Victoria & Albert was a two-part British-American series which aired over two nights from 26/27 August 2001 on the BBC and focused on the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert from their first meeting as teenagers to his death in 1861. The series starred Victoria Hamilton as Queen Victoria and Jonathan Firth as Prince Albert, as well as famous faces from British stage and screen, such as Diana Rigg, Peter Ustinov and Penelope Wilton.
Diana Rigg, who played Baroness Lehzen, was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie. Maria Price, the costume designer, won an Emmy for Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special in 2002.
The series raised a few eyebrows when it showed Albert and Victoria in bed on their honeymoon but producer David Cunliffe wanted to show the passionate nature of their marriage. Queen Victoria wrote in her diary about how blessed she had felt on her wedding night and there is no doubt the marriage was a fruitful one with the birth of nine children. However, while the series shows Victoria falling deeply in love with Albert, the prince is far more reserved and doesn’t return her love until much later. Since the focus is primarily on the relationship between the royal couple, the political situation is mainly ignored and the usual famous events in Victoria’s early reign, such as the Bedchamber Crisis, are hinted at or ignored completely since there is no room for them. After the birth of the Princess Royal, the story skips ahead ten years to the Great Exhibition which is Albert’s crowning achievement but also the beginning of his decline in health.
Once the Exhibition is complete, there’s another ten year jump to 1861 and Queen Victoria’s very own annus horribilis begins with the death of her mother and ends with the death of her beloved husband. Albert’s death scenes are quite moving and Victoria’s grief is heart wrenching to witness. The performances are good enough but they don’t quite click and there’s not a German accent in sight. The character of Victoria is quite meek and while this is understandable when she is a virtual prisoner at Kensington Palace, she never really breaks out of it and often lacks real spirit.
The costumes are beautiful, although the jewellery leaves a lot to be desired but the budget probably didn’t stretch to the real thing. The DVD has a special feature where costume designer Maria Price discusses how they had to bind Victoria Hamilton’s breasts for her scenes as the teenage Princess Victoria and shows the different sized padding used for Victoria’s changing figure throughout the series.