"I can manage... alone," says the newly-anointed, not-yet-crowned Queen Victoria as some hapless chap tries to assist her passage down a set of stairs. That is exactly what she did and mostly does in the enjoyable first episode of Victoria, a lush ITV dramatisation of the first few years of the monarch's life which began airing on TVNZ 1 on Sunday.

It's billed as Game of Throne, which feels apt even this early - it's at pains to position the very young Queen (she was a month past her 18th birthday on ascending) as a protofeminist of immense will and character. In this way it does shadow Game of Thrones in the way it shows women using guile to negotiate an intensely patriarchal society, though without all the sexual assault and sadistic violence for which the Seven Kingdoms have become infamous.

It's not the most subtle show in the world - last year's terrific Wolf Hall mined the royal court for intrigue in a far more nuanced style - and sometimes can feel overly concerned with conveying its thesis.

"I know I'm young, and my sex puts me at a disadvantage," says Victoria at one point. "But I can assure that I'm ready." That kind of line contributes to a nagging feeling of condescension at times - as if the writers didn't quite trust the viewer to pick up the theme, which is truly unimaginable.


Victoria is much better when it ventures into less predictable ground. The contrast between English opulence and German austerity is fascinating, and suggests a geopolitical dimension which might loom as the plot advances.

"I will have no patience with extravagance," says Lehzen, the young Queen's governess who becomes a key adviser, much to the shock of those men who were anticipating an easy mark for their established businesses slowly bleeding the monarchy of cash.

This sets up an ongoing tension between the young Queen's squad and that of her more pliable mother, the vaguely pitiful Duchess of Kent. She's advised by a pompous ass named Conroy, who assumes that he'll slide into a similar role for Victoria who is not remotely interested. Instead she pursues the dashing Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, for both political plans and probably sex in due course.

There's a pivotal scene at the coronation ball, which centres on the swapping out of fancy beeswax candles for the cheaper, smellier and messier tallow. This seemingly incredibly tedious detail is in fact a window into the corrupt nature of the royal court, with a reliable fortune to be made from price gouging on candles.

The mettle of both Victoria and Lehzen is triumphantly proven afterwards when, rather than dutifully agreeing to return to beeswax after the tallow fiasco, they instead announce that gas lighting will soon be installed, ending a good solid racket forever.

The new Queen is revealed as shrewd, independent, unbendable. And more than a match for her mother, the overbearing Conroy and lady-in-waiting Flora, who scheme and manipulate but meet an unexpected steel. The stage is set for a chess-like season, as age, guile and ruthlessness attempt to unseat the young but brilliant Queen, with the perpetual danger all monarchs face - an impatient next in line to the throne, always lurking.

Victoria is imperfect: the characters are fairly binary, which flows into somewhat stagey performances. Yet much like the Queen's occasionally faltering early steps are not indicative of what a force she would become, the story is sturdy enough to withstand the odd shaky moment early, and will rightly attract a vast audience.

My only regret is that all shows of this type implicitly endorse the continued lunacy that is the monarchy in the era, inculcating a belief in the divine right of one family to rule over all which should by any rights be in the process of swift dismantlement.

Most will easily put such deeply tedious thoughts aside though, and enjoy it for the high grade and sharply constructed period drama it is.