Following the success of The Crown, the critically acclaimed Netflix show about the Windsors, the appetite for royal dramas shows no sign of abating. Victoria, the new PBS Masterpiece series airing this month and starring British actors Jenna Coleman as the queen, Tom Hughes as Prince Albert, and Rufus Sewell as prime minister Lord Melbourne, does not stint on lavish locations. For the country-house fan, the show offers a whirlwind tour of some of Yorkshire’s most famous stately homes. Castle Howard, Carlton Towers, Bramham Park, and Wentworth Woodhouse stand in for such royal residences as Kensington Palace and Windsor Castle.
“Victoria was an unlikely character,” says Coleman when I meet her at London’s Covent Garden Hotel for tea. “She grew up very isolated and then became the most powerful woman in the world overnight. She was so inexperienced, so inconsistent—apparently she even threw scissors at her governess! But through all her flaws her core was good. Her diaries show that there was a pureness to her, a will to do a good job.”
I watched the series with one eye on the screen and another stuck into a fascinating new biography—Victoria: The Queen (Random House), by Julia Baird—that reflects Goodwin’s view that while Victoria was “the first woman to have it all,” she could also be “a mean girl. She was very troubled and tempestuous,” often lashing out at those close to her. A fascinating episode covers the scandal of Lady Flora Hastings, a lady-in-waiting whom court rivals accused of becoming pregnant by Sir John Conroy after she developed a swollen abdomen. The queen insisted that Hastings, who was a virgin, undergo a humiliating series of medical examinations. When she died soon afterward, it was revealed she was suffering from a horribly enlarged liver.