Malahide is wonderful in the role. He uses a very fetching Irish accent. It seems Sir John must have been a peacock because his wardrobe is lush. He sports a wide array of waistcoats, frock coats, and wide bow cravats. The wardrobe combined with his fierce side whiskers is a very good look. Sir John obviously took fashion pretty seriously.
Sir John is portrayed as very energetic, determined and ambitious. He shows absolutely no hesitation in intimidating the young Victoria (Victoria Hamilton), often looming threateningly over her. He even bullies her, forcibly snatching a very important letter from King William IV (Peter Ustinov) that was intended for her eyes only.
While the majority of the ensemble are slow, staid and stodgy, Conroy is a total whirlwind of movement. He is always on the go and always strategizing. The problem is, I don’t think he is particularly cunning. His methods are awfully heavy handed and lack subtlety. He is a bull in china shop. Perhaps, if he had been a bit craftier, he could have managed to get into the Queen’s good graces.
Princess Mary, Duchess of Kent (Penelope Wilton), however, thinks very highly of him. When he first realizes he has lost (he makes plenty of military references, reminding us that he is an Irish soldier) and is ready to tender his resignation and terms (which are ridiculously ambitious), she desperately begs him to stay. There is a fairly strong hint that their relationship is not a purely professional or platonic one. (There is some speculation that he may have been Victoria’s biological father. That is not hinted at in this production, but Wikipedia mentions it.)
Sir John has a couple of funny scenes which were appreciated since they broke up the slow pacing. At one point, we see him with his feet on his desk, enjoying a cigar and drink before having to dash off (bossing the page around) to deal with that stupid letter from the King.
He is also shown rudely yawning during a music recital which he attends purely to schmooze with the super-twee-with-sugar-on-top Baron “Stocky” Stockmar (played with twee efficiency by David Suchet). His schmoozing efforts prove futile (boooo), but the scene is really cute.
The second episode of the series doesn’t feature Sir John at all. Basically, it just has Albert (Jonathan Firth) working hard (and noisily…with plenty of complaining) to improve palace efficiency before he dies.
A little more (no, a lot more ) of the robustly energetic Sir John would have been appreciated. Especially as the real Sir John did remain in the Duchess’ household for several years after the Queen gave him the boot. But, the program was really about Victoria’s and Albert’s love story so there you go.