The second series of Victoria hits our TV screens at the weekend. Susan Griffin went on set to talk to some of the cast, including Jenna Coleman and writer Daisy Goodwin.
Dame Diana Rigg might have bid a beautifully-crafted adieu to 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 is 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,” says Blackpool-born Coleman.
The first series of Victoria was a ratings hit, beating the BBC’s period drama Poldark by averaging 7.7 million 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 several in and around Leeds such as Harewood House and Temple Newsam House, as well as some further afield like Beverley Minster and Ripon Cathedral.
The petite Coleman, who quips that 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 that once women had had babies they should lie horizontal for a month and not move basically,” says 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”, adds 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 have 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 has 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.”
Victoria returns to ITV on August 27.