete with top hat.
  • Francetelli is still harassing Skerrett, who says her only job at the brothel was to do the ladies’ laundry.
  • “I do not think marriage between first cousins is wise.” Thank you, Lord M.
  • At least he finally got some time with his rooks.
  • “You always say that illness is for people with nothing better to do.”
  • “Please talk to me and not your lap dog.”
  • “It’s Lancelot, actually.”
  • “Oh it is you, ma’am. I couldn’t tell.”

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