The new series of ITV's royal drama Victoria opens one month after the end of series one. While Victoria (Jenna Coleman) has been recovering from childbirth, Albert (Tom Hughes) has been presiding over the Queen's kingdom. When confinement becomes too much for the eager Queen, she forces her way back into her role as ruler, only to find that her time away was much isolating than she thought. On top of it all, Victoria is faced with a political crisis as the British military in Afghanistan must retreat from their mission.
The second series of Victoria offers more than just beautiful dresses and period-specific decor (although not too much more). Although the plot gushes melodrama (sometimes just too Upstairs Downstairs for my taste) and often lacks any substance, the strength of the show comes from the wonderfully rounded, complex, and powerful titular character (played gorgeously by Jenna Coleman). Many programs, movies, and series today try to capture the complexity of a strong woman and her place in a man's world. Some succeed, and some fail miserably. The sheer nature of Victoria (a very uppity costume drama) automatically raises the red flag, yet to my absolute surprise, Victoria sets the bar high in feminist literature. Despite her small stature, Daisy Goodwin's Victoria dominates the throng of pushy, "think they know it all" men surrounding her. She doesn't give up her responsibilities as Queen for motherhood (in fact, she kinda hates motherhood). She's strong willed, intelligent, commanding, regal, all the while being caring, sensitive, insecure. She's a feminist icon (and, quite frankly, my new hero). Goodwin has completely captured the essence of the modern women in the historical Queen. (Perhaps that's a testament to why we need more women screenwriters writing female roles).
Jenna Coleman continues the arch of this fabulous character with a nuanced and skilled performance. The subtleties of Coleman's performance -- her wide eyes, sly glances, stern expressions --- reveal exactly what the Queen is thinking, feeling, and confirming without her having to say a word. She doesn't let her her tiny frame, compared to the overbearing stature of the men, affect her control of a scene, rather it just shows the power she has over these (metaphorically) tiny men. She may be small, but her strength can fill a room. It's a wonderful performance that shows a wide range of Coleman's skill as an actor.
Victoria further stuns, much like the first series, with its gorgeous costume and set designs. It's clear why Britain gets the reputation of being the country of costume dramas -- because they're so good at it. Similar to how Downton Abbey made its mark on television history, the costuming and sets are executed to the most meticulous details, bringing a stunning life Victorian England. If there is any reason to watch Victoria, it's to appreciate the craftsmanship of the production.
Despite its rather mundane plot and sometimes overly melodramatic nature (it is a costume drama, after all), Victoria flourishes with a beautiful production and well-rounded Queen. The stunning performances and pretty dresses are really the only reason I will keep watching, though.
Victoria airs on ITV Sunday evenings at 9.05.