Two months after the conclusion of season two, Victoria returned to British screens for a Christmas special, titled ‘Comfort and Joy’. It ended up being a bit of a rollercoaster two hours with little comfort or joy, covering everything from Christmas traditions and heartache, to venereal diseases and unfortunately ice accidents. By the end, and after eating my weight in turkey, I was more than ready to call time on the day.
Chief showrunner Daisy Goodwin took on writing duties for this episode, bringing her trademark knack at embellishment to a number of palace stories. Blending fact with plenty of fiction, many of the events which provided inspiration for this episode happened at all different times of Victoria’s reign – for a little ease, in Goodwin’s drama they all took place over Christmas. All in all, a pretty busy week for the palace!
In this episode, Queen Victoria is dealing with the loss of her closest confidant, Baroness Lehzen, while a poker-faced Albert waxes lyrical about the importance of Christmas merriment and tradition. Any other person would say such things whilst bouncing off the walls like Buddy the Elf after several bowls of spaghetti syrup, but not our Albert. His excitement is very internal, with the odd eyebrow-raise being the full extent of his expression. It’s a fine portrayal by Tom Hughes of course, although it does give Jenna Coleman ample space to cry and emote for him.
Lord Alfred is also heartbroken after the death of his would-be lover Edward, and Albert’s brother Ernst is longing for his crush Harriet from afar – fruitless now that he’s got a diagnosis of syphilis. This topic, along with Mrs Skerrett being bequested ‘property’ from a slave-owning uncle, means that the Christmas special deals with some rather difficult ideas. I did find myself googling the symptoms of syphilis to prepare for writing this review, which is not something anyone really wants to do on a quiet festive evening. Unfortunately, Ernst’s method of mercury is not going to help him much, and he ends the episode as miserable as ever. Still, if you sneaked ahead and checked Wikipedia like I did, you’ll know that there’s still plenty to cover in the German prince’s life.
Meanwhile, Victoria has taken in a child rescued from an (unnamed) African country and is determined to ensure that the young Sara has a chance at a happy childhood. Zaris-Angel Hator, who portrays Sara, does a wonderful job in the role, and her small scenes are affecting. However, along with Skerrett’s plotline, it’s not handled with deftness. The issue of slavery was pivotal during the Victorian era and, done in a style similar to The Crown, it needs more screen time during the regular episodes of Victoria, rather than a few perfunctory sub-plots here.
Elsewhere, Skerrett and pastry chef Francotelli go through several ups and downs while they figure out if they could marry. There’s a lot of back and forth here that feels a bit pointless, though I may be biased because I don’t trust Francotelli as far as he can throw him. Anyone remember how he acted in season one? I do, and I don’t forget. Get yourself back to the Highlands, Mrs Skerrett, and find that nice Scottish lad again.
Victoria is undoubtedly fluffy melodrama, on a level with the current Poldark episodes rather than more prestige drama like the recent Howard’s End and The Crown. With that in mind, it’s understandable that it would play lightly with history and instead focus on the more exaggerated elements from each story. However, it can’t expect to drop in darker subjects without dealing with it in a patient, well-paced fashion. Personally, I’d recommend that it kept that initial focus on humour and Albert and Victoria’s love story, straying from the angst that dominated this episode and the latter half of season two. Still, if that’s not the goal, Victoria is going to have to get a lot better before it walks further in a different direction.