If you just finished watching The Crown and are craving more British royal drama, the second season of Victoria is premiering on PBS Masterpiece on Jan. 14. Jenna Coleman is back as the young monarch, who's now a wife and mother. But how accurate is Victoria Season 2?
The series is based on the life and experiences of England's second longest-sitting monarch (after the currently reigning Queen Elizabeth II), but the show's relationship to real life and real events can be broadly drawn at times. Victoria (creator: Daisy Goodwin) condenses some events and changes others for the sake of creating a more succinct and compelling story. Back when the first season premiered, producer Damien Timmer said to The Telegraph, "Queen Victoria’s court is the perfect setting for an epic drama — a seething hotbed of scandal, corruption and romantic intrigue, involving everyone from the humblest dresser to the Mistress of the Robes, the lowliest bootboy to the Lord Chamberlain." But while the series has incorporated real happenings from Victoria's reign, it has also made some changes to history.
For example, in the first season, the show suggested that Queen Victoria had romantic feelings for Lord Melbourne — but according to what Professor Jane Ridley wrote for The Telegraph, that's likely not true. Based on the queen's journals in that period, "She worshipped [Melbourne] as the father figure she had never had," Ridley said, rather than fixating on him as a romantic prospect. "Melbourne was urbane and witty, but at 60 he wasn’t nearly as handsome as [actor] Rufus Sewell," she explained. As the first season continued, of course, Victoria was courted by and married Prince Albert.
Of course, the only evidence historians have of Victoria's personal thoughts during this era are those journals. The rest must be imagined. In the advance of the Victoria Season 2 finale airing in the UK, Goodwin wrote an article for Radio Times called "How I struck a balance between drama and historical accuracy." In the piece, Goodwin explained that as a history student and Victorian obsessive, "I was astonished to find a breathless teenager writing about how handsome her darling Albert looked 'in his white cashmere breeches (nothing underneath).'"
Goodwin wrote, "My challenge was to reveal a woman we recognize underneath the corset and tiara. And the writer's way of doing so isn't always to stay totally faithful to Victoria's many journals and personal accounts. "I read her diaries and letters not as holy writ, but as the words of a somewhat unreliable narrator," Goodwin continued. For example, when the Duchess of Baccleuch became Victoria's Mistress of the Robes, she was slightly more experienced as a wife and mother, so it makes sense that she'd be a bit of a mentor to Victoria — even though the actor who plays her, Diana Rigg, is roughly 50 years older than the real Duchess would have been at the time. But as Goodwin explained, "My rule is that I can change the odd date, move people around here and there, so long as I am faithful to the emotional truth of the characters." And according to Goodwin, that storyline will tackle Queen Victoria's recovery from pregnancy, which may have tipped over into postpartum depression, though there of course was no name for that in her time.
Meanwhile, certain plots in Victoria may seem impossible, but are actually based directly on real events, like the several assassination attempts the monarch survived. More assassination attempts will be worked into Season 2 (it's no spoiler to say that the queen, who lived until 1901, will survive until the end of her eponymous series). The show's Christmas special also details the true story of Sarah Bonetta, Queen Victoria's goddaughter, a Yoruba princess who was enslaved before joining the royal court. Goodwin told Digital Spy, "I'm trying to challenge people's perspectives of what the Victorian period is." And small, incredible details, such as Victoria's chainmail-laced parasol, are totally real. The parasol is an artifact preserved by the Royal Collection Trust.
Goodwin wrote in the previously mentioned Radio Times article, "My challenge in Victoria is always to keep the balance between drama and accuracy." Sometimes, the most dramatic choice is actually the most accurate one. But even when it's not, Victoria is putting emotional truth over physical truth.