LOS ANGELES – Meghan Markle and Prince Harry aren’t the first royal couple to get tongues wagging. “Victoria,” which returns for its second season Sunday, builds on the notion that the legendary monarch and her dashing husband, Prince Albert, were as feisty and frisky as any modern-day tabloid item.
“They’re like the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton of the 19th century,” said creator Daisy Goodwin, who has written all but three of the 17 episodes. “What’s interesting about Victoria and Albert is that they are in the first royal marriage in, like, 500 years, where the man hadn’t had a mistress. He didn’t stray and neither did she. It’s a marriage that was genuinely happy, if stormy.”
The friction rises to the surface in Sunday’s two-hour premiere as the two butt egos in the wake of the Empire’s losing battle with Afghanistan and Victoria giving birth to the first of her nine children. Sexism grates more than postpartum depression on the new mother.
“I’m not a woman,” she says after a particularly glaring case of mansplaining. “I’m the Queen.”
Later, after hubby tries to bigfoot her on war strategy, she reminds him who wears the crown: “It may be your regiment, Albert, but it’s my army.”
Before the first hour is out, the heat between the two leads to a bedroom scene as steamy as anything behind closed doors on “Riverdale.”
“One of the most exciting things for me is exploring the dynamics in their relationship, because the tectonic plates keep shifting,” said Jenna Coleman, who plays the 21-year-old Victoria. “She wants to be a wife to her husband, but when Albert tries to take any form of Victoria’s role, she initially flips.”
The sexual tension running through the nine-part season may surprise people who think of Victoria as the lonely, bereaved spinster presented by Judi Dench in 1997’s “Mrs. Brown” and the more recent feature “Victoria & Abdul.”
“Maybe it’s a generational thing, but my knowledge of Albert was through the prism of Victoria’s mourning of the man,” said actor Tom Hughes, who used Stanley Weintraub’s book “Uncrowned King: The Life of Prince Albert” to help flesh out his character. “I didn’t really have a grasp of him as the young man we see on the show. It was a real awakening. There’s a very strident, inquisitive nature to him that’s really suited to the era. It’s the onset of the Industrial Revolution. There’s this new frontier on the horizon and I think Albert’s natural inclination is to look towards those things no matter how eccentric or left-field it is.”
Coleman discovered a very lively Victoria in her research, which included poring through the Queen’s personal diaries, in which she wrote almost daily. During a trip to Scotland, Victoria noted that people along the coast were not terribly pretty, but got more pleasing as she headed deeper into the mountains. Another historic excerpt described newborn infants as frogs.
“You uncover more and more detail all the time — tiny little nuggets or funny sentences,” Coleman said. “You feel like you’re learning little secrets about somebody you had a preconception of. In a way, I’m almost completely and utterly spoiled.”
The series manages to feel contemporary. Conflicts with Afghanistan, prejudice against homosexuality, class warfare and free trade are just a few of the show’s subjects that could pop up on CNN.
Viewers on both sides of the pond have been riveted. It is one of the top-rated dramas in England, where it runs months before it comes stateside. Season one on PBS’ “Masterpiece” attracted more than 16 million Americans, topping the number of people who tuned in for the first season of “Downton Abbey.”
“I think audiences really respond to seeing a young woman — a teenager really — in charge. That never happens,” Goodwin said. “That’s what makes Victoria so interesting. She’s not perfect. She’s dealing with all the issues we women have to face.
“She does have a tiara, of course. A lot of problems we face today are played out in much better clothes and all the trappings of royalty.”
The show has already been picked up for a third season, which will be set in 1848. But Albert’s future is not so assured. He died in 1861; Victoria would reign for 40 more years.
“Nobody told me about that,” Hughes said.
Victoria When: 8 p.m. Sundays. • Where: TPT, Ch. 2.