Victoria Season 2 begins on Masterpiece on Sunday, January 14. But before the new season kicks off, here's a quick review of the story so far.
Victoria: "You don't think I'm too short to be dignified?
Once upon a time... There was a show called Downton Abbey.
Ok, that's not quite fair. ITV did not 100% develop Victoria as a Downton Abbey replacement. But with the choice, both by ITV and PBS, to have the new series go directly into the newly emptied Downton time slot, a show which was another period piece, once again focusing on the historical aristocracy, with an "upstairs/downstairs" format, the comparisons were inevitable. And in many ways not to Victoria's benefit.
Downton Abbey was complete historical fiction, not based on a real family or real people. If anything, Victoria should be compared to The Crown over on Netflix.
Both are fictionalized stories of England's longest reigning queens, both play fast and loose with the details while still aiming to hit the proper tone. But while The Crown is stiff and respectful (as the main character does happen to still be alive), Victoria is more willing to show their lead character as spoiled and silly, even as she struggles with the being a matriarch in a very firmly set patriarchy.
The result has been something fans tuning in for more serious Downton might not have expected: a romantic sudser, resplendent in period costumes and hairdos, with a few historical references to the time period thrown in for good measure and local color, and just not that willing to take itself completely seriously. With Season 2 promising to improve on the formula, let us remind ourselves where we last were when we last saw our Queen.
Victoria: "So everyone who wants to send a letter... will have to lick my face?"
Once upon a time...
Season 1 started, as all good royal stories do, with Victoria's ascension to the throne at the age of 18. Overly sheltered, not politically savvy, and so unimaginative she names her dolls by number, she is utterly unprepared for the experience. Her mother, and her mother's man, Sir John Conroy, are on one side thinking they can rule from behind the throne. Her uncle Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, is on another, thinking that if he can't rule from behind the throne, he can at least have her removed so he can inherit. On the final side, Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister, the Queen's only selfless assistant, and Victoria's first crush. Got all that?
In short order, Victoria disposes of her mother's manipulations, puts her uncle (and his marriage offering, his son George) in their places, and tries to marry Melbourne instead, who is blessedly too intelligent to go for it. It wouldn't have been a long marriage anyway, because, by episode 3, the man who would be the love of her life has entered the picture, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. (Her first cousin, but nevermind.)
By the halfway point of the first season, Victoria and Albert are married, and the true soap opera begins. Albert only lived 20 years after they were married (Spoiler alert), but during that time they had no less than nine children. The back half of Season 1 sees Victoria undergoing pregnancy for the first time, and trying to balance building a human being from scratch with her own body while also running the United Kingdom during the height of its power. While Albert spends time struggling with being useless, his nose for modernity portrayed on the show was real, along with being a fabulous excuse to introduce new technology along the way.
If that wasn't enough, we have the parallel romance of Albert's brother Ernest, who has fallen deeply in love with the already married Duchess of Sutherland. Unlike Victoria and Albert, theirs is an affair that can only end unhappily, with longing looks and Victorian-style repression all around.
Baroness: “You will not be following your mother’s example?”
Victoria: “She was not a queen, and I am not a cow.”
Meanwhile, downstairs follows the story of Ms. Eliza Skerrett, who is hired on as one of the Queen's maids. Eliza is not actually who she claims to be. The Palace hired Eliza Skerrett, but the real one got pregnant out of wedlock before her first day of work, so her cousin, whose name is Nancy, turned up instead, and is supporting all three of them on the one salary. This doesn't stop all the eligible men downstairs from falling in love with her, though it's the famous palace chef, Mr. Francatelli, who might actually have had a shot at her if he hadn't decided to leave the palace and try for fame in a high-end restaurant by the end of Season 1.
Nancy refused to go with him, not wanting to risk her income, especially when marriage was not on the table. That leaves her still working the downstairs routine when we return along with Mrs. Jenkins, the Queen's head dresser, Brodie, the young footman with Shakespearean ideals, and the bitter butler Mr. Penge.
By the end of the season, Victoria has had her first child, a girl, (who will also be named Victoria.) She doesn't die in childbirth, to the relief of everyone involved, except her poor uncle, the Duke of Cumberland. Season 2 will pick up only weeks later, as she and Albert learn to balance parenting along with everything else that's been thrown their way. There's also the matter of the Baroness Lehzen and her very old-fashioned ideas of how to raise children versus Albert's plans of modernity in maternity. We'll have to see who wins that fight before, soon enough, baby number two starts gestating along.
Victoria Season 2 airs on Sundays starting January 14, 2018, at 9 p.m. ET, on most local PBS stations. Check your local listings.