CLEVELAND, Ohio - The miniseries follows a young queen as she ascends to the British throne and tries to navigate the tricky political waters. That description fits Netflix's properly celebrated "The Crown," which starred Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II and former Akronite John Lithgow as Prime Minster Winston Churchill.REVIEW Victoria
What: Jenna Coleman stars in an eight-hour "Masterpiece" presentation about the young Queen Victoria.
When: Begins at 9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15.
Where: PBS (WVIZ Channel 25 and WEAO Channel 49).
But the description also fits "Victoria," the seven-part miniseries starring Jenna Coleman ("Doctor Who") as young Queen Victoria and Rufus Sewell ("The Man in the High Castle") as Prime Minister Lord Melbourne. And that's a bit of problem for "Victoria," which PBS' "Masterpiece" premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15, on WVIZ Channel 25 and WEAO Channel 49.
Although Victoria obviously preceded Elizabeth II as a British monarch, she is following her in the prime-time realm. And the jewels in this "Masterpiece" crown clearly don't gleam as brightly as those in the far more regal Netflix miniseries.
There was a time when PBS petty much commanded the throne when it came to bringing high-class British programming to Anglophile American viewers. There are significant rivals now, and that's all the more evident with the arrival of "Victoria" on the heels of so much acclaim for "The Crown."
Although by no means a hollow crown, the erratic "Victoria" hardly is a worthy successor to the long-running and much-adored "Downton Abbey." And a worthy successor is precisely what PBS is shopping for these days.
Moving uncertainly in fits and starts, the handsomely produced "Victoria" nonetheless gleams with first-rate performances. The overall storytelling execution is poor, but individual scenes can be quite rich in detail and nuance.
Although there are many wonderful treats in this miniseries, a degree of patience is required with the frilly and soapy stretches. Those delights, while undeniably savory, are too widely scattered over the sprawling drama's eight hours.
"Victoria" is a consistently positive and highly flattering portrait of the young monarch, and Coleman shines in the role. It's easy to fall under the spell of this charming Victoria and root for her to succeed where so many boo-hiss snooty types are just so certain she will fail.
Indeed, the three lead performances are the most watchable and engrossing aspects of this miniseries. The truly riveting scenes are those with Coleman, Sewell and Tom Hughes as Prince Albert.
The secondary characters, however, are not nearly as well-defined or ably played. Coming across as stock figures in a, well, Victorian melodrama, they are about as convincing as the beyond-awful CGI work that attempts to re-create the royal parks and palace exteriors of the 1830s.
The interiors are much grander to gaze upon, and it is here that most of the palace intrigue takes place. The "Masterpiece" offering begins with the 18-year-old Victoria learning that her uncle, King William IV, has died. Long live the queen. And she did, reigning 63 years and seven months.
But "Victoria" only covers the early part of that reign, when a sheltered, unworldly, uneducated, unprepared teenager was tossed onto the British throne. Sir John Conroy (Paul Rhys), the rumored lover of Victoria's mother (Catherine H. Flemming), is sure he can control the young queen and become the real power behind the throne.
On this score, he quickly is thrown for a loss. Victoria is made of sterner stuff. So novelist Daisy Goodwin's TV adaptation of her book examines how Victoria instead turned to Lord Melbourne for advice, guidance and support. And Melbourne was wise enough to know that his influence would wane when the queen fell in love, which she did, with Prince Albert.
"Victoria" also makes a point of spending the requisite amount of time with the palace workers, aiming for that upstairs-downstairs "Downton Abbey" structure. Yet the transitions tend to be rough, hampering a narrative that's already hurting in the pacing department.
Still, Coleman, Sewell and Hughes contribute enough compelling work to keep this from becoming "The Victorian Error." It's a pleasant enough "Masterpiece" diversion, but uneasy lies the crown that has to follow "The Crown."
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