In this week’s episode of Victoria, we learn why Agatha Christie chose a remote island setting for her murder mystery And Then There Were None. Using the Isle of Wight as a getaway from the “dangers” of London has not gone smoothly for our Royals. It’s more like a hostage drama wherein members of the court are forced to watch Victoria and Albert’s marital discord unfold in a fashion as loud as Albert’s interior design for Osbourne House. And there’s no way off the island (cue the scary music)!
This third episode’s Latin title, “Et in Arcadia,” can be translated as “Even in Arcadia, there am I” or, in other words, no matter where you go, there you are. Et in Arcadia is also the title of a 17th century painting in the collection of Chatsworth House, and we all know that house – Penge warned us – is owned by the Duke and Duchess of Caligula.
But hey, I don’t want to bury the lede: This week, Victoria’s producers decided, “Poldark, we see your shirtless scything and we raise you one skinny-dipping footman.” Then they threw in a shirtless chef, so there’s that to cleanse the palate.
Fasten your seatbelts and check those room numbers!
There’s No Place Like Home
Away from London, the court life and government business, everyone is going a bit stir crazy. These Londoners just can’t take the sunshine.
Maybe this road trip to Margaritaville was not such a great idea. It sounded good in the brochure: we’ll nibble on Victoria sponge cake while watching the sun bake, but things quickly devolve into a house party at the Bickersons. Albert and Victoria scream at each other while the servants hide the knives and the unwilling tourists (i.e., the court) desperately plug their fingers in their ears and go “lalalalalalalalala” in what passes for dinner conversation.
It’s Good to be King
At Osborne House, Albert is King of the Castle, and that is just the way he likes it. He does not want to return to London where he is merely the Royal Gigolo. But in this place Victoria calls “your house” when speaking with Albert, the power struggle in their tempestuous relationship intensifies as if in a pressure cooker.
Victoria resents him keeping her there when she should be at home on her “currently unoccupied” throne – just as she resents him for keeping her pregnant. He keeps saying flat out, “No,” when she suggests returning to London. Albert seems jealous of the adoration she gets from her subjects, and here on the Isle he doesn’t have to witness that. He wants to be Her Everything, but that cheering throng is one thing he can’t be. He considers her desire to please her subjects as a moral failing, and she does not appreciate his opinion on the matter. Albert says there’s a woman to blame; he can’t accept that it’s his own damn fault. It’s his jealousy.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What It Means to Her Majesty
Palmerston stands on the floor of the House of Parliament and likens absent Queen Victoria to a pigeon. Could be worse. Could be a parrot. And it would be wrong to assume the death of Victoria’s reign is at hand. She’s not dead; she’s just resting.
The House is debating whether to extend an invitation to the exiled Hungarian statesman Kossuth, who led the failed Hungarian revolution against the Austrian monarchy.
Victoria, frustrated that all this is going on while she is trapped on the Isle of Wight, decides to order Palmerston and Russell to make a command performance down the shore. Victoria lays down the law: they will not welcome Kossuth and will instead make it clear her government supports Europe’s monarchies.
She wonders why Pam grins at her as she speaks. Nothing worse than having someone smile at you when you’re mad at them. He tells her that he has no control over his goofy expression and wonders if one of her commands is that smiling is now prohibited.
Before he leaves Osborne, she asks Palmerston to make his case for hosting Kossuth, and he cautiously does. There may be a method to his madness. Victoria will be seen as magnanimous for allowing free debate and her people will love her for it – and there’s nothing wrong with courting public opinion.
With that, the Foreign Secretary and Queen find common ground. Maybe Palmerston and Victoria are a little bit alike after all – or, maybe he’s just heard Victoria and Albert arguing about this and figured it was an angle he could play to hasten his escape from the island. Either way, she agrees to Pam’s plan. Naturally, Albert thinks she’s wrong.
In the end, Kossuth’s speech at a dinner is anti-climactic. He is more Professor Irwin Corey than John F. Kennedy – and it looks like that’s exactly what Prime Minister and Pam had in mind. They toast.
FYI: Lajos Kossuth led a colorful life, rising from a poor noble family to become both a political prisoner and the Regent-President of Hungary during the revolution of 1848-49. Given that Kossuth was so known for his oratory skills that Horace Greeley exclaimed, “Among the orators, patriots, statesmen, exiles, he has, living or dead, no superior,” one thinks maybe his speech was more compelling than portrayed in this Victoria episode. But it was during this period around Kossuth’s visit that Victoria over-reached with her powers. That, combined with Palmerston’s support for Kossuth (and his support for Napoleon), led to the fall of Russell’s government.
Bertie’s School Daze
Albert drills Bertie with all kinds of lessons in what seems like an elaborate new Huntington Learning Center commercial where, “Face it, I’m not getting into college!” has been replaced with “I don’t bloody know!”
Albert goes all Mama Rose on Bertie, trying to mold Bertie into his vision of the perfect future king. He grows increasingly impatient that he cannot force this boy to bend to his will – or to read. The letters are swimming. Bertie tries to please his Papa but can’t and often runs out of the room in trailing tantrums.
Victoria is easier to please. Like a feral cat, Bertie brings Victoria a fish and leaves it in her lap. She smiles. She is miles more patient than Albert. Albert’s ideas about their children seem to go hand in hand with Uncle Leo’s ideas of a Coburg on every throne in Europe, achieving world domination via the nursery. Albert says their children must be the best. Worst of all, he expresses his frustrations about Bertie in front of him, as if he weren’t there. Victoria is Team Bertie all the way and does not like the way Albert is treating her son. It is a constant source of friction.
FYI: To us in the 21st century, it seems obvious that Bertie has dyslexia, but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the condition began to be understood (it was referred to as “word blindness”). Albert devised rigorous studies for him but Bertie was not a good student, and the pressure made him rebellious, which frustrated both his parents. After a number of tutors, Robert Bruce was appointed his personal governor. Bruce was fourth son of the 7th Earl of Elgin, making him a distant cousin of British journalist Alastair Bruce, whose great-grandfather was the 8th Earl of Elgin.
When Bertie did finally came to the throne, he was considered to be quite brilliant and was very popular. Learn more about the grown-up Bertie.
Can I Be Frank?
During a big eruption over Bertie at the dinner table, in front of all assembled, Victoria demands respect from Albert, who in his withering response, sarcastically calls her “Your Majesty.” At that, Victoria throws a drink in his face and the bystanders look down wide-eyed, slowly backing away from the scene of the crime as Albert storms out. Cue Feodora, whose machinations can now be seen clearly. She commiserates with Victoria. Under the pretense of trying to help, she is really just trying to isolate Victoria, not only from Albert, but also from her trusted Ladies. She tells Victoria the talkative women are commenting about the state of her marriage. Then she goes to Albert and tries to make Albert think he married “zeh wrong voman.”
When he doesn’t bite, she hints that they should not have any more…children. But don’t worry, she’s sure Victoria’s “humors” are temporary – not like her grandpapa’s (hint-hint).
Float Like a Butterfly…NOT!
I’m wondering if Victorians understood the concept of drowning. If they did, why did the court (and over-protective Albert) think it was too dangerous to be in London, but not too dangerous for Victoria to go into the ocean without knowing how to swim? Luckily, the ever-present Skerrett was there to jump in and save the day, though I’m not sure how she did it with all those heavy layers of clothing she was wearing (see what I learned from the costume designer on my visit to the set).
The Skerretelli’s Afternoon Delight
We get to see Francatelli with his shirt off during the fleeting private time he gets to spend with his wife. Given the way he is forcing a reluctant Skerrett into retirement, his physique seems like his only redeeming quality at the moment.
Francatelli hands in his resignation (was the last straw being conscripted to play the horse Bertie rides into battle in the Peninsular War reenactment?). Victoria is shocked and upset. She had to suffer through cockaleekie soup the last time he resigned. Skerrett looks shocked as well but when grilled for info by Victoria, she pretends not to know a thing about this.
Despite Skerrett’s continual protests that she wants to stay at the palace, Francatelli pushes his bride – who just last week vowed to “obey” (Ya see? Bad move.) – to follow his lead and resign herself. But she is still hesitant. She cannot forget that Victoria knew what she was and offered her a new life anyway. He counters that he’s offering her a new life now. Yeah buddy, but one where her wishes and concerns are brushed aside like yesterday’s potato peels.
Feeling pressured, Skerrett tearfully tells Victoria she wishes to leave her service. She apologizes, saying it’s for the sake of her marriage. Marriage? Say what? To Francatelli. DOH! Victoria is stunned. She drops down on the chair in tears. She had just walked out on another big blow up with Albert and into the sanctuary of her dressing room where supportive Skerrett was waiting, only to be hit with this. Et tu Nancy? Just one more betrayal to throw on the pile.
FYI: The real Skerrett and Francatelli. As I wrote in the Victoria Season 1 Episode 3 recap, Mrs. Skerrett is a fictional character with the name of a real person. She wasn’t married to Francatelli and remained with Queen Victoria for 25 years, eventually becoming Victoria’s private secretary. After Francatelli left the palace’s employ he never went back. However, he did later work for the Prince of Wales (the grown up Bertie) at Marlborough House. He married and had five children. His daughter Laura was a survivor of the Titanic.
Ordinary Joe takes the Polar Bare Plunge
Victoria may prefer the modesty of a bathing machine, but Footman Joseph has taken to skinny dipping. At every opportunity he drops trou (and wig) and runs into the sea like a salmon going upstream to spawn. This does not fly with Penge. Footman Joe gets caught out for leaving sand in his wig and is given a stern warning.
When he’s not swimming, Footman Joe is a student of Duchess Sophie. That is to say, every breath she takes, every move she makes, he’s watching her, offering empathy and help with random wardrobe malfunctions.
Then he commits the Cardinal sin of missing church and gets fired. When Sophie finds out he was let go, she covers for him. She ventures down into the kitchens to speak to Penge. She is very unconvincing in her pretense that she doesn’t know Joe’s name, and Penge sees right through the ruse, but what can he do? A Duchess has asked for a reprieve for her little stud muffin. Looks like we’ve got a five-alarm Chatsworth situation on the premises. Penge views this situation first with anger, then with a bit of awe – or bemusement – we’re not sure what that face said. What do you think, Victorians?
Trick or Treat
We haven’t yet seen what Feodora’s family crest looks like, but my guess is it’s a picture of a shark fin circling. Despite sidling up to her sister, pretending to be all concerned, her ill intent toward Victoria becomes more obvious by the minute – and she is all the more dangerous because, as a blood relative (something she is fond of reminding everyone she is), she has more access than even Victoria’s most trusted court ladies. The call is coming from inside the house! One would not be surprised to see Feodora pull off her mask and reveal it’s Uncle Cumberland standing there! Maybe next week.
Say what you will about Palmerston, his annoying cynicism at least makes him immune to Feodora’s crocodile tears. He sees she is up to no good with regard to her sister. He also knows there is no danger for her back home in Langenburg. It’s all a ruse to remain living large in England. Unfortunately, he is hampered in exposing her by a farcical misadventure that makes him imminently blackmailable. Sigh. As always, timing is everything.
Playing musical rooms at country house party can be treacherous game, as Palmerston found out when he came a creeping up the hallway in the middle of the night for Sophie. Not knowing Sophie had switched rooms, he kissed the wrong shoulder: Feodora’s! Feodora looks like the cat who ate the cream. She names her price for her silence about the incident. She doesn’t want to go back to Langenburg. Call off your dogs, Pammy Boy.
You Sunk My Battleship
As Palmerston dances around Sophie with amorous hints, Emma runs interference (as she did with Harriet and Ernie). How much of Emma’s time is spent running interference for dangerous liaisons?
When Emma sees Pam and Sophie huddled in the hallway, she cheerily asks Pam how his wife is doing. He scrams and she gives Sophie a look that says, “Oh honey, been there, done that, got the T-shirt; believe me, you don’t want to know.” Sophie returns a look that is the 19th century lady version of pretending she suddenly has bad cell reception. Lonely Sophie doesn’t see the warning signs flashing above Palmerston’s head and is easy prey.
But before Pam can go in for the kill, Emma warns him off – and we find out they once had a thing. Well, well, well. She asks for Palmerston – Henry – to do her a favor in memory of their own amorous complications: please don’t break Sophie’s heart. Palmerston gives it a thought and tells Emma he withdraws his artillery. Artillery? Was the battle of the sexes once fought with heavy weaponry?
Poor Sophie doesn’t realize what’s happened or why she’s been unceremoniously dumped, leaving her confused and more than a bit frustrated. And who happens to be there to pick up the pieces but the ever observant Footman Joseph, offering tea and sympathy, talk of the magic of the sea…and a chivalrous hankie.
FYI: RIP handkerchiefs. The handing of the handkerchief is chivalrous, but aren’t we glad facial tissue (a.k.a. Kleenex) was invented in 1924. Now it’s possible to be chivalrous without having to walk around with snot in your pocket.
Victoria Suddenly Remembers, Yo, I’m the Queen!
No more acquiescing to Albert’s “musts;” Victoria has let him have his little fun, pretending he’s in charge, but now she announces that she is going home, and that’s that (finally!). And she casually drops in that he can remain there searching for his lost shaker of salt, if he likes. Take THAT! No one puts Vicky in a corner.
Victoria finally remembered her power. Was it (oddly enough) Palmerston who reminded her? It seems he was sort of like Glinda in that way; he told Victoria that she had the power to go back to Kansas all along, but she had to learn it for herself. And just like that, she clicked her heels and they are back in London where a cheering crowd outside the palace gates welcomes the return of their Queen, the only constitutional monarch in Europe. Long may she wave.
My Top 6 We Are
Not Amused Moments
6. Know It All. Back in the very first episode of Season 1, when Lord M was suggesting Victoria appoint Emma as one of her ladies, he said, “She knows everybody.” He should have added, “she sees everything.” Nothing gets past her; not a subtle look across a drawing room, or stockinged feet tip-toeing in the hall. We are glad she uses her powers for good, not evil.
5. Have him stripped, washed and brought to my tent. Did you see Emma look up and smile at Joseph when he poured her a drink at that uber tense dinner party? It was in the background, but clear as day. Might she be hoping for…complications? Hmmm?
4. Cold Shoulder. For a second there, when Palmerston kissed the wrong shoulder, I wondered what would have happened, that night, long ago at Downton Abbey, if Mr. Pamuk had crept into the wrong room and instead of Lady Mary, had found the Dowager instead? Ponder that!
3. Yours, Mine and Ours. Victoria’s subtle correction of Albert, when he refers to the country as “ours,” and she simply responds, “mine,” as he goes on his way, pretending not to notice. Oh, snap!
2. Single White Servant Seeks Same. That moment when Penge thinks he’s caught Francatelli and Skerrett bang to rights and Francatelli shuts him down with, “I’m comforting my wife. What are you doing?” and Penge retreats to his office to work on his eHarmony profile.
1. Scenes Come Full Circle. In the lead up to Victoria Season 3, I reported on my set visit where I saw three scenes being filmed. One appeared in Episode 1. The other two scenes landed in Episode 2: Victoria and Skerrett exiting the Victorian bathing machine in the sea, and the scene in which Francatelli tells Penge he’s comforting his wife.
What do you think about it all, Victorians? Join the conversation in my recap – posted every Sunday evening after the broadcast – in the comments, below! On Twitter you can use the hashtag #VictoraPBS and follow @THIRTEENWNET and me at @E20Launderette. On Instagram, find THIRTEEN at @THIRTEENWNET and me at @GothamTomatoand also use the hashtag #VictoriaPBS.
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