The first thing I have to say about the excellent three part documentary on the above, shown on the BBC this week, is that Fiona Bruce is nowhere to be seen. So I was prepared to like it for that reason alone even if no other....
You know my feelings and thoughts by now on the way the BBC do these sort of documentaries - the high profile presenter, usually knowing nothing about the subject in question, wandering around as a lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vale and hill, and gazing lovingly at ceilings and then at carpets as if she/he had never seen one before - so cliched and boring. For once the BBC did not do this. OK we had the odd shot of a blurred child, one of the Royal children running around Osborne and a woman taking off her stockings signifying that naughty Bertie was around, but this was understandable as the main thrust of this three parter was an excellent narrative and a concentration on the subject matter and it needed a little leavening.
The BBC eschewed the dumbing down approach they have used in the past (perhaps my complaining emails may have got through? No, probably not) and, instead of the aforementioned Miss B, we had 'talking heads' , in other words professionals and experts who knew their subject and were allowed to get on with it. There were certainly a lot of them and they all had something of interest to say.
The two presenters I was most interested in were Helen Rappaport author of Magnificent Obsession (my book of the year 2011) and Jane Ridley author of Bertie, a biography of Edward VII which is my book of the year 2012 ( which I think I have failed to announce), both superbly written and marvellous to read. In both of these books it cannot be said that Victoria was painted as a good and loving mother interested in her children. Her entire love and life was wrapped up in Albert and once he died, her world fell in and, as she had taken very little interest in her children, they were unable to be a comfort to her after his death. It seemed she resented they were alive and he was not.
The programme was fascinating. First one was all about Victoria and Albert and their life together; the second focusing on her daughters and the final one all about the sons. Though I cannot totally defend Victoria and her attitude towards her offspring, I rather felt that this programme had taken a particular stance and pulled up every bit of documentation or proof to support this. I have no problem with this, but I would hate everyone to think that she was a heartless, uncaring person though one is left with this impression after the three hours of watching. My theory is that she was so adrift after she lost Albert that she was determined to control every aspect of all her children's lives as something she could cling onto and which would make her feel more secure. The Queen was obsessed with carrying out Albert's plan to raise a model royal family and as the years went by and all of her children, in one way or another, disappointed her, she became more and more dictatorial and didactic and determined that they Would do as they Were Told.
I find it hard to believe that she had no maternal instincts whatsoever even though her thoughts on childbirth and babies were pretty trenchant and she made no bones about describing Leopold as one of the ugliest children she had seen. I don't think she ever got the knack of loving her children, or at least be able to show them that she did, so hidebound was she with trying hard to live up to Albert who, I personally, think would try the patience of a saint. Having a husband who will not argue with you and who goes away and writes you reproving patient letters would make me mad, also being treated as a child, which is what he did to her.
I have always found Queen Victoria a fascinating individual and never tire of reading about her, her relatives, family and social history of the time and was delighted that this documentary was so engrossing and so well done. I was wondering how it would be and to find that the dumbing down process had more or less been abandoned in this case was such a relief, just shows that all you need is experts who talk well and cogently, unfussy direction and production, and a narrator who told you what you wanted to hear and just let you sit back and enjoy it.
I am currently reading Serving Victoria by Kate Hubbard - Life in the Royal Household which I am thoroughly enjoying and will be reviewing later.
It would be lovely if this was shown in the USA - have already received many comments wishing it was available so, fingers crossed, it will cross the pond.
So good to write a post about the BBC without my usual ranting!