The new seven-part Masterpiece series Victoria stars Jenna Coleman — already royalty as part of the Doctor Who mythology — as the young Queen Victoria. Victoria came to the throne at the age of 18 and apparently nursed a crush on her adviser, Lord Melbourne, as who would not, since he’s played here by Rufus Sewell at his most hunky-polite. Based on the historical novel by Daisy Goodwin, this production seems to strive for a cross between Gossip Girl and Downton Abbey, and is thus an amusing trifle.
Wearing a crown that looks like a gigantic, bejeweled wedding cake, Coleman’s Victoria is alternately shrewdly clever and melodramatically emotional. The early episodes emphasize how smitten Victoria was with Melbourne before shifting our attention to her courtship by, and subsequent marriage to, Prince Albert (Tom Hughes). Much of the time, historical events are secondary in this drama to Victoria’s emotional state. There are also a good many subplots involving the downstairs part of the royal palace’s upstairs-downstairs organization — the producers have learned that audiences really like to see the contrast between upper-crust and the working class, even if the latter doesn’t really have much of a place in this particular saga.
Coleman is very good at portraying both sides of the Victoria depicted here: nervous adolescent romantic and intelligent, wily influencer of government policy. The series was so popular when it aired in England that a second season has already been commissioned, so if you get hooked on Victoria this weekend, there’ll be more where this came from.
Victoria airs Sunday nights on Masterpiece at 9 p.m. on PBS.