The second series of Victoria returns to our TV screens at the weekend. Susan Griffin went on set to talk to some of the cast, including leading lady Jenna Coleman and writer Daisy Goodwin.
Dame Diana Rigg might’ve bid a beautifully-crafted adieu from Game Of Thrones in recent weeks but it won’t be long before we see the acclaimed actress back on the small screen, this time in the upcoming second series of Victoria when she’s introduced as the Duchess of Buccleuch, Queen Victoria’s outspoken Mistress of Robes.
For Jenna Coleman, who reprises her role as the young queen, the experience of working alongside acting royalty was “fabulous” - and it’s not the first time.
“I worked with Dame Diana on Doctor Who, similarly in Victorian garb except she had a creature attached to her chest and was trying to take over the world,” says Coleman, with a laugh.
“The relationship between Victoria and the Duchess of Buccleuch doesn’t get off on the best foot but becomes really surprisingly tender. I think Victoria really grows fond of her.”
But then it’s widely known that Victoria appreciated straight-talkers in her immediate circle. “I suppose if you’re in a position of power, she likes someone who can make her laugh and just cut through that divide. She’s very human, actually,” reasons Coleman, who, in preparation for the part, avidly watched Dame Judi Dench’s portrayal of Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown, a role Dench returns to in the forthcoming Victoria And Abdul.
“You’ve got that, so rewind 40 years and then this is the Victoria we’re meeting. You’ve got similar traits,” explains Blackpool-born Coleman.
The first series of Victoria was a ratings hit, beating the BBC’s period drama Poldark by averaging 7.7m viewers, according to ITV figures. The new series, which returns at the weekend, brings Victoria into the next stage of her reign as she manages scandals, crises and the struggles of family life.
We’re on set in Yorkshire, where an incredibly detailed replica of Buckingham Palace has been created within a vast aircraft hangar at Church Fenton Yorkshire Studios, the site of a former RAF base. As well as the Church Fenton studios, Victoria was also filmed at a series of locations across the county, including Beverley Minster, Harewood House and Wentworth Castle Gardens.
The petite Coleman, who quips she has a couple of inches on Queen Victoria’s 4ft 11in frame, has arrived straight from a photoshoot to promote the new series and is wearing an exquisite gown, with a delicate tiara perched on her head.
One of the challenges for the costume department, headed by Rosalind Ebbutt, has been the numerous bumps required for this series, which spans five years.
Lest we forget, Victoria was a mother of nine and it opens with the queen recovering from the birth of her first child. “They believed once women had had babies, they should lie horizontal for a month and not move basically,” explains Coleman.
“So she’s not in the best of tempers, having been babied and fussed around and then she comes back to work and sees Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) has effectively taken over and obviously she doesn’t like it.”
Three months later, she discovers she’s pregnant again, “which she was devastated by”, continues the actress. “She wrote in her diary, in capital letters ‘The only thing I dread is being pregnant’. It’s a really interesting story because you have a woman who loves her husband and is distraught by her pregnancy and feels imprisoned by it.”
One of the misconceptions that Coleman is keen to quash is that Victoria didn’t like her children. “If you go through her diaries day to day, she really is a doting mum so I was very keen to portray that, but the resentment is there absolutely for the pregnancies. She says, in an ideal world, ‘I wouldn’t have been caught so early. I would’ve been left free to enjoy the first couple of years of marriage’.”
Daisy Goodwin, a successful author who made her screenwriting debut with Victoria, believes the young queen “probably resented the amount of time having children took up and how that stopped her from being with Albert.
“I hate the idea of people dismissing her as a bad mother. Motherhood was something she couldn’t do anything about. For Victoria it was just a natural outcome of having sex with her husband, which she loved doing, but this was the consequence.”
Goodwin likens Victoria and Albert’s relationship to that of Hollywood greats Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. “It’s a very tempestuous marriage, very passionate,” notes the writer, who’s also written a Victoria Christmas special this year. They’re not unfaithful to each other but they’re constantly testing each other and there is sort of this power struggle that goes on between them.
“Every time she gets pregnant he gets a bit more power and she hates that and that’s something that does simmer beneath the surface of their marriage. And she is a very impulsive, volcanic person with no self-control and he’s got bags of self-control so you can imagine how annoying that is.”
Another relationship examined is that of the married Duchess of Sutherland (Margaret Clunie), one of Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, and Prince Ernest, Albert’s brother and a man actor David Oakes refers to as “a cad but the right side of naughty. They’ve kept the relationship a nice slow-burner,” says Oakes.
“It’s just quite a tender period relationship that isn’t ever quite allowed to exist because there are genuine barriers in the way so it sort of muddles along and then something happens about episode six that enables the relationship to blossom a little further.”
Oakes acknowledges that Goodwin has “deviated from history” but for the greater good “as it means we get more exciting things to do”, he laughs. “I think it’s one of the relationships on the show that has gone down particularly well. It’s that ‘Will they, won’t they? Could they, should they?’ It’s the fun relationship.”
Not only are the upper echelons of society explored but also the palace’s staff beavering away “downstairs”, and the second series will see the return of chef Francatelli, a real-life figure portrayed by Ferdinand Kingsley.
Francatelli was seen leaving the palace heartbroken at the end of series one after being stood up by Skerrett, the Queen’s dresser. “The new chef’s no good so Victoria politely requests I return and, when the queen requests something, you’re not really allowed to say no. I’m in a bad mood for quite a long time because no- one wants to be forced back,” explains Kingsley, as he recalls an unfortunate boating scene shot at Harewood House, near Leeds.
“It felt like gale-force winds so we’re trying to have a romantic moment talking about strawberries and cream and being really delicate and the crew were half a mile of way on walkie-talkies going ‘Start acting now, the wind’s gone down’ and then us dropping the anchor and getting stuck in the weeds. But I bet it looks great.”
His father, the Oscar-winning Sir Ben Kingsley, watched the first series. “He loved it and we watched one or two together, which is weird because you’re half looking at him,” laughs the actor, but then he’s used to watching with an audience.
The close cast gather each Sunday to watch the episodes, taking it in turns to host at their houses. There isn’t any whooping or heckling but “people compete to send themselves up”, reveals Kingsley. “Like ‘I can’t believe that got cut!’ or ‘Everyone shut up, I’m marvellous in this bit’. Or people read out what’s being said about it on Twitter.”
Something to consider if you’re planning to send a Tweet when it makes its return.
Yorkshire: top TV and film location
Yorkshire has become an increasingly sought after location for film and TV programmes, thanks to its stunning scenery, stately homes, beautiful coastline and industrial heritage.
Victoria was filmed at numerous locations across the county including: Bramham Park, Harewood House, Allerton Castle, Beverley Minster, Ripon Cathedral, Wentworth Woodhouse, Wentworth Castle, Temple Newsam House, and Duncombe Park.
Since being launched in 2012, Screen Yorkshire has invested in more than 35 film & TV projects including: Dad’s Army, Swallows and Amazons, The Great Train Robbery, Peaky Blinders and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.
Victoria returns to ITV on August 27.