In years gone by, we Brits (and presumably others also) watched - rather addictively - such series as "Edward the Seventh" with Timothy West (1975), "Edward and Mrs Simpson" with Edward Fox (1978) and "Lillie" (also 1978) - about Mrs Langtry as Edward VII's lover while Prince of Wales, and hence covering some of the same ground. In each case they seemed to be well-done, featuring a host of stars and apparently looking for all the world like they were presenting the real thing.
In contrast, I find my adult self continually doubting the authenticity of historical recreations, which at times can seem to look quite lame. Presumably, this is the price one pays for greater knowledge and experience, and perhaps also increasing scepticism with age.
While part of Queen Victoria's reign was obviously covered in some of the aforementioned series, the doing of the whole thing was presumably considered too challenging an enterprise in the past, but once Jenna Coleman achieved a measure of stardom thanks to Dr Who, a realistic candidate for the starring role was found, and work on a series embarked upon.
Very visibly, the makers of "Victoria" have tried to out-Downton "Downton Abbey" by throwing in a layer of upstairs-downstairs story lines in the Buckingham Palace household context. These include some real historical figures, though doubtless doing many completely invented things. This at times seems like an awful and cheapening mistake by the makers, but on second thoughts one realises that many a story would have been quite difficult to present without it, and an opportunity for out-of-the-Palace background and social comment is also offered in this way. Fair enough, but the effect is not completely cringe-free!
More seriously (for the whole "suspend disbelief" thing), I simply ridiculed a scene in Episode 1 when Victoria took the salute with her soldiery in a very hammy-looking pseudo-military uniform, only to check on the Internet and find an early-Victorian sketch in which she is wearing EXACTLY such a uniform!
Further checks on further implausible-looking content from Episode 1 also revealed that they were actual events! Suitably chastened, but also much more enthusiastic, I turned to Episode 2 with vigour and very much enjoyed the rest of the series, which I recommend, even for those with a purist's interest in history, as well as lovers of drama.
Of course the viewer (myself included) may at times become over-trusting, as - for example - Prince Albert DID NOT increase his self-confidence and "find a role" by making a telling speech at the (real-life) World Anti-Slavery Conference convened in London in June 1840, fine story though that would have been, and most probably actually in line with the feelings of both Victoria and Albert, who were "progressive" figures in this field as in some others (as the series tends to make clear).
Other interactions between Victoria or Albert or both and other key figures of the day look more or less forced or phony, but overall there is a sense of the period conveyed here well enough, and many a true story told, in spite of everything. To that extent the series is educational, but it also works in its presentation of the royal couple as real, and quite remarkable people - all credit to Coleman, and to Tom Hughes for the role of Albert. There is even humour here, reminding us that - in her early reign at least - Victoria was sometimes "amused", was a lively enough girl and young woman, and was certainly deeply in love, and quite capable of feeling an appropriate measure of lust for her beau into the bargain. In short, a real and full human being, and a vigorous - and even quite talented - one at that.
This is all good stuff, well conveyed.
Prior to Albert's appearance, the Victoria story is entirely dominated (as it seems historically to have been) by Lord Melbourne, and here Rufus Sewell does an extremely good job, dominating a great many of the scenes and conveying a complex, thoughtful, kind and world-weary figure with many a pithy line to utter. Perhaps this version of Melbourne is greater than the real thing, but the performance is very fine in and of itself.
Peter Bowles's Duke of Wellington offers us little more than a sour and condescending oldish man (Wellington was certainly grouchy, reactionary and opinionated, but surely always evoked more respect than this character does, throughout his life, given his irrevocable status as national hero from India, Waterloo and the effective Peninsular War?).
However, Nigel Lindsay's Robert Peel is a great deal of fun to watch, and his growing interaction with Hughes's Albert is endearing. But was it really like that? That question again...
And so back to the original point. Perhaps we expect more these days (and thanks to the Internet we certainly have more access to knowledge - a healthy state of affairs). But does that slightly spoil the work of those with the temerity to make historical series for us, or is this just a necessary process of keeping them on their toes? Ultimately it is hard to say, and the price is an occasional feeling of discomfort/embarrassment watching "Victoria". But not to have attempted the series at all would have been sad, and as it is we have something interesting to watch, if mostly better at the small-scale, more intimate encounters than the large-scale national or state events, which do not always achieve persuasiveness.
Personally speaking, I shall be more than ready to watch Series 2 when it comes along.