Victoria: a welcome return for royal lite

Victoria swept back on to our screens in all its chocolate box glory last night and left a rather sweet taste in its wake. The ITV series, telling the story of Britain's second longest reigning monarch, returned with plenty of passion and pizzazz to earn its place in the autumn viewing schedules. It might be created firmly in the tradition of Sunday night drama, Upstairs Downstairs with crowns, but why tamper with a formula that works?

Series two began with Victoria recovering from the birth of her first child. We got a suitably dramatic curtain raiser for the queen who appeared on our screens again wrapped up in blankets in a wheelchair before deftly springing from her carriage and down the steps to wrestle back power from the men who had been minding the shop while she gave birth. Looking improbably slim and well rested for a woman who had delivered just weeks earlier, Victoria was soon sweeping husbands, Prime Ministers and minor nobles out of her way and telling them off perkily if politely for keeping her in the dark about politics.

Episode one, ' A Soldier's Daughter', was all about the dilemmas faced by your average queen who just wants to rule when society expects her to stay in the nursery. Victoria made it clear she wasn't going anywhere near nappies by wearing bright white dresses that would never get clean from baby stains and asking her former Mistress of the Robes whether parents actually liked their children.  She also spent a lot of time chasing Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) and new Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel (Nigel Lindsay) around army parades and dusty corridors to let them know they weren't going to go about governing without her.  There was plenty of talk about Afghanistan and some moody ice drenched moments while the queen reestablished her authority by showing her support for her army there. And Victoria, played with as much feistiness and fun as before by Jenna Coleman, soon had the reigns of powers back in her hands while everyone around her professed to love her beyond measure. Not a bad evening's work all round.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast were painting by numbers but doing it very well. Diana Rigg was all dragon as she all but stole the show with her portrayal of the Duchess of Buccleuch as new Mistress of the Robes. Her entrance into court, complete with dramatic curtsey, is already one of the highlights of the series. The below stairs simmer between Skerrett (Nell Hudson) and Francatelli (Ferdinand Kingsley) went cold then lukewarm again as the chef was finally lured back to the Buck House kitchens. And Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland (Margaret Clunie) took her leave of her devoted Victoria in a rather odd headdress which she then wore to say hello again to Albert's brother, Ernst (David Oakes), and get tensions bubbling again there.

There are still creekingly odd moments. Below stairs, Craddock (Peter Forbes) was dramatically disarmed of a knife as he threatened to damage a member of staff only to be told to return to his work. Which saw him immediately pick up another knife and start chopping veggies without anyone raising an eyebrow. Victoria gave a rousing speech to her assembled people, a crowd consisting of at least a dozen extras in brown, from a boat so far from the shore that it was impossible they could have heard a single word. Meanwhile, Wellington (Peter Bowles) was presumed to be so recognisable and famous that no one addressed him as anything other than Duke. 

But these are minor points. Victoria is royal story telling lite and it does it very well. It all ended happily ever after with the christening of baby Victoria and a love scene between queen and consort which is bound to lead to another royal baby before anyone is much older. Let's face it, no one wants to spend Sunday night wading through the finer points of her reign and this rather glamourous telling is fun, fast moving and fact filled enough to do the job. Series two benefits from having to spend less time scene setting and promises much. And that's before we get to Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell) who was notable by his absence in episode one but who will return, breeches and all. Victoria is back, long may she reign.

Photo credit: victoriaseries Instagram.