Prince Albert is the ultimate Christmas fanboy
This week on PBS, Victoria ends Season 2 with turning the palace into a winter wonderland. Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) is super busy cosplaying a lumberjack and ordering handmade ornaments from Prussia. He is also super fond of ice skating and wants the children to have what he had as a child. This is true to history because Prince Albert brought German holiday traditions to England (and eventually across the world). The episode starts with a flashback to the Kingdom of Dahomey (part of modern-day Benin). Captain Forbes (Ben Lamb) is the caretaker of a “gift” to Queen Victoria (Jenna Coleman) from King Gezo, a little girl named Aina, changed to Sarah (Zaris-Angel Hator). Sarah is a slave and the last surviving member of the royal house of Egbado. The Christmas spirit is alive and well below stairs in preparation for the servant’s ball and the upstairs festivities. Mr. Penge (Adrian Schiller) is using his Christmas bonus to invest in the railways to be the next Cornelius Vanderbilt. Mrs. Skerrett (Nell Hudson) has inherited enough money from a distant uncle in South Carolina for her to start a life with Mr. Francatelli (Ferdinand Kingsley). However, the property includes 20 slaves, which after her interactions with Sarah, makes her extremely uneasy.
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As Captain Forbes prepares to bring Sarah to the palace, Albert makes some interesting choices in the Christmas guest list. In the spirit of putting grudges aside, he invites some unfriendly people to the palace for the celebrations: Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent (Catherine Flemming), the scheming Uncle Leopold (Alex Jennings), and Uncle Cumberland (Peter Firth) who tried to kill Victoria as a child. Cumberland, in particular, is a problem because he’s up for more than chatting with the Duchess of Buccleuch about the good ‘ole days. He wants the necklace Victoria wears returned to him. Princess Gertrude (Nina Pavlovic) isn’t quite a villain, but she is one to Harriet (Margaret Clunie). Uncle Leopold is up to another flop matchmaking scheme for Ernest. Lord Alfred (Jordan Waller) wants to enjoy the festivities more, but he is secretly mourning. Thankfully, Wilhelmina Coke (Bebe Cave) understands and gives him the perfect present to assist.
Let’s see what our guests thought about this Christmas episode!
Jan (@total_janarchy) – author and podcaster on a variety of pop culture subjects (Doctor Who, Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, RuPaul’s Drag Race), cosplayer, Anglophile, and lifelong costume drama junkie.
Shannon (@Endy_92) – Cosplayer, Writer, Anglophile.
Melissa (@immelza)- Lover of period dramas, PBS, good books, kind people and all things Poldark
Katherine (@Lady_madchan) – Period drama lover. Anglophile. Poldark super fan.
Irene (@petitesoeur) – A lifelong fan of moving pictures, on big and small screens, particularly indie film and all things sci-fi. Irene writes for agnès films, a community that supports emerging and established women filmmakers.
1) What was your reaction to the very un-winter introduction to the episode?
Jan (@total_janarchy): I was honestly a bit taken aback by the darkness of the first scene, especially since we were dropped in without context. (Having just seen “Black Panther” this week, I half expected Wakandan forces to come in and save Sarah!)
Melissa (@immelza): That was a jarring opening! I felt so terribly for Sarah and her story was so moving. I was so happy to see her reunited with the Forbes’!
Shannon (@Endy_92): A little surprised to be honest but then I remembered why Africa would pop up. I was so pumped to finally hear about Sarah in a series or movie! She’s one of the most overlooked figures in Victoria’s life. I mean we’re only just beginning to hear about Victoria’s Sikh goddaughter Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. If Daisy Goodwin brings her in when the time comes later in on this series I’m sold- in popular culture for goodness sake. For so long the only influence outside Victoria’s family we’ve heard of was the infamous John Brown, thanks to the Judi Dench film “Mrs. Brown”. Brown is cool don’t get me wrong but in the grand scheme of things he played a very small role.
Katherine (@Lady_madchan): It was fine. You have to start somewhere. I knew that we would be meeting Sarah from the promos, so I was fine with hearing about her very sad and disturbing backstory.
Irene (@petitesoeur): I was like: Where? What? Who? but then it all became quite clear: West Africa. An important piece of history. Aina. The setting and the drama of the negotiation about Aina’s fate between Captain Forbes and King Ghezo of Dahomey intensified the emotional repercussions in the subsequent scenes when Aina, renamed Sarah Forbes Bonetta, is residing at Buckingham Place. This was a fascinating ‘cold open’ for the season finale. Good on Daisy Goodwin for showing Aina’s story instead of telling it via exposition.
2) Was Albert’s assessment of Victoria taking Sarah in for selfish reasons correct or off-base?
Jan: I think it was off base. Victoria has a big heart and she was a very lonely child with no friends and an appalling mother whose only friend was Lehzen. I think she might have misunderstood what Sarah’s needs truly were, but she recognized a part of herself in Sarah and was trying hard to fix things for her. Victoria seemed more maternal about Sarah than her own kids.
Shannon: Victoria had a habit of adopting those that needed homes be they children- which happened more often than we’re lead to believe- or dogs or servants. Albert was just being Albert in my opinion. His heart is in the right place but he’s an idealist. Selfishness implies Victoria was doing it to get something out of it for herself alone. She was trying to help a shutdown, frightened little girl the best way she knew how: giving her some semblance of a home life. At this point, slavery had been abolished within the UK (but not the colonies) for quite a while but people of color didn’t have equality- even Victoria would know that. I think she understood what it was always to be frightened far more than Albert did. Her life may have never been in danger the same way Sarah’s was but even Princess Victoria was very rightly worried Cumberland- or another uncle- would do something to her daughter.
Melissa: Pretty sure Albert might definitely be a racist. This episode really showed his lack of empathy and it was really disgusting to see someone of his privilege act this way towards an innocent child who’d suffered such atrocities.
Katherine: In the end, Albert’s assessment was quite correct. Although I wasn’t sure who was correct at that time. I didn’t like the way that he singled Sarah out and openly treated her differently though. That could have been handled in a nicer way.
Irene: Hmmm… I felt that both Victoria and Albert came across as thoughtless and self-centered in this episode. They were both more absorbed in their childhood memories than the reality of what was happening around them. Victoria was so totally oblivious to Sarah’s sadness, I found myself yelling at the screen: “Please Victoria open your eyes to what other people are feeling!” Albert was just as heedlessly blinded by his obsession with recreating his childhood Christmas memory. Also, I was disappointed by Albert’s reaction to Victoria wanting Sarah to be part of the family. I’d expected he’d have a more progressive attitude. Good thing that both Victoria and Albert had people around them able to shake them up and out of their inconsiderate self-interests.
3) On a scale of 1-10, how high did Uncle Leopold score on the Jerk-o-Meter and why?
Jan: Uncle Leopold went to 11. I’d say because he told Harriett about Ernest’s problem without asking Ernest about it first. It felt like a “cruel to be kind” moment.
Shannon: This scale of yours implies he’s ever been really nice. . . okay by the end of it he was down to an 8 because of the necklace/apartment thing. He’s the sort of character who is usually a jerk but does one nice thing for every four awful ones. I’ve still not fully forgiven him for outing himself to Albert as his father.
Melissa: Leopold was definitely a hard 9 on the annoying meter! He’s so creepy to me and I don’t like the way he looks at Victoria when he talks to her.
Katherine: HIGH as usual. Mainly since he cheered on Victoria for having her millionth baby and for encouraging Ernst to get married despite his illness. And he spilled the beans about Ernst’s STD to widow bestie. I guess it’s to be expected from Uncle Leopold. Somebody has to be coldly gunning for the dynastic considerations of the Hanover/Saxe Coburgs. It’s who he is and many heads of Royal houses did that. We have come to expect it from him.
Irene: I kind of got into Uncle Leo’s determination to be with ‘his’ boys even though they didn’t want him around. As Albert pointed out annoying people is King Leopold’s spécialité. There’s something absolutely delicious in the way Alex Jennings relishes playing the role. There’s always an impish glee to his line delivery accompanied by a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his face. Ahem, I may be a bit in love with Uncle Leo. BTW: I thought Leo did right by Harriet when he let her in on Ernest’s ‘condition.’ I couldn’t believe Ernest wouldn’t own up. It would’ve been a more emotionally-packed moment between them rather than an oh-so melancholic denouement.
4) Did you enjoy Mr. Penge’s proverbial coal in the stocking and what other period dramas did that plot remind you of?
Jan: I did–although I have to say they did make me feel some sympathy for him, especially when he was drinking at the end with Nancy. It reminded me a bit of the plot on Downton where Robert made bad investments and lost all his money. I swear there’s another costume drama where a servant went through this but I can’t find any info on it.
Shannon: Cora and Robert’s “I’m an American, have gun will travel” moment from Downton Abbey came to mind, well the entire reason Cora and Robert got married full stop actually. I will admit I had more sympathy for Robert than Penge. I was, am, and always will be a proud member of Camp Lehzen. The poor man didn’t deserve to be completely broke from his railroad scheme but it was about time he was taken down a peg or two. That bottle of port last week did NOT redeem all his annoying ways.
Melissa: Mr. Penge has really grown on me, maybe he’s softening his harshness in his older age. I was definitely getting some downstairs Downton vibes tonight. I liked how this episode showed more completed storylines for the downstairs staff.
Katherine: I felt very sorry for him. I could see the parallels to Downton Abbey. Lord Grantham poorly investing his wife’s money for the umpteenth time and losing it all.
Irene: Not as much as I enjoyed Ernest’s takedown of Albert’s deluded memory of Christmas with their parents. Nor as much as I enjoyed Sarah teaching Victoria to pull a face. Certainly, Adrian Schiller made Mr. Penge’s ambition to become a gentleman reasonable and the dashing of his dream poignant. Penge and Miss Skerrett quietly commiserating about the loss of their respective fortunes was quite moving. And I appreciated how aptly Penge’s “We may be servants but we’re not slaves” resonated with Captain Forbes’ decision that Sarah would be better off as a ‘gift’ to the Queen than the property of some American slaveholder. As for the similarity to the plot of other period dramas: The trials and tribulations of Poldark’s protagonists are predicted on vain hopes and lost fortunes.
5) There were two engagements this episode, what was your reaction to them?
Jan: I was really surprised and moved by Lord Alfred’s proposal to Wilhelmina. It was heartfelt and sweet–and the fact that she knew how he felt about Drummond etc made it even more emotional. It may be a marriage of convenience for him, but I think there’s genuine affection between the two of them. Nancy and Francatelli were adorable and sexy — I can’t imagine it’s going to end well for them in future because servants were not allowed to be married back in the day, but they’re great together.
Shannon: I want to think Wilhelmina and Alfred are in for some happiness (God knows they both deserve it.) Thankfully I think she realizes what she’s getting into after having seen them at the side of the pond together with a while back. It might not be romantic love but happiness- especially in those days didn’t require it necessarily. Francatelli/Skerrett just… eh, I’m over it? Or wait I was never really that into them as a couple. He’s adorable, I’m just not huge on Mrs. Skerrett in general.
Melissa: Skerettelli forever! I hope we get a festive wedding! Poor Alfred he was really in mourning. Being bisexual in those times must’ve been terribly hard. Historically I think he and Wilhelmina went on to have 12 children proving there are all types of love!
Katherine: I am so stoked for Skerretelli! I’ve enjoyed this story from the beginning. I’m pretty nervous to see what happens when/if others find out about their engagement. I don’t know what to think about Wilhelmina and Lord Alfred? On the one hand, they are good friends, respect each other and care for each other. This is a lot more than could be said about most Victorian marriages. But on the other hand, they are setting themselves up for a closeted life. I have to say that I’m pretty interested to see what happens with this storyline in the future.
Irene: Francatelli’s stammered proposal to Miss Skerrett was as adorable as he is. I wish he had presented her with a soufflé. Lord Alfred proposing to Miss Coke was endearing. I’m not sure of the truth in the Duchess of Buccleuch’s assertion that “men like Lord Alfred” are good husband material. I’m a tad worried about how Lord Alfred’s declaration that “there’s more than one kind of love” will play out for the two of them. I’m pretty sure Lord Alfred will be devoted to Wilhelmina but not as certain he will able to give her the love she deserves.
6) Do you believe there’s more to the backstory of the Duchess of Buccleuch’s ability to diffuse the necklace crisis?
Jan: Yes, It seemed like the King of Hanover was removed from the scene (and the diamond necklace) too easily. Time will tell.
Shannon: Considering that greeting of “Matilda!” she got from Cumberland at the opera I’m more than certain there’s a lot more to the backstory surrounding those two. I have a sneaking suspicion those two did more than just dance back in the day. . . but that could be just because I’m a shipper at heart. (I’m looking at you Vigor shippers. . . the Downton fan in me runs deep.) More than anything in character it’s Diana Rigg. She’s not one to just do a part to be a part of a show, she’s well past that in her career: she’s Dame Diana Freaking Rigg. Look at her parts in Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. She always gets a twist to her character; there is always more to them than we see on the surface.
Melissa: It certainly seemed there was more to the necklace debacle! Pretty sure with the Duchess there’s always a backstory!
Katherine: Of course there’s more! I look forward to hearing about in the coming episodes. We also know that this issue didn’t go away, so we’ll have to see how it all plays out.
Irene: Palpably! I got a giddy schoolgirl vibe from the Duchess of Buccleuch’s sudden energetic invitation for King of Hanover to sit next to her after Victoria invited him to join their Christmas dinner. From the Saxe-Coburg contingent at the dinner table, there were more than a few hints of an intriguing backstory. There were some arm-twisting diplomatic maneuvers between the Duchess of Buccleuch and King of Hanover, including fantabulous echoes of Emma Peel’s skills as a wily and astute spy.
7) Although it is February, did you feel the spirit of Christmas in the writing, scenery, and music?
Jan: It was wonderfully Christmasy. There’s nothing British TV seems to love more than Victorian Christmases (except maybe World War II). It definitely hit all the right notes, down to the blazing plum pudding, the introduction of Christmas trees, the carols, and even the holly woven into Victoria’s hair at the dinner table. It’s a shame PBS couldn’t give this to us in a more timely manner.
Shannon: After years of Call the Midwife, and Downton Christmas specials, I’m past the “need” to have Christmas specials have anything to do with Christmas- they shoot them in spring or summer usually making it hard to make stuff look “cold”- so it was rather refreshing.
Melissa: I loved the Christmas special, the cinematography, decorations, costumes, the singing I loved all of it! It really was the perfect season finale, I laughed, I cried and stopped breathing when Albert fell through the icy pond! I just wish Masterpiece didn’t edit the episode down the way they did but it encourages me to rewatch during the very long wait until next season.
Katherine: I would say so. Victoria usually does a lovely job of setting the time and scenery. Once again, they didn’t disappoint.
Irene: If there can be Christmas in July then why not in February? The episode definitely felt like it was taking place in the chill of December with a generous blanket of snow prompting a snowman-making and ice skating party. There were caroling and ornaments as well as family bickering and reconciliation. As for the Christmas spirit, the episode felt as stuffed with storylines and characters as the holiday’s celebration overflows with an abundance of food and gifts.
Little Sarah stole the hearts of Victoria fans everywhere during the Christmas special
Without a doubt, Zaris-Angel Hator put a smile on the face on even the most Scrooge-like viewer. She has an excellent bond with Jenna Coleman and Nell Hudson. Everyone swooned when she chased away Victoria’s tears and cried along with her nightmares. Hator beautifully showed Sarah’s challenges in adapting to a new world with a completely different culture and traditions. Hator shaking and screaming over the barking dogs clearly had elements of PTSD underneath a common childhood experience. Although she retains her innocence, she is well aware some people will treat her badly because of the color of her skin. Diverse stories in period dramas are few and far between so this was a real treat for fans of color. We really appreciate Daisy Goodwin for bringing attention to a lesser-known story from the files of Queen Victoria’s life. Overall, the episode balanced character development and the building of a stand-alone story very well. Using Christmas as an exploration of Albert’s excessive nostalgia and Victoria’s Kensington System grudges was especially compelling. David Oakes also deserves a shout out for brilliantly portraying Ernests’ shame and redemption.
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During last episode’s roundtable, we brought up the issue of Drummond’s death being a stereotypical LGBTQ relationship with an unhappy ending. The issue resurfaced this week with Lord Alfred moving quickly from mourning Drummond in secret to accepting “different kinds of love” to proposing marriage with Wilhelmina. Some fans interpreted the proposal as the story endorsing the problematic idea of gay men hiding their preferences in a heterosexual marriage. Others believe Lord Alfred is bisexual, so he is fully capable of having deep feelings for Wilhelmina. Drummond in “The Luxury of Conscience” weighed the possibility of lying to his future spouse about his sexuality but he was unable to carry it out. In interviews, Jordan Waller has said based on his personal background and historical research there are gray areas in the way Victorians approached homosexuality/bisexuality. Modern audiences today have a much better understanding and definition of these concepts.
On the other hand, we believe the criticism of Sarah’s story is yet another white savior story is off base because Daisy Goodwin’s script is similar to the historical record. Sarah became a gift to Queen Victoria because British troops were incensed, the King of Dahomey wiped out her royal family. Although racist sentiment existed among the British Army stationed in Africa at this point in time, there was still a level of respect towards the various African monarchs and other heads of state. The goal of the script was clearly to highlight an under-discussed fact from Queen Victoria’s records. We do appreciate some of the characters challenging racist sentiment from others.
“Comfort and Joy” not only delivered plenty of servings of the Christmas spirit, it also gave fans a small taste of what’s to come in Season 4. Victoria and Albert will welcome another Prince or Princess. Ernest will continue to come to grips with his condition. And our greatest wish of all, that someone finally slaps Uncle Leopold in the face!
Victoria will return in 2019 to PBS