One thumb up, one down

Two new television series debuted last night; one was disappointing, the other daunting. First, the disappointment, Victoria on PBS. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a dud on Masterpiece. Jenna Coleman does an OK job as the young 18-year-old inheriting the throne. And Lord Melbourne, played by Rufus Sewell, is excellent as her prime minister and special advisor. The rest of the cast is only middling. The goings-on below stairs are almost embarrassing in their silliness.

We’ve all come to expect computer-generated imagery to create special effects and Victoria certainly uses CGI for crowd scenes and cityscapes. However, the work is so bad it gets in the way of watching. Buildings seem the wrong colour; you find yourself trying to look at the crowd below the balcony to find the fakery. When a production loses your attention like that, it is a failure.

You know that The Young Pope on HBO is different right from the opening scene when the new pope crawls out from under what appears to be a pile of dead babies. Jude Law plays Pius XIII with grand arrogance and good humour. He has impure thoughts, dreams of a naked woman, and jokes about his belief in God. The rest of the casting is equally impeccable. Diane Keaton looks promising as Sister Mary, given a key position in the Vatican. The crowd in St. Peter’s Square registers as real, and the script is taut with tension. In Victoria, the players are left babbling the same thoughts over and over.

Politics and intrigue surround both Victoria and Pius XIII, courtiers and cardinals, all trying to gain favour, or power, or both. I assumed I’d like Victoria and was dubious about The Young Pope. Turns out I got it backwards. The Young Pope has promise amid its fictional content; Victoria barely has a premise even with its historical base.


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