First shown in January 2013, this three-part documentary series has recently been repeated and is currently available on BBC iPlayer at the time of writing.
This post reviews first episode, The Best Laid Plans…, which explored the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and how this in turn impacted upon their relationship with their children. The picture painted over the course of this documentary illustrates a complex dynamic of competing priorities and pressures, as well as a stark contract between the public image and the private reality.
Victoria’s devotion to Albert is normally remembered through her mourning of his death. However, this devotion was a marked feature of their married life. They shared a passionate relationship, which resulted in nine children over seventeen years. Yet this was not always a blissful and peaceful union. They had rows on a spectacular level, and Victoria’s temper was infamous in the Royal household. There is also a rather fraught power struggle within their marriage. Albert, as a man of his time, expected to be the patriarchal head of his household. Most men of his era would probably have taken this expectation for granted. The issue becomes rather more complicated when your wife is also your monarch. If Victoria were to say, order him from her sight, should he obey her as his Queen or rebuke her as a husband? Additionally, Victoria was initially reluctant to step back from any royal duties, yet the almost constant cycle of pregnancy and childbirth eventually left her with little option. This was tempestuous relationship which was exasperated by the expectations of the era, and the contrasting and unusual set-up which was their reality.
The documentary also explores the nature of Victoria and Albert’s relationship with their children. Again, it is suggested that Victoria’s adoration of Albert played a key role in her relationship with her children. For example, she desired that they be raised to be children in his image. They should have his character and his morals. Albert wanted the children to be role models to their subjects, and to the rest of Europe. The analysis of the relationship explores how these expectations and pressures influenced the children as they grew up.
Yet this familial relationship which, over the course of the documentary, is described as a ‘battlefield’ was presented to the British public as an ideal of domestic happiness. This was a conscious decision, which was carefully executed. In response to growing revolutionary sentiments in Europe, and unfavourable memories of the distant and dissolute Hanoverian monarchs at home, Victoria and Albert sought to create an image of the Royal family to which their subjects could relate. They sought to be the perfect family, which included some distinctly ‘middle class’ elements. It was thought that, in this way, they could garner and retain the support of their subjects. The documentary argues that there was a definite distinction between the public image and the private, personal reality for the entire family.
In conclusion, varied expert commentary and a coherent narrative structure make this a highly interesting and engaging documentary. Analysis is interspersed with familial anecdotes and illustrative reconstructions, which creates a sense of ‘pace’ and the content seems to unfold naturally. It does, at times, feel as though sympathy for the characters on this dynastic stage is lacking. However, this documentary provides a varied and detailed private history of a very public family and situates them in the wider contexts of social, political and gender history.
‘Queen Victoria’s Children’, BBC2, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01ptvwj.
‘Queen Victoria’s Children’, BBC Media Centre, http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2013/01/queen-victorias-children.html.
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