In this week’s Victoria, we venture outside the staid and veddy proper orbit of Queen Victoria for an adventure to the royal equivalent of the wild, wild west (France) that was stylish to some, reminiscent of Caligula to others (we see you waving your hand there, Duchess), and ultimately revelatory for Albert and Victoria. Whatever one may think of his court, the French king did have something quite profound to say in the Latin proverb, ‘Fortune favors the bold.’ How true!
So Victorians, let us all boldly unpack 18 essentials from this week’s episode Entente Cordiale, named for an historic agreement between France and Great Britain.
International and Domestic Diplomacy
18. Pen Pal Diplomacy: S.W.A.K.
Little Vicky shows littler Vicky the model for her new royal yacht, the Victoria and Albert, and promises they’ll see the world in it. Prime Minister Peel comes to the palace bearing the news that the French court have been sniffing around the teenage Spanish queen, Isabella, looking for an advantageous match for their prince. Victoria wonders why the Spanish queen doesn’t find her own husband, and Peel tells her she is underage so her mama is regent and makes all the decisions. Oy vey! Victoria tells Peel that she will write to King Louis Philippe of France to express her displeasure. She thinks that’s all it will take to get him to change his mind. Peel doesn’t like the idea; the king might think it’s a Coburg conspiracy. Victoria insists that Louis Philippe should be honored to hear from her, an anointed queen. Peel then tries to get a distracted Albert to put her off, but Uncle Leo’s revelation in Episode 2 has rendered him a conscientious objector, for now at least.
17. What’s Cooking?
Sprung from his downstairs cage, Brody is out wandering the streets in Piccadilly where he spies Mr. Francatelli kissing the hand of a mysterious veiled woman in a carriage. Naturally he is eager to ferry this interesting tidbit back to the palace, where he makes Mrs. Skerrett and Cleary guess who he saw doing such a thing. Skerrett found it amusing till she found out it was Francatelli, then she admonished Brody, snapping it was time to get back to work. We think the lady doth protest too much. For his part, during servant meals Francatelli stares at Mrs. Skerrett across the table in a manner that has migrated from bitter and angry to sad and (dare we say) longing? It’s hard to say if she notices this climate change yet. But (possibly) just as important, who is the woman in the carriage? Could it be a new love interest? Maybe he has a bit on the side, or he is the bit on the side for someone else? Maybe a rich lady who gives out gold watches? Or maybe it’s his cook book publisher? Could she be where he’s getting this newfound wealth?
16. The Mirror Has Two Faces
Albert is not at all himself. His mind is elsewhere (back in Coburg, frozen in time at the moment Uncle Leo pulled the rug out from under him). As Victoria begins her Pen Pal Diplomacy, Albert sits in the next parlor looking at his reflection in a hand mirror, drawing a pen and ink selfie, then he spills a bottle of ink all over it in frustration as that ominous Coburg music plays in the background. Ominous background music is never a good sign. Ever. Later, Victoria sits in bed writing in her diary and when Albert walks in she quickly tucks it under her pillow, causing him to speculate on her keeping secrets (and a lingerie empire is born.) Albert proceeds to get into bed, under the covers, fully dressed. Nothing secretive about that.
Bon Voyage: A Trip to France
We see London, we see France (though, not really: the French scenes in Victoria were filmed in Lincolnshire, England, where Harlaxton Manor looks fit for a king.)
15. A Three-Hour Tour
Victoria takes her new royal yacht out for a spin, to visit cousin King Louis Philippe of France and lobby him about the Spanish queen situation. And why not? It’s the closest thing to a ball without dancing. Peel is not crazy about this trip; he thinks the French king too wily for Victoria’s inexperienced diplomatic skills. He forgets that Victoria has had decades of experience dealing with her duplicitous uncles, not to mention her mother, John Conroy, Lady Flora and an army of rats unleashed by Penge. We’re thinking she could take Louis Philippe in a knife fight if she had to.
Be that as it may, since Peel cannot make it, he sends Drummond to chaperone (yeah, but who’s going to chaperone Drummond?). The Duchess of Buccleuch doesn’t want to go to godless France but must. Lehzen does want to go to godless France but has to stay home with bambinos (much to her chagrin).
Their Royal British Majesties reach the tropic port and set foot on French soil to be greeted by (what looks like) King Engelbert Humperdinck, inventor of the combover. We can tell just by the way Louis Philippe (French actor Bruno Wolkowitch) walks up to the queen, even before he grabs her and gives her the full two-cheeked French salute, that this is a different kind of royal, and a different kind of throw-the-formalities-away formality. He remarks how she is like a little doll (Doll 123 perhaps?) The king then moves on to Albert and gives him a long skunk-eye pause before welcoming him. He does not like those Coburgs one bit and he has no problem saying it. They all set off for Chateau Duh.
14. Country Mouse, City Mouse
As they ride along in their carriage, Victoria excitedly checks out all the scenery. Albert, on the other hand, looks like he’s going to the guillotine. In another carriage, the Duchess is positive they are headed for Sodom and Gomorrah; Lord Alfred and Drummond would just settle for a little Sodom. Said Alfred, “I’m prepared to be led into temptation. What about you Drummond?” If that ain’t an invitation, I don’t know what is. At the very least, these two had to have set the record for exchanging meaningful looks. Miss Coke just giggles, oblivious. Sweet, really.
Chateau Duh is a place where the mean girls hold court. They snicker at Victoria’s handbag with Dash embroidered on it. The Duchess of Buccleauch was right; they are godless! Not sure if these women are the king’s wife and mistress or if he goes everywhere with his backup singers.
All About Appearances
13. Art Works
Checking out the accomodations, Alfred does not like the bare-assed painting on display in the chateau gallery. King Englebert (Philippe) enters and sees him looking at his Boucher, but tells him he doesn’t need a Boucher because he has a young wife, heh-heh. But maybe Albert wants to see the Raphaels instead. One of the backup singers can give him a tour. Lord Alfred offers to translate but doesn’t translate exactly, word for word; he sanitizes it a little for Albert’s protection, and she subtly gives away that she gets that. Turns out she does speak English. She offers to show him her etchings by Leonardo and off they go.
True History: Known for his erotic paintings, Francois Boucher (1721-1764) was one of the most famous artists of the 18th century. One of his primary patrons was King Louis XV’s official chief mistress Madame de Pompadour (official chief mistress was a real title in the French court). The bare-bottomed nude that our Albert said was not to his taste on Victoria looks like a painting Boucher did of Louise O’Murphy, one of King Louis XV’s lesser mistresses. O’Murphy was first a model for Boucher. One story has it that when Louis saw a nude painting featuring her, he asked to see how it compared to the original – and after comparing the two, he deemed the original better. After two years, one miscarriage and one live illegitimate baby daughter, side-mistress Louise made the strategic mistake of trying to replace the King’s main squeeze mistress, Madame de Pompadour. She was expelled from court and ordered to marry a man of the king’s choosing. She was able to keep the jewelry the king had lavished on her during their affair, and as a lovely parting gift, he gave her a dowry.
12. Victoria Gets a Makeover
After seeing all the “smart” ladies of the French court, Victoria fears there is something missing with her appearance; she wants to look more worldly, so she puts Skerrett on the case to get her some of those doo-dads the stylish French ladies use to enhance her complexion. Skerrett gets a tutorial from a French ladies maid (which would be a fantasy for some), maybe less so though to have Miss Coke translate. They learn that in addition to the make up, the women of the French court sleep with their faces covered with raw veal and a mask (except not when the king is waiting for them).
A French maids brings Miss Coke a floral headpiece, which she holds up to her dress in such a way that, for a second there, I thought she was going to pin it on and then the mean girls would laugh when she walked into the prom, causing her to go all Carrie on them. Thankfully she figured out it was for her head. Crisis averted.
11. You’re So Vain
Ernie walked into the party like he was walking onto a yacht, and Albert greeted his brother with a big embrace. The king offered condolences to Bert and Ernie over the death of their father. He reminisced about his own father who was sent to the guillotine by the mob (no, not that mob). He was a great dad who shared his mistress with his son to tutor him in the ways of the world. Albert asked Alfred and Drummond if they noticed all the painted ladies. They did and suggested that maybe the king was a bit painted as well. But enough of this frivolity; enter Victoria.
Were you a little worried that Victoria was going to walk in looking like a clown? I was. But no, luckily novice makeup artist Skerrett came through, and when Her Majesty was announced, painted Victoria strutted down the hall and into a Beyonce video (at least, that’s what it looked like). Even the mean girls took note. However, Albert does not like this new painted Victoria one bit. In fact, it freaks him out completely. Later when they are alone he begs her never to do it again.
Some Sour Notes
10. Bird Brains
Tablemates Victoria and King Philippe are hitting it off but she is perplexed when they place tiny rubber chickens in front of her. Then in unison the waiters raise napkins in front of the faces of the French guests. The dish is Ortolan and the king explains that they cover their faces to hide from God when they munch. Nutty. It’s a legal issue in France today.
True History: Ortolan is a tiny songbird that is considered a delicacy, and has had a long history of cruel treatment at the hands of gourmets. They are caught and drowned in Armagnac because they are too tiny to be shot. Currently killing or eating them is illegal because they are considered close to endangered. Some are still killed by poachers though who can sell a single one ounce bird for £100, and chefs have lobbied to make them legal again, if only for short periods each year.They are eaten whole, bones and organs included (it actually sounds rather disgusting to me) and the ridiculous napkin in front of the face is the traditional way to eat them. Here’s the latest news on the topic from Birdlife.
9. Miss Cleary, Unsweetened
Has anyone else noticed that sweet and innocent little assistant dresser Miss Cleary is not quite so sweet anymore? She’s showing another, more cynical side. One supposes we’ll see where that leads.
8. Begging to Differ
Prince Albert is a fish out of water in France. He complains about their vulgar hosts and the slutty court ladies, and how King Englebert casually spoke affectionately about how he shared a mistress with his dad. She says it’s no different than Uncle Leo and hit a nerve; Albert totally loses it. He wants to know what she means by that and she says Leo has a mistress too. He argues that’s why they need to be different. She looks at him quizzically when he screams at her so irrationally. Of course, this is really all about him feeling like a fraud because of what Uncle Leo told him last week, but she has no idea. Albert begs Victoria not to paint her face again. He cannot bear it. She does not realize that he is drowning and she is his life preserver.
7. Of Cabbages and Kings
Victoria and King Englebert take a stroll through his chateau’s kitchen garden greenhouse. He talks about his struggles and finding beauty in cabbages after his hungry exile. He is slick, just like Peel said, and knows just how to work her. He picks an orange and cuts a slice for her. Didn’t Mama tell her not to take candy from strangers? He talks of seven assassination attempts and when she says they have that in common, he competitively reminds her that her assailant shot blanks. He wants safety for his children, like they have in England. He does’t want them to have to struggle like he did. Plus, he insists the Coburgs cannot be allowed to build an empire via their stud services. They should stick to siring race horses. Victoria is a bit peeved at the suggestion. She married Albert because she loves him. The king explains that he’s just cynical about love and marriage (yeah, understandable that a kid who shared a mistress with his dad would feel that way). She tells him that if he wants safety, all the more reason to stay away from Spain. He doesn’t answer. He only says it’s too early in the day to be so serious, little lady. Time to party!
6. Prince Ernest at Play While Away
Miss Coke makes her move; she summons her courage and walks up to Ernie to convey her condolences on the loss of his father. At Buck House, Ernie was solicitous of Miss Coke, but here he is dismissive, even cruel to her. Maybe he has just tired of having this school girl moon over him and wanted her to vamoose for good. Or maybe, back at Buckingham Palace, while he thought there was still a chance with Harriet, there was an incentive to be his better self, a kinder, gentler horndog – but back home on the Continent (and bitter over Harriet), he feels more free to be his true self. Or maybe he’s just an ordinary, garden variety schmuck and always has been and we were fooled by a charming sociopath.
Albert gets the brush off too; Ernie is lounging on the ground next to a random distraction when Albert pulls him aside and admonishes him for behaving like papa. But Ernie likes to think that he is actually honoring their Papa by continuing his charity work with goat’s milk bathers.
We next see Ernie as he and Lady Distraction dart off through the gardens for a secluded spot and (safe assumption) a quickie behind the bushes. One assumes this was gratis, and the lady didn’t have her meter running, but one never knows with these randy royals. Of course he lost interest in her before they’d gotten back to the party. She got two steps ahead of him and when she turned around he had left skid marks making his getaway.
5. There’s No Taste like Home
Meanwhile, across the picnic party at her own table, the Duchess of Buccleauch is having a terrible time trying to get the waiter to bring her simple dry toast and tea (none of this fancy, saucy foreign stuff, thank you very much). Lord knows what she would have thought of the tiny, drowned birds you could only bite behind makeshift curtains.The Duchess cannot even handle bread baked in a shape that is not altogether respectable.
4. The Blue Lagoon
Lord Alfred is giddy from walking around with Drummond, or maybe from being in this new locale where it seems anything goes. They approach Albert, and Alfred almost teases him about how he must love the manicured gardens, given how much he loves forests. Nope. He doesn’t. To him the garden looks like a bushy boudoir.
They go for a walk in the woods, led by the Prince Frenchie when Albert spots a secluded watering hole with a waterall. His salvation! He strips down and jumps in for a skinny dip. The Prince Frenchie objects but he is overruled. Alfred and Drummond have been looking for the opportunity to get naked in each other’s presence, so they are next into the pool. Prince Frenchie thinks he has a kindred spirit in Ernie when he says he prefers his bath water “warm, like a woman’s thigh,” and Ernie, naturally, appreciates the sentiment, but jumps in anyway – with his clothes on! You’d think he’d be the first one to take his clothes off, but no. In the water, Albert swims around like a dolphin. Alfred and Drummond commence with some synchronized swimming, or maybe rough housing in close contact. Albert looks at them a bit oddly, like he’s not entirely sure what to think of it, but OK. Little did our swimmers know but Victoria, Miss Coke and Duchesse de Berry were out for their own stroll when they hear the shouting and come upon the peasants splashing about. Victoria likes the sight of Albert laughing and splashing about in the altogether.
Back at the ranch, when soggy Albert returns, Victoria pretends to be cross with him for swimming before melting into a fit of giggles, and they get down to some synchronized swimming of their own, a bit of afternoon delight within earshot of the servants outside the door.
3. Pillow Talk Confession
Albert finally tells Victoria what Uncle Leo told him, that he (Leo) thinks he’s Albert’s daddy; and how he told Albert not to share it with her or anyone, but that he cannot keep it to himself any longer. He has found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge his duties as prince and royal stud muffin as he would wish to do without the help and support of the woman he loves.
Victoria assures Albert that Uncle Leo is delusional; of course he’d like to be his father. What man wouldn’t? But nothing can be proven so forget about it. Easy to say, Vicky! Tearful Albert insists that he is an imposter, and now all their children are little bastards like him. Victoria assures him that Leo (or whoever his father is, could be anyone, really), does not matter. All that matters is him. Then Victoria says to him the thing that every single human wants to hear from their partner, “I know who you are, even if you don’t.” Valentine’s Day is coming up and I have the feeling that that lovely inscription will make it onto quite a few cards out there.
Before Victoria and Albert depart they make one last attempt to lobby the king, who says he wants their two countries to be like “kissing cousins.” Clearly he hasn’t paid any attention to the family tree: Victoria and Albert already are kissing cousins. Albert tries to explain the situation by comparing the queen of Spain to a bunch of grapes guarded by a nasty dog (the ghost of Dash?), and that to avoid being bitten, he should do nothing.
2. Advice Not Taken
King Englebert does not answer, exactly. Instead he expertly dodges with an offer of champagne and a toast to their relationship. Once Victoria and Albert get back to England they regale Peel and their dinner guests of their successful mission. Then it is announced that King Louis Philippe did exactly what he was going to do all along (surprise!): His son is engaged to the Spanish queen. He was just using them. Putz.
True History: Queen Isabella II of Spain (1830-1904) came to the throne at the age of three, and her mother was regent until she reach the age of majority. Her succession was disputed by the Carlist party who did not want to recognize a female sovereign and wanted their own line on the throne. At the age of 16 Isabella was forced to marry her cousin Francisco de Asís de Borbón (who was not the son of King Louis Philippe, but the match pleased him just the same – and it caused problems with England). The marriage was not a happy one and there were rumors that her nine children were not actually fathered by her husband, who was rumored to be gay. Her reign was marked by wars, political upheaval and disputes. In 1870 (at the age of 40) she was forced to abdicate in favor of her son, and spent most of the rest of her life in exile in France.
1. Third Time’s a Charm
It is not until the trip home that we discover the reason behind the Duchess’ dislike of the French: Her brother was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar. She will always deem them not altogether respectable. When asked by Alfred, Drummond agrees that there was something about their trip that was not altogether respectable as well. Indeed. Sounds like you had a good trip gentlemen.
Victoria and Albert are happy to be home, and happy that they have no more secrets. Though Victoria does have one more secret: Baby number 3 is on the way!!! Lady Ada, fire up your computing machine! Given how many babies Victoria had, I’m guessing that every cliffhanger for the rest of the season will be Victoria finding new and inventive ways of telling Albert that she’s pregnant again.
What Did You Think?
What do you think about it all, Victorians? Join the conversation in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #VictoriaPBS.