Victoria on Masterpiece

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Premieres Sunday, January 15th at 9p on WVIA-TV

WVIA Passport members will have all 7 episodes available for streaming starting on Sunday, January 15 at 9PM — the same time as the series premiere.

The image of Queen Victoria seared into popular culture is one of an older, dour woman, swathed in black, looking as if she never cracked a smile.

So when Jenna Coleman (“Dr. Who”), a beautiful slip of a woman, portrays her as joyful, it’s jolting.  At 18 — still known as Alexandrina, and playing with dolls — she’s awakened one morning and informed she is now queen of England.

MASTERPIECE’s “Victoria” seduces us into a world where the petite queen taps inner strength. The seven episodes, premiering Jan. 15, offer grand sets, lush countryside, castle intrigue and a study of private lives that shaped history.

As viewers of Sunday night PBS dramas will note, “Victoria” takes the hallowed timeslot that belonged to “Downton Abbey.” Will this replace “Downton” in everyone’s hearts? No, nor should it.  They are separate though linked by era. “Downton” began a decade after Victoria died and her influence lingered.

Writer Daisy Goodwin didn’t need to fictionalize much about Victoria’s 63-year reign. When, as Goodwin notes, women were “the legal property of their husbands, so that makes it even all the more extraordinary that this 18‑year‑old girl is the most powerful person in the country.”

Of course Victoria proved up to the challenge, despite being surrounded by relatives with the worst intentions. She musters the calm dignity of a true leader.

“I know I am young and some would say my sex puts me at a disadvantage,” Victoria says facing her critics. “But I assure you I am ready for the great responsibility that lies before me.”

Victoria recognizes she knows precious little, relying heavily on Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell) as her tutor, confidante and protector.

Coleman came to know Victoria through the queen’s diaries — 62 million words of them.

“Her vivacious nature just comes out on the page,” Coleman says. “She writes in capitals when she's excited. She underlines, underlines, underlines.  You can kind of see her passionate nature on the page.”

And in every scene, especially when she and her first cousin, Prince Albert (Tom Hughes), fall in love at first dance. (She found him dull the first time they met years earlier.)

Her enemies plot to claim she’s insane. She bests them. Victoria may be quaking internally but she does not blink, those giant blue eyes focus on whoever threatens her. In this case, her Uncle Leopold orders her to marry, so the husband can advise her.

“I think you forget I am of a royal line that stretches back a thousand years,” she tells him. “Whereas you are the king of Belgium, which did not exist a decade ago.”

Victoria marries his son — not because Leopold mandates, but because she loves Albert. For an ostensibly cold and somewhat effete German, he gives off a lot of heat. Though Albert initially balks at being the queen’s consort, he finds his way.

When they decide to marry, Albert says, “For me this is not a marriage of convenience.” To which Victoria replies, “No, I think it will be a marriage of inconvenience.”

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