A Filmmaker's Review: "Queen Victoria and Her Nine Children" (Netflix, 2018)
5/5 - A brilliantly dark and intense docuseries
I initially watched this documentary because of the fact it was being recommended to me so much by Netflix that I was struggling now to avoid it appearing on my homepage. I caved in and after a few days, I watched it. The show goes over the death of Prince Albert and then shows us the rather volatile reaction towards it by Queen Victoria. She goes into extravagant mourning for more than a decade and takes it out on her children. Over the course of the three episodes, we see her relationship with her children become more and more tense and strained as some manage to escape her and leave home and some are left behind to deal with her ever-growing mess of her life.
Let's take a look at the best things about this docuseries.
The first thing that was thoroughly enjoyable was the fact that the series goes into some prolific detail. There are letters shown, diaries from the archives shown and things that would've been personal to the royal household shown in order to back up the claims stated by the scholars on the documentary about the fading mental stability of Queen Victoria. This definitely makes the documentary seem closer to the people it is about. Often with historical documentaries, the figures it is about can seem distant. But with things like diaries, letters and photographs, the director can make the documentary seem closer to the audience and thus, evoke more emotion. Where Queen Victoria's mental instability is concerned, I think the requirement for emotion was definitely there and the director evoked it in the correct way.
The second thing about this documentary that was surprisingly good (and I initially didn’t think was going to work if they kept on like this, but it did) was the back-referencing the documentary kept doing. Many of the scenes in the latter parts of the documentary series were frames, shots or even entire scenes from the previous episode(s) and so, it gave its audience a connection between the ‘old’ Victoria and the ‘newer’ Victoria. This obviously was there to give the audience some sense of change in Queen Victoria’s personality, but to also attribute that change to a key event or two. For example: when Queen Victoria blames her son Bertie for the death of Prince Albert, there is a lot of back-referencing in order to get the audience to understand. Mainly, a lot of this back-referencing is there to make the audience understand Queen Victoria and thus, with this back-referencing, the documentary evokes yet another layer of sympathy for the Queen. This is done through helping the audience to understand why she was the way she was and why she said certain things to certain people.
Another good thing about the documentary is that on the whole, it remained fairly unbiased towards the children whether they were considerably morally good or bad for our own days now. It showed the children as regular human beings with faults and weaknesses, achievements and good details of their own. For example: it initially presents Bertie, the heir, as an out-of-control party animal with little other to live for than hedonism and pleasure. But, it also presents him as the one closest to some of the siblings and a man who cares about his mother enough to not trust the more vile people that move into her life with her. He is also the one who apparently sobs and cries at her deathbed even though throughout his life after the death of Prince Albert, she blamed him for it and berated him whenever they saw each other. He still cared a lot about her and would not let anyone looking to take advantage, get too close to the Queen.
In conclusion, this documentary series presents an intimate, close look into the Royal Family backed up by appropriate evidence from everything from the letters of Queen Victoria, the letters of Bertie and the photographs from the era, to the saddening diaries of the doomed Prince Leopold and his younger sister’s marriage photographs. It uses all this evidence, scholarly opinions and an intriguing narrative to tell the story of what happened during the years that Queen Victoria had to reign over England and her colonies whilst also raising nine children. One of which suffered a fate worse than death itself.