Tuesday, October 17, 2017

On Queen Victoria and Eligible Young Men


I'm on an alternating kick between the Reformation and Queen Victoria lately. It's been super fun, and there's so much information to mine out of both topics. We have a book and a movie review lined up next for the Reformation, but after taking a quick poll of people's interest on Twitter, I wanted to talk today about the different portrayals of Albert in a couple of Victoria adaptations, as well as offering a passing tribute to Lord Melbourne (whom Victoria and I call Lord M) in the new PBS Victoria series.

There are two reasons in particular. First, it's one of those warm, endearing endorphin things. Queen Victoria makes me supremely, incandescently happy, and I think it's because the characters and themes and story deeply resonate. So I keep talking about it because it's Schuyler to the nth degree.

But the other reason is that I love teasing out characterization, and why I resonate with some characters more than others.

The Contrast: Victoria's Albert and The Young Victoria's Albert

(Note: We're just going to call them PBSAlbert and TYVAlbert)

My favorite Albert is and probably always will be the Albert in The Young Victoria (played by Rupert Friend).

After watching The Young Victoria at least six or seven times, and Victoria almost four times, I think I know why. For one, their personalities are different, and it probably all boils down to what my personality likes. PBSAlbert starts off in the first couple of episodes as extremely serious. He never smiles, and I like a hero who can at least see the humor in something. He and Victoria have wildly different personalities, and they seem to fall in love over their arguments more than their agreements. It didn't make sense to me the first time I saw it. I think the screenwriters want it to be a sudden love, as Victoria realizes how much she can respect this man who wants to reform society. She realizes he has some maturity she doesn't, and she wants to pursue bettering the world with him.

The problem is, we haven't had enough screen time to be convinced. We're being "told" the dynamic of the relationship and asked to accept it, rather than having our hearts captured over the course of time. Victoria meets Albert expecting to hate him, and since we're so entwined with her character, we fully expect to hate him too. The problem is, Victoria switches so suddenly that our hearts don't switch immediately along with her. By the time she proposes, I'm still smarting over the fights.

Now, that might be me. I have certain likes and tastes, and lots of people have different ones, and I don't want to squish Albert if you like him. So please tell me just what you love about him in the comments, and I'd be very glad to hear it. *hugs*

Here's where I think TYVAlbert is smoother at accomplishing the same objective. In all of Victoria's mistakes, he keeps encouraging her that there is a way out, there is a way up, she can find it, and he's there to help her in any way he can. Emily Blunt's Victoria is still independent and doesn't want to be tied down to a marriage right away, but we see Albert leading her to maturity rather than frowning. The love plot spins out more slowly. The fights, when they come, are just as serious. TYVAlbert has concerns/complaints just like PBSAlbert. But we've had enough tenderness up to that point to be able to weather them.

I started resonating with PBS Albert a lot better in the Locomotives episode. I think it's because I started to see him smile more and be a little more animated. Plus, I like that his friendship with Sir Robert Peel and his comradely interactions with his private secretary bring warmer, friendlier tones to his character that he really needed. He's tender to Victoria when she's afraid about their future, and altogether just takes life a little easier while still being passionate about the future and still (yes) having quarrels. The quarrels don't go away. They just feel more balanced with happy things.

I think you really see the contrast in how the script was handled when you compare Albert's character journey and Lord Melbourne's.

Vicbourne and Vicbert
If you watch PBS Victoria, you'll find a fandom of people strongly divided. PBS Victoria makes Lord Melbourne a much younger, more personable, and probably more moral man than he was in real life. They dramatized his friendship with Victoria so much that by the time Albert showed up, people were almost sorry to see him come. Hashtags of #Vicbert and #Vicbourne filled Twitter, a trend in which you combine the two names of a couple you really want to see get together.

I'm still fully team #Vicbourne when it comes to PBS Victoria, not from a marriage standpoint, but from a friendship one. (I know Lord M is fictionalized, but I love him anyway.) I absolutely love the way their relationship was portrayed. It only takes an hour's worth of scenes to firmly fix Lord M in viewer's hearts. I think one aspect they did particularly well in contrast with PSBAlbert was Lord M's backstory.

When Albert shows up on the scene, he has backstory too, but in my opinion, his is handled more clumsily. After he and Victoria raise each other's hackles, they end up having a dance together. While dancing, Albert tells Victoria that he likes her flowers, because sometimes his mother was wearing those flowers when she kissed him goodnight. It's put in to garner sympathy, but it may have tried to accomplish a little too much a little too fast.

Flip over to Lord M in episode 1. He's got backstory and we know it, but (unless you're a history buff) we're not sure exactly what it is. All we know is that he's tired of being prime minister until he meets Victoria, when he seems to gain a fresh lease on life. Slowly, piece by piece, his life unfolds. He's been accused of scandal, and it was painful for him. His wife ran away with Lord Byron. Victoria says she would have a hard time forgiving something like that, and Lord Melbourne's replies are gentle and limited enough to warm hearts without waxing eloquent: "Perhaps you're too young to understand." On the night of a formal ball, Melbourne isn't there at the beginning. He's sitting at his desk with his head in his hand, looking at a painting and fingering a lock of hair. His servant comes into the room and says, "Lord Melbourne, Lady Portman knows what day it is, but the queen is asking for you." We don't know exactly what day it is, but we know that it really, really hurts him--and he shows up at the ball to support Victoria anyway.

The cream of his backstory shows up at the end of episode one, and it only comes out when he decides to share his deepest hurt so that Victoria, who has fallen into despair, can get back up again. It's revealed at just the right moment for the most resonance, not as an extra line to gain sympathy, but as part of the story itself, to give Victoria what she needs to pursue her goals. First, he tells his backstory (I won't spoil it) and then he offers her the hand up in one of my favorite lines: "You will go and you will smile. You will smile and never show them how hard it is to bear."

i just want a kleenex and a sword all at the same time 

When Albert is introduced, we are given an episode full of conflict and inklings of tragic backstory, Melbourne's backstory is woven into Victoria's success. He is willing to set aside his personal wounds so that she can grow. You don't see that kind of self-sacrifice from Albert right away. From him and Victoria, you see dislike that does a sudden 180 into love. Melbourne finds it easier to be kind and charming right from the beginning, and since, like Victoria, I love kind and wounded souls, I can, like her, be slower to connect to PBSAlbert and Sir Robert Peel's personality types.

I feel like, in due fairness, I ought to throw one more twist into this, to make it a well-rounded critique. It is easy for me, as someone Victoria's age, to look at Lord M and say, "He sacrifices. He loves, he supports, he encourages, and gives gentle warning, and lets her be herself all at the same time." Of course I like him. And then it's easy to look at Albert in the first episodes (I like him a lot more later on) and say, "he corrects, he frowns, he confronts her with her errors, he doesn't praise easily" and assume that one is love, and the other is a guy I couldn't say goodbye to fast enough.

But in the end, if I only took Lord M, it would stunt my character growth. There are points in Victoria's character that Lord M can't help her achieve, because he's kind and he's her subject after all, and he can't be too forceful when she's headstrong. Albert is a higher grit of sandpaper on her flaws. It's uncomfortable, and she does not always like him for it. But having people who are that high grit of sandpaper in our lives is something that God uses to conform us to his image. It shows us how living the Christian life applies to loving and welcoming people who confront us with our sin.

That being said, while PBSAlbert can confront and romance Victoria, I think PBS Lord M and TYVAlbert have another vital ability: they can cherish her. In the end, it's not the hot romance that makes a marriage last. It is a long-term, Christ-like cherishing on the man's part, respect and submission on the woman's, and mutual willingness to help each other pursue Christlikeness, that makes the long journey of marriage last.

This perspective is, of course, tinged by the romantic inexperience of a twenty-something single. I have a lot to learn from Titus 2 women who have a lot more experience than me. And I'm looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

How do you feel about all these character arcs? Do you agree? Do you see things totally differently? Please tell me! I'd love to know! 

P.S. I've reviewed The Young Victoria here, so I'll let you catch up if you want to know what the movie's about. I haven't reviewed Victoria PBS yet, but I'll just say that while it contains a lot of endearing characters, there are a couple of plotlines that you might want to fast-forward through. Feel free to email me for a parent guide, or I hope to have it up on the blog eventually as well.

2 comments:

  1. This was a fascinating analysis! I have seen and enjoyed TYV more than once, but I've never watched the PBS version.

    I don't prefer those sudden romances that follow on the heels of fights and arguments. I suppose it can happen, but it's certainly not the course the majority of relationships in the real world take, and as a plot motif it seems to get more than its fair share of screen time. I suppose it heightens the excitement of the event by combining the normal joy of falling in love with the additional joy of a reconciliation between two hostile parties, which, I must admit, I love. (Alan-and-Davie-make-up is one of my favorite scenes in all literature. *happy sappy sigh*)

    Having only seen TYV (and not liking Paul Bettany in the first place), I'm predisposed to dislike Lord M. But I concede that his Sewellian counterpart sounds compelling. Sad backstories and suffering in silence on painful anniversaries and are hard to resist. I suppose I will have to reserve judgment until such time as I may watch it and judge for myself. ;)

    Thanks for this lovely article!

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  2. Agh both of these mad me cry so much! Especially Victoria, how they made Lord M so pathetic and lovable.

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