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13 reasons why book differences

NETFLIX 13 Reasons Why: Book/Show Review

Recently I read the new story collection, “You Think It, I’ll say It”, by Curtis Sittenfeld, whose work often features adult women still seething at the injustices of high school.

It made me want to watch Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, based on Jay Asher’s 2007 YA novel about a teenage girl, Hannah Baker, who leaves a suicide note blaming her classmates before taking her own life. Her ‘note’ is actually a set of audio tapes, passed between thirteen recipients under threat of being exposed by a third party.

As nice kid Clay Jensen listens to the tapes, trying to figure out his place in the story, Hannah’s tale unspools in flashbacks. Played by Katherine Langford, she’s prettier and sweeter than an uptight, petty Sittenfeld heroine.

Each tape focuses on one individual, and a whole episode is devoted to that character and about what Hannah says they did wrong, and about everything that was going wrong in their own lives, which, we discover, was a lot…

Because we move from mean girls and school cliques to sexual harassment, multiple rapes, victim blaming, abusive parents, fatal car crashes, gun incidents, drug addiction, self-harm and more. It seems like a lot of problems for a dozen or so under-18s, even if the cast do look more like 25.

Netflix even nightmared up a second season/sequel to Asher’s book where Clay – now straight-up cray – develops a saviour complex and runs an amateur rehab clinic under his parents’ noses, while Hannah’s absentee parents sue the school whose teachers lazily ignored a brutal culture of bullying and rape.

Supposedly a ‘realistic’ portrayal of teen life, they’re all feverishly conforming to that TV contrivance of ‘protecting’ their parents from reality, and being a ‘good kid’. Oh Netflix! We’re a few weeks into the UK summer vacation, and all I’ve heard are teenagers complaining about boredom and being unable to find any clean underwear!

That’s the immature demographic Netflix are targeting – and winning, by being edgy and smugly socially important. I get that certain aspects – such as the bullying and social pressures – hit home for many young female viewers, but the show is so implausible, bleak and slow-moving that I don’t get the appeal.

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (2007)

After ditching the show before the end of Season 2, I was curious about the novel, so I checked the YA section in my local bookshop. “We’re not allowed to shelve that in YA!” cried 51syyO7qB5L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgthe sales assistant, nearly fainting, although he agreed it’s marketed at young people.

It was sold out, anyway.

Asher’s book is both gentler and sadder than the series. Instead of cramming in every social issue, it’s tightly focused on the mind of one suicidal girl, and Clay’s rising horror as he listens to the tapes over a single night.

At times their voices merge confusingly into one, and the premise still feels a touch far-fetched; I think if you have a dozen kids involved, somebody would have confided to a parent.

The school isn’t radioactive, but bullying goes on everywhere, and ongoing exposure can be a factor in suicidal behaviour. The book nails how hurtful gossip and rumours can be, and how one or two malevolent individuals, or pack leaders, can dominate a school or group.

Hannah clearly felt victimized, but as he listens Clay contradicts her – not because she’s a liar, but because of her mental state. He listens, powerless, as tape Hannah goes down a reckless, self-destructive path. (“You knew it was the worst choice possible….You wanted your world to collapse around you. You wanted everything to get as dark as possible.”)

He remembers Hannah withdrawing and avoiding eye contact, but he avoided talking to her partly because of what other kids would say if they knew he liked her. He had no idea who she really was; he just believed what other people said. Then all the chances were gone.

It’s a bittersweet coming-of-age, and I think the message is less about trying to ‘save’ others, as it is to reach out, and be friendly and undaunted by toxic peer groups. Maybe schools and colleges could be easier for the Hannah Bakers of the world.

The number for the Samaritans in the UK is 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Further international suicide helplines can be found at http://www.befrienders.org.

Mudbound – historical page-turner becomes solemn NETFLIX prestige

“Mudbound is the Oscar movie we need right now,” admonished The Washington Post.

The female-helmed drama about two families – one white, the other black – living side by side in the Jim Crow South, seems to embody the term “Oscar bait”, with its all-star cast and script adapted from Hillary Jordan’s 2006 Bellwether Prize-winner (for ‘socially engaged fiction’).

It is also extremely well-timed; it follows in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, and appears during a season when the industry is under scrutiny for its systemic sexism.

One snag – Mudbound is distributed by the inexperienced awards player Netflix, and voters apparently remain sniffy about a streaming service project that shuns traditional theatrical runs.

There was a landslide of articles emphasizing the tough shoot and the transformation of star Mary J. Blige, and warning voters that the movie should not be overlooked.

For me, Mudbound’s Netflix berth (there were no other takers following its Sundance premiere) meant I actually got to see it – while I can’t compare it to its competition, as Oscar movies tend to reach UK screens after awards season.

Narrated by members of both the McAllan and the Jackson families, the story unfolds when stubborn Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) drags his prim wife Laura (a simpering Carey Mulligan) and their small children to a dilapidated shack/farm in the Mississippi Delta, where the frequent rains leave them stranded in acres of mud.

The lives become entangled with those of their share tenants, Hap and Florence Jackson (Blige), who keep house for the McAllans. Their voices are joined by Henry’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and the Jackson’s son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), who are both returning from WWII Europe.

The veterans form a bond that riles racist McAllan patriarch Pappy, while Laura becomes infatuated with her brother-in-law (although unlike the prickly character of Laura in the book, she doesn’t check his shirts for lipstick, or take her frustrations out on Florence).

Some writers have described the movie as focused on Florence and Laura as two Strong Women whose differing views of the world are shaped by race and class. According to Refinery39, “both women…feel the growing weight of a patriarchal society bearing down on their shoulders...”

This is an interesting projection, as writer-director Dee Rees concentrates on the friendship between two men. 6’2 leading man Hedlund’s Jamie is portrayed as more heroic and enlightened, while Ronsel (as played by quirky little character actor Mitchell) is far less remarkable than his book counterpart.

There is a frightening and brutal scene near the end, but so much of Jordan’s historical page-turner has been cut (including a drunken Jamie’s comic encounter with a hapless cow) that I can’t work out why the movie is still a two hour-plus slog.

With a small budget and short shoot, it has a sparse yet epic feel, especially in the flashback scenes, and we get lots of stunning farmland vistas courtesy of Rachel Morrison’s cinematography (the first woman to be Oscar nominated in the category).

Blige got a best supporting actress nod for doing little more than look dignified with her arms crossed, while Dee Rees earned an adapted screenplay nomination for turning a compulsively readable historical suspense into solemn prestige.

TV REVIEW: King Charles III on BBC2 and PBS

charlesiii

BBC/Drama Republic

When “Charles III” trended on Twitter last Wednesday there were probably more than a few people who feared that an era had ended.

Luckily, Wednesday’s tweets were about the BBC TV adaptation of Mike Bartlett’s award-winning future history play.

After the glossy Netflix hit The Crown, and ITV’s vapid Victoria, it was a more unsettling production. First staged in 2014, it imagines the current Prince of Wales as a tormented ruler who causes constitutional chaos by refusing to grant Royal Assent to a bill passed by Parliament.

What draconian new law upsets Charles so much he’d risk the monarchy? Banning homeopathy on the NHS? War on one of his other pet causes? Nope, he’s royally peeved about a nasty bit of legislation that restricts the freedom of the press. (Hooray for Charles! Journalists probably aren’t his favourite people.) Cue rioting outside the palace and Diana apparitions wafting down the corridors.

The actors in this play-turned-TV-drama make the blank verse dialogue sound easy (most of the cast are veterans from the stage run): the late Tim Pigott-Smith is Charles; Chris Oliver is a dithering, weak-willed Wills; Richard Goulding a dour, hunched, Daniel Radcliffe-like (Prince) Harry.

The cast aren’t doing impersonations so much as original portrayals of real people in a parallel universe; the only thing Goulding’s Harry shares with the prince is red hair.

And poor Harry! While the real ‘spare’ has created a role for himself, in the play he’s a ‘ginger joke’. There are really embarrassing, unbelievable scenes featuring the melancholy prince with Working Class Londoners who don’t recognize him.

There’s an unlikely love interest in a working-class woman named Jessica (Tamara Lawrance), who is not Meghan Markle, the glam, highly-educated American actress and true-life Harry girlfriend. She came along too late to be written in, although there is Camilla (Margot Leicester), and there is Kate (Charlotte Riley.)

The BBC were criticised for portraying William’s wife as a scheming Lady Macbeth when Catherine has actually always seemed more quietly traditional than quietly revolutionary.

While the real Kate doesn’t seem career-driven or devoted to public service, in Bartlett’s play it’s her children’s royal status that is jeopardized, and she acts decisively to protect them and their social standing. (Charlotte Riley defended her character as ‘just being pragmatic’…)

Charles III might be a little alienating and cold for some audiences, with its Shakespearean black verse and apparitions etc. It reminded me of Pablo Larraín’s crazy Jackie biopic: a dark little 90 minute horror with powerful, haunting music (by Jocelyn Pook), while a country is in limbo and mourning.

Teen Wolf leads me to Ian Bohen to Wind River and Soldado

teenwolf

Teen Wolf – pretty entertaining

I only got my free Netflix trial last year to watch the phenomenon that is Stranger Things. Soon, I was back to my old ways, guiltily exploring ‘TV Sci-Fi’ and even ‘Teen TV’.

I tried to reconnect with The Vampire Diaries, but it should have bit the dust when Nina Dobrev left. I also tried its humourless spin-off The Originals, before binge-watching Tatiana Maslany in the cyberpunk series Orphan Black.

To my surprise, Teen Wolf – the MTV show based on the 1985 Michael J. Fox hit of the same name – has been pretty entertaining, in a Buffy kind of way.

The breakout of the show, Dylan O’Brien, plays the comedy sidekick, and there’s an actor called Ian Bohen, who plays the mysterious Big Bad Wolf in Season One, before returning in a neutered capacity as a snarky mentor figure later on.

I don’t know much about him, but I was keeping tabs on Sundance and he showed up at the Wind River premiere.

Apparently he has a small role in the movie – a thriller written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, who wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water, which just got four Oscar nominations.

Wind River had a positive response at Sundance, especially for the final ‘kinetic’ gun battle. (It’s not Sheridan’s first time directing, although it’s being called his directorial debut.)

Bohen is now filming Soldado, Sheridan’s follow-up to Sicario. It’s directed by Stefano Sollima, and we know it’s not a sequel, but a standalone story with some of Sicario’s characters. Emily Blunt is out, and apparently we’ll see what happens when Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are off the leash. Yikes.

More Royal Drama for 2017: The Crown, Victoria on PBS, King Charles III

Following the Golden Globes last weekend, the internet’s post-ceremony commentary involved mocking Tom Hiddleston and gushing over Meryl Streep.

I think the real star speech was made by Claire Foy, who took home the Best Actress in a TV series (Drama) award for playing HM The Queen in Netflix’s The Crown.

 

  • Victoria Review -“WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?!!!”
  • The Crown Review – I kept expecting Matt Smith to suggest a Doctor Who-themed nursery for Charles and Anne 

Writer and creator Peter Morgan has committed to six seasons of The Crown, each focusing on a decade of the Queen’s reign. Filming is already underway on the second season, with a November release likely.

If Foy is popular in The Crown, she’s better as Anne Boleyn in the adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, about the rise of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister. I’ve just watched the series after finding it on Netflix, and I really recommend it.

I was asked if The Crown was like Downton Abbey. No, but it’s not as gripping as Wolf Hall; there was real peril in the Tudor court.

Dearly departed Downtown’s true heir is in fact ITV’s Victoria, the first series of which debuts in America on Masterpiece on PBS this weekend. Lucky guys! Personally I can’t wait for the second series to show in the UK, so that I can take the piss review a really popular show. Jenna Coleman is the spirited young monarch and Tom Hughes is Prince Albert Emo, the original right-on royal with a social conscience.

And there’s even more royal drama to look forward to, like King Charles III….No not like that – I mean I’m sure Charles will be a wonderful king – but it’s actually the title of a new one-off BBC TV drama based on a play by Mike Bartlett.

I caught the royal history bug early (I watched my mother’s VHS tapes of the BBC series Elizabeth I starring Glenda Jackson before I started infant school). But Charles III isn’t history – it’s a future where Charles is finally in charge and causes a political ruckus. Charlotte Riley, who is probably still best known for being married to Tom Hardy, is Kate Middleton. Riley described the Duchess as “a really interesting woman”.

Sure. Has enough time passed for a serious drama about the girlfriend years? It’d beat the ratings for Anne Boleyn, QEII and a Harry/Meghan wedding combined!

TV REVIEW: HBO’s The Young Pope – difficult at the start, but worth sticking with

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that a lot of traffic has come from searches for The Young Pope, which is probably because I don’t have much competition.

There were previews and reviews for the first two episodes which screened at the Venice Film Festival, but after that, nada – a vow of silence. (This will likely change when it reaches its US air date on January 15.)

In the UK there hasn’t been the online discussion like with Westworld, although the Sun tabloid ran an article about Jude Law’s titular (haha) Pope grabbing the breast of Ludivine Sagnier’s character (he didn’t).

Many Twitter users said they couldn’t understand the show and dropped it. I don’t want to give too much away here, but to be clear – trailers for The Young Pope may indicate a stylish drama full of political intrigue, but if you’re expecting House of Cards in the Vatican, you’ll be frustrated.

This is true especially of the early episodes. I confess I almost gave up on Paolo Sorrentino’s swirling ten-hour art movie after the third/fourth episodes. But episodes five, six and seven have been exceptional – scheming cardinals, slimy politicians and insubordinate monks all get their comeuppance at the hands of the “diabolical” Pope Pius XIII.

Originally Lenny Belardo from New York, Pius was chosen to be a “photogenic puppet” – a bridge between progressive and conservative elements in the Church. He decided to go rogue, much to the horror of everyone, especially the manipulative, strangely lovable Secretary of State Voiello (Silvio Orlando).

Pius XIII doesn’t want any “part-time believers”. Intolerant of homosexuality, fiercely anti-abortion, he intends to remain elusive – never seen by anyone outside his inner circle. But Pius is also possessed of compassion, as we see in his dealings with Esther (Sagnier), the seemingly-infertile wife of a Swiss Guard.

Sometimes The Young Pope is like a documentary set at a glossy fashion mag. Watching Pius XIII stalking the Vatican corridors in his gold, finery and shades, all he needs is a handbag and he’d be Anna Wintour. (Hollywood Reporter called him an “icy control freak”.)

It’s a sin he banned cameras, because he’s really putting his mark on the papal wardrobe. Red shoes? Check. He’s even decreed that the papal tiara is IN this season.

Nonetheless, as of episode seven, Pius has made himself very unpopular with the press, with the rest of the church, a billion Catholics, other faiths…the list goes on.

His conservatism and religiosity seem to stem from his abandonment by his hippy parents, and even Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), his surrogate mother and biggest supporter, fears that his papacy is a calamity for both the man and the future of the church.

Can such a damaged man with his own personal demons be the spiritual leader of a billion people?

The Young Pope is dreamlike, introspective and darkly funny. And the best thing of all? That soundtrack. Divine.

TV REVIEW: The Crown (Netflix) starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith

Netflix’s new series, The Crown, cost around 100 million dollars to make, which would cover nearly a third of the huge cost of the Buckingham Palace renovations.

It’s got great reviews, too – the series, not the impending renovations, which are proving quite controversial. (And all for a palace that according to this series, nobody much wants to live in.)

Now I’m not the sort of person who enjoys cooing over royals, or cooing over pretend-royals in sumptuous costumes. But yes, The Crown is well-made and absorbing. It’s an intensely, richly, cinematic imagining of Queen Elizabeth II’s life behind palace doors.

So it looks expensive.

The ten episodes take us from the then Princess Elizabeth’s 1947 marriage to Prince Philip, right up until the brink of the Suez crisis of 1956. In between the historical milestones, the young royal is embroiled in family dramas, and in each chapter she will have to choose between the ones she loves, and duty.

“The fact is,” her grandmother admonishes her, “the crown must win – must always win.”

I wasn’t sure about Claire Foy as our unknowable queen, with her open face and large cornflower blue eyes, her expression either astonished, anxious or vulnerable. (Sarah Gadon in the fanciful A Royal Night Out looked more the part.) But Foy is believable as a simple countrywoman, more concerned with her dogs and horses than politics or people, even if she seems too timid to rule.

Creator/writer Peter Morgan’s series is actually all about the hat, not the person wearing it.

“An ordinary young woman of modest ability and little imagination,” is how her uncle, the Duke of Windsor, describes Elizabeth during his bitchy coronation commentary. Once anointed, she is transformed, he says, into a “goddess”.

Matt Smith layers his rubbery-faced, zany energy over the mannerisms and ‘wit’ of the notoriously prickly Duke of Edinburgh. I kept expecting him to suggest a Doctor Who-themed nursery for Charles and Anne.

In fact, almost everyone seems far nicer than they probably were/are in real life – even Eileen Atkins as scary Queen Mary (George VI’s mother, the Queen’s grandmother). Well,  almost everyone. There’s the fabulously brittle pairing of Alex Jennings as the Duke of Windsor and Lia Williams (I had to check it wasn’t Game of Thrones’ Red Woman – Carice van Houten) as Wallis Simpson.

The Crown is secure enough in its power that we also spend plenty of time with the politicians, although really needing a movie to themselves are John Lithgow as Churchill, and Stephen Dillane as the painter Graham Sutherland, hired to produce a portrait of the PM. (It ends up on a bonfire – true story, apparently).

The Crown can be artificial, as things have to be explained to the audience. Underlings tell Her Majesty: “And your father’s real name was Albert, and of course your uncle’s real name was David and your name is Elizabeth…”

It’s a bit like a popular history book come to life, and I suppose we couldn’t have expected anything more controversial in our nostalgia-obsessed times. With six more series to go, I wonder, if just once, a character will stop fretting over whether the Crown will endure, and instead wonder if it should.

the young pope

TV REVIEW: What do we know about Jude Law in The Young Pope? Who is Lenny Belardo?

The newly-elected Pope Pius XIII wakes up in the morning and decides what to wear. He greets his flunkies and prepares to make his first address from Saint Peter’s Basilica.

In what is an inevitable dream sequence, he exhorts the faithful to divorce, have fun etc.

For Pius, that’s actually the stuff of nightmares.

So who is the fictional Pope Pius XIII??

…well, he’s young (and American) 

Jude Law’s American accent and booming oratory caught me off guard (to my British tin ear he briefly sounded like Obama).

Pius, AKA Lenny Belardo, is the former Archbishop of New York, and the protégé of James Cromwell’s Cardinal Spencer, who is mighty angry at being passed over.

…but not as young as scheming cardinals might hope

“I’m an orphan. And orphans are never young,” he explains to one old relic. Lenny was dropped at an orphanage by unknown parents for unknown reasons, and Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), raised him. She seems devoted to him, although heavens know why.

…he is not a nice man, probably

More a bullying, chain-smoking CEO than a man of God. He describes himself as “intransigent, irritable, vindictive.” He viciously abuses an elderly nun (not Sister Mary) for daring to smother him in kisses.

…he’s an arch-conservative

At first nobody knows his views or tastes on anything, let alone those whose job it is to prepare his first breakfast as Pope. “Didn’t anyone tell you I don’t eat much? Hardly anything, in fact. All I have in the morning is a Cherry Coke Zero,” he says.

But would His Holiness care for a regular Diet Coke? “Let’s not utter heresies.”

When he finally gives his first papal address, it’s fire and brimstone.

…his marketing strategy is just divine

He wants to be the invisible Pope, he tells Cécile De France’s Vatican City marketing boss Sofia. The poor, confused woman wants to discuss a photo shoot in order to plaster Pius’s handsome face over new plates, postcards and ashtrays. 

Instead he orders her to fire the Vatican’s official photographer. He never allows his picture to be taken, and for his first address there will be no lighting, no cameraman. The faithful must only see a dark shadow.

“That’s media suicide,” she gasps.

…is he entirely of this planet?!

He apparently has a bizarre affinity with animals, as we see in the first episode with a kangaroo (don’t ask).

Later he points at the stars. “That’s where God’s house is,” he says. “Half of a duplex, with a private swimming pool.” And why oh why must he keep messing with that poor priest’s head about being a secret atheist?

…is he worth the time? 

If you ask Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando), the secretary of state, absolutely not. He’s clearly formulating a plan to take the new pontiff down, in a scheme that may involve the devout Esther (Ludivine Sagnier).

Paolo Sorrentino’s series is surreal and slow-moving. It’s TV to savour – if you can  – but not devour.

And I wonder if the initial black humour is vanishing like a puff of smoke from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel.

The Young Pope is on Sky Atlantic. 

TV REVIEW: ITV/PBS Victoria final episode

victoriactb45buwiaa_53eAs ITV’S Victoria frolicked to an end (it will be returning for a second series next year) the one question on my mind was how the show was going to handle the giddy young Queen’s transition to motherhood.

Victoria, famously, wasn’t the mothering kind. But the monarch must produce an heir, and if surrogacy had been an option back then, Jenna Coleman’s Victoria would have done it. She wouldn’t swan around with a fake bump either. She certainly isn’t slow to hire a nanny – ok, ‘wet nurse’.

Like any self-respecting superstar, the Queen has a stalker, and apparently people signed up to celebrity relationship conspiracy theories back in the 19th century too.

Prince Albert is looking a lot more comfortable than he did mid-series, when all he did was complain about his allowance while Victoria’s awful family bickered over the order of precedence.

Victoria has also come into her own – meaning she’s learnt to throw her status around with her uncles, who are all the younger sons of a king and therefore lumbered with entitlement and insecurity.

One of those uncles, the Duke of Cumberland, is next in line to the throne and circles menacingly in case something tragic happens in childbirth. It’s not a spoiler to say that Vicky survives the birth and that Uncle Cumberbitch doesn’t get his mitts on the crown.

The series has mostly held back from portraying Victoria as a Strong Female Character, so I didn’t mind when she told Cumberbitch, “However many mistakes I have made, or perhaps am yet to make, I know I am a better monarch than you will ever be.”

The show ends with the happy family scene of Albert, Victoria and little Victoria #2. Meanwhile, a distraught wet nurse hands over her own baby, Albert’s brother Ernest pines for a married duchess, and the queen’s stylist – or ‘dresser’ – spurns the advances of a lovesick pastry chef. (It’s fascinating how snobby and devoted the servants are.)

When Netflix’s The Crown arrives, it will demand we take it far more seriously than the ‘soapy’ Victoria. But I think I’m going to miss Jenna Coleman and the rest of the ITV cast.

TV REVIEW: Victoria episodes 3, 4 and 5.

Hallelujah! Hallleluujah!!

Nope, Victoria isn’t a singing competition, even if it does fit beautifully into ITV’s weekend line-up, right next to The X Factor.

But they keep playing it, so I’m going to have to learn to spell it: it’s Alleluia by Martin Phipps, with vocals by the Mediaeval Baebes (who sound like they could be straight out of Westeros by way of Frozen).

I already mentioned that Jenna Coleman’s Victoria reminds me of Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones – one of the most lavish, expensively produced shows in history – and even the music is like a candied version of Thrones’ epic choral masterpieces.

However, the eight-part look at the early years of V’s reign has really proved to be Downton Abbey with a teen queen and the same upstairs/downstairs theme. Dramatic embellishments notwithstanding, it actually seems to do an OK job at hinting at a world of social change.

To recap: in the first episodes we saw the little monarch come to the throne following the death of her uncle William IV. A hormonal teenager, Victoria is nobody’s ideal head of state, but such are the perils of hereditary monarchy.

Gossip Girl Vicky gets the hots for her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell), whom she relies on as her mentor. Historians have really recoiled at this notion of a romantic attraction between queen and PM, but writer Daisy Goodwin could be onto something.

Diarists and cartoonists at the time noted the unusually intense relationship, dubbing young Vicky “Lady Melbourne”. It’s not hard to believe that a sheltered young woman would fall for a powerful, urbane older man, even if he didn’t look anything like Rufus Sewell.

But by episode three M does the morally right and historically accurate thing, and doesn’t marry Vicky. Poor V!

Instead, a certain German princeling arrives at court – it’s Albert, accompanied by his bad boy older brother Ernest. Albert is on a mission to sweep Victoria off her feet, but fictional Victoria isn’t impressed with the moany-looking hipster, even if he has a fab profile. (In reality she was instantly smitten.)

Poor Albert isn’t too thrilled either. He has a social conscience, while Victoria isn’t interested in the plight of her poorest subjects.

There’s also the continued presence of Lord M, suffering stoically in the corner. At one point he advises the unpopular German brothers to keep a low profile during a visit to the Houses of Parliament, and then later booms out “Your Serene Highnesses” when he bumps into them in the corridors of power. Nice one, M.

We are supposed to titter at Albert’s nerdiness; but he is a man of the future, Melbourne is a man of the past. As episode five arrives, it is clear that the spell binding Victoria and her prime minister is broken. The British public were very slow to take to Albert, and audiences might struggle too, as he has thoroughly usurped the smouldering Sewell.

Queen Victoria was famously devoted to Albert (when he croaked she wore black for 40 years) but she wasn’t necessarily the mothering type. She even commented that carrying children was an “occupational hazard” for a wife. It will be interesting to see how the series portrays the next chapter in her life: Domestic tyrant, or domestic bliss?  

Victoria continues with episode six on Sunday September 25 at 9pm on ITV.

REVIEW: Victoria – Jenna Coleman in a royal TV drama

Soap actress and Doctor Who sidekick Jenna Coleman made her bow as Queen Victoria this past weekend.

ITV’s new series is an eight-part look at the early years of Victoria’s reign.

The show is more Downton Abbey than Game of Thrones, but I was still struck by how Jenna’s portrayal owes a lot to Emilia Clarke’s performance as Daenerys Targaryen. I can totally see Victoria screaming “WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?!!!”

She even has a “mad” grandfather, George III, who lost America – just like Daenerys’ father the Mad King lost the Seven Kingdoms.

Anyway, it’s not been lost on Twitter users that Jenna Coleman’s little queen is far more beautiful than Victoria ever was. Looks wise, Alfie Allen in a wig could have doubled for Queen Victoria (although the craziest royal casting ever would still be Ray Winstone as Henry VIII).

Of course Jenna is too pretty to be Victoria. More importantly, would a modern-day Victoria be pretty enough to be queen in the age of appearances and celebrity? Considering the grief her 4X great granddaughters Beatrice and Eugenie get for their figures and frumpiness, no. I think nothing would end the monarchy faster than an unattractive princess waiting in the wings.

But Victoria is a frothy period drama, and movies and TV do tend to cast actors far better-looking that their real life counterparts – Rufus Sewell is too handsome for Victoria’s first PM, Lord Melbourne.

And it is such a good career move for Jenna, even if it’s not a heavyweight drama that taps into the debate about the future of the monarchy in a 21st century democracy.

Another royal drama – this time a real prestige project – arrives in November in the shape of Netflix’s super-ambitious The Crown. Planned to run for six series, it will trace the life of Queen Elizabeth II (played by Claire Foy) from her wedding to the present day. Actor Matt Smith, who plays Prince Philip, has promised that the writing – although respectful – is not “overly reverential”.

I’m all for dramas about the modern royal family that aren’t either rousing and predictable (The King’s Speech) or just silly (Will & Kate: The Movie). Victoria is entertainment somewhere between the two, and set in a time when royals didn’t pretend to be Just Like Us.

I wonder how long it will be before we get a well-researched, blockbuster Middleton/Cambridge biopic. Any scrutiny of them, however mild, seems to really hit a nerve.

At least Victoria will only upset historians.