How Vic­to­ria wrote the show for us

The in­ner­most thoughts Vic­to­ria recorded in her di­aries give a rare glimpse into her na­ture. In a new book, Daisy Good­win, the ITV show’s cre­ator, and Sara Sheri­dan tell how they were brought to life

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With their vast moun­tains and swirling mists, sprawl­ing heather and long, heady sum­mer evenings, it’s no won­der our present Queen be­lieves the Scot­tish High­lands are the place for hi­ber­nat­ing and truly be­ing her­self. ‘It’s the most beau­ti­ful place on earth. I think Granny is the most happy there,’ Princess Eu­ge­nie has said of Bal­moral, the Queen’s Scot­tish re­treat in Royal Dee­side, where she and Prince Philip spend two months ev­ery year. ‘You just have room to breathe and run.’

But it was Queen Vic­to­ria and her hus­band Prince Al­bert who be­gan this ro­man­tic tra­di­tion af­ter first vis­it­ing the High­lands in 1842 and be­com­ing so cap­ti­vated they moved into Bal­moral in 1848 – a prop­erty they hadn’t even seen. Thank­fully it didn’t dis­ap­point. A ‘par­adise in the High­lands’ is how Queen Vic­to­ria de­scribed it in her di­ary on her ar­rival. ‘All seemed to breathe free­dom and peace, and to make one for­get the world and its sad tur­moils.’

And no won­der – she was es­cap­ing from a very trou­bled Eng­land, as we’re see­ing in the sec­ond se­ries of the ITV drama Vic­to­ria. Not only had the shock­waves of the potato famine in Ire­land reached the Queen, played by Jenna Cole­man, as she bat­tled with po­lit­i­cal un­rest at home, but in to­mor­row’s episode we also see how two at­tempts to as­sas­si­nate the Queen led to such in­creased se­cu­rity at Buck­ing­ham Palace she be­gan to feel trapped in a gilded cage.

One of the strange things about writ­ing Vic­to­ria is that the real-life events are al­ways harder to be­lieve than any­thing you could imag­ine. To­day we ex­pect our rulers to be sur­rounded by a se­cu­rity de­tail, but ac­cess to Vic­to­ria was re­mark­ably easy by to­day’s stan­dards – dur­ing her reign there were seven at­tempts on her life.

On that oc­ca­sion, on 29 May,

1842, Al­bert spot­ted a man lev­el­ling a gun at the Queen while the royal cou­ple were on a short car­riage ride from the palace to the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace. He didn’t fire but they both de­cided to ‘draw out’ this po­ten­tial as­sas­sin the next day by tak­ing the same route. And in­deed, this time he did draw his flint­lock and at­tempt to shoot her. The would-be as­sas­sin, 20-year- old John Fran­cis, was ap­pre­hended by a po­lice con­sta­ble and even­tu­ally trans­ported to Aus­tralia for his crime.

Vic­to­ria had al­ways dreamed of vis­it­ing Scot­land be­cause she spent her child­hood read­ing Sir Wal­ter Scott nov­els and all those im­prob­a­ble sto­ries of chivalry, about Rob Roy and Bon­nie Prince Char­lie, so it seemed to her an in­cred­i­bly en­chant­ing place. She’d also had her sec­ond baby and was suf­fer­ing from post­na­tal de­pres­sion. Al­bert (played by Tom Hughes) un­der­stood that en­ter­tain­ment was vi­tal to keep­ing his young wife happy and ded­i­cated him­self to or­gan­is­ing hol­i­days to get her out of Lon­don. So they de­cided to go to Scot­land and we filmed at Blair Cas­tle – the home of the Duke of Atholl, played in our show by leg­endary Scot­tish ac­tor De­nis Law­son – where the real Vic­to­ria and Al­bert ac­tu­ally stayed. Usu­ally, many of the ex­tras on the set of Vic­to­ria are reg­u­lars, hired from lo­cal agen­cies. When it came to film­ing at Blair Cas­tle, we were de­lighted as we were able to use the real Atholl High­landers. Th­ese are a pri­vate Scot­tish cer­e­mo­nial in­fantry reg­i­ment in the em­ploy of the cur­rent Duke of Atholl and we used them, as they were orig­i­nally, as body­guards to the Queen dur­ing her stay. They look in­cred­i­ble in their kilts and tar­tans and add a fan­tas­tic au­then­tic­ity to the episode. Blair Cas­tle also of­fers the most stun­ning back­drops, in­clud­ing an en­tire wall of stags’ antlers like some­thing out of the TV se­ries Game Of Thrones. We didn’t have to do much set dress­ing there.

As soon as Vic­to­ria and Al­bert ar­rived, Scot­land be­came a mag­i­cal place for them where they found free­dom from the eti­quette and re­straints of court. For the se­ries the start­ing point is al­ways Vic­to­ria’s di­aries, not so much as a fac­tual record but to get that un­mis­tak­able tone of voice – ob­ser­vant, em­phatic, pas­sion­ate. You can ac­tu­ally see her state of mind. To­mor­row night’s episode is based on a story found in her di­ary about Al­bert and Vic­to­ria get­ting lost in the High­lands af­ter be­com­ing de­tached from their party dur­ing a ride. They take refuge in a crofter’s cot­tage and it’s a lovely ro­man­tic episode, a chance for them to be man and wife, a nor­mal cou­ple. There must be some­thing in the air in Scot­land as Wil­liam and Kate spent some of their most pre­cious times at Bal­moral in a cot­tage called Tam-na-Ghar dur­ing their breaks from

‘Scot­land en­abled them to re­cap­ture their ro­mance’

St An­drews Uni­ver­sity. And Prince Charles turns to Bal­moral for his most pri­vate get­aways – he chose to hon­ey­moon at the cas­tle when he mar­ried Princess Diana, and again when he wed the Duchess of Corn­wall.

In this way, Scot­land played an im­por­tant part for Vic­to­ria and Al­bert too, as it en­abled them to re­cap­ture their ro­mance. And this was a vi­tal part of their re­la­tion­ship as we know they fought fiercely, with stand-up rows that raged all over the palace, then they made up with equal pas­sion. This was a pair who couldn’t keep their hands off each other, as their nine chil­dren in 17 years tes­ti­fies. Al­bert even came up with a spe­cial gad­get which meant he could lock their door with­out get­ting out of bed, which was handy with a palace full of ser­vants and chil­dren. The young cou­ple trea­sured their pri­vacy and Al­bert ob­jected to the in­tru­sions in the royal bed­cham­ber by his wife’s child­hood gov­erness, Baroness Lehzen, and other staff.

In Scot­land, they read to each other and gen­er­ally en­joyed the round of for­mal din­ners and Scot­tish coun­try danc­ing and spend­ing much-needed time alone. The Duke and Duchess of Buc­cleuch (who was Vic­to­ria’s Mis­tress of the Robes), who en­ter­tained the royal cou­ple in Scot­land, be­came firm friends. In the se­ries Char­lotte, the Duchess, is por­trayed by ac­tress Dame Diana Rigg as a much older, cur­mud­geonly char­ac­ter, How­ever, Vic­to­ria and the real Char­lotte were con­tem­po­raries and there is no sug­ges­tion that the Duchess was any­thing other than light­hearted and sup­port­ive in her re­la­tion­ship with the Queen. Diana agrees.

‘My Duchess is fic­tional. Buc­cleuch is stuck in her ways – very proper, con­scious of pro­to­col and stan­dards.’

It was on this trip that Vic­to­ria first tried ‘brose’, or whisky and honey mixed to­gether, which may have sparked her life­long love of whisky.

While much of the coun­try was starv­ing, Vic­to­ria had a hearty ap­petite and rel­ished meal­times, be­com­ing up­set if there wasn’t a suf­fi­cient spread. She even once com­plained in her di­ary that it was a ‘mis­er­able day – no pud­ding’.

Al­bert, on the other hand, ate solely for fuel and did not rel­ish the lav­ish spreads pre­pared by the palace’s 45 kitchen staff and re­fused to dally ‘with the chaps’ over port once the ladies had re­tired at the end of the meal. But Vic­to­ria loved to drink and had a par­tic­u­lar fond­ness for wine and whisky.

In her child­hood, Vic­to­ria’s food had been ra­tioned and the young Queen cut a slim fig­ure, but when she took over her own house­hold that swiftly changed and she steadily put on weight. She also ate very quickly, cram­ming food into her mouth. It was said Vic­to­ria could pol­ish off seven or eight cour­ses in as lit­tle as half an hour. One French vis­i­tor watched open-mouthed as she de­mol­ished three large plate­fuls of soup.

While pro­duc­tion de­signer Michael How­ells’s team make sure that ev­ery prop on set looks per­fect, noth­ing re­quires more at­ten­tion to de­tail than the food for Vic­to­ria’s spe­cial oc­ca­sions. And one thing’s for sure: not ev­ery­thing is at it seems. The plat­ters of oys­ters served at the lav­ish ball in episode three were made out of ly­chees. ‘We need to ac­com­mo­date ac­tors’ al­ler­gies and food pref­er­ences,’ Michael ex­plains. His team also worked with taxi­der­mists to cre­ate the glo­ri­ous dis­play of poul­try dishes which in­cluded pea­cocks, swans and geese. There are also mod­ern-day laws to con­sider – it’s now il­le­gal to eat the tiny birds served by the King of France when Vic­to­ria and Al­bert vis­ited him in 1843, so How­ells’s team had 200 tiny marzi­pan birds cre­ated for episode five, each one painted in­di­vid­u­ally by hand.

The trip to Scot­land re­stored the

Queen, who came back to Buck­ing­ham Palace to shoul­der her du­ties as Queen, wife and mother once more. By the end of se­ries two, Vic­to­ria has three chil­dren so the team has a set of pros­thetic bumps to cover all stages of preg­nancy. In re­al­ity she had five chil­dren by then but we didn’t want it to be a case of Call The Mid­wife so we kept it un­der con­trol! This se­ries fea­tures sev­eral chil­dren of dif­fer­ent ages. The baby who played Princess Vic­to­ria at six months old is ac­tu­ally Jenna Cole-

man’s god­daugh­ter, but many of the chil­dren cho­sen are twins, so that if one child is find­ing a scene dif­fi­cult, the other can step in. For the royal nurs­ery scenes, young­sters who look like Vic­to­ria’s own sketches of her chil­dren are usu­ally cho­sen, much to the chil­dren’s de­light when they spot them­selves in pic­tures around the set!

When shoot­ing crowd scenes, it’s com­mon for up to 80 sup­port­ing artists to be re­quired on set or lo­ca­tion. Any­thing larger and the CGI team are

brought in to cre­ate the il­lu­sion of more peo­ple. In­di­vid­ual ex­tras are shot from dif­fer­ent an­gles against a green screen and then ‘dropped’ into the back­ground, their im­age al­tered slightly in each in­car­na­tion.

Spe­cial ef­fects in his­tor­i­cal dra­mas are about re-creat­ing his­tory. As vis­ual ef­fects pro­ducer Louise Hast­ings ex­plains, ‘The ef­fects need to be in­vis­i­ble to trans­port the au­di­ence back to the Vic­to­rian era.’ It all has to look au­then­tic. For sweep­ing scenes of old Lon­don, for ex­am­ple, the CGI team used maps and old paint­ings for ref­er­ence, then added in horses, car­riages and chim­ney smoke, as well as crowds, to re-cre­ate the cap­i­tal as it was then.

The re­sults can be cun­ningly de­cep­tive. The scenes in France for episode five were ac­tu­ally shot in Hartle­pool where a ‘French quay’ was set up with an old pad­dle boat rep­re­sent­ing the royal yacht, Vic­to­ria And Al­bert. In real life it wasn’t sea­wor­thy!

The pe­riod cov­ered in the sec­ond se­ries – 1841 to 1846 – is par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it marks the end of Vic­to­ria’s child­hood. By the fi­nal episode she’s lost her beloved Lord Mel­bourne, her adored dog Dash and her re­la­tion­ship with her close con­fi­dante Baroness Lehzen is in­creas­ingly un­der threat.

To­gether, Vic­to­ria and Al­ber t had be­gun to change the pub­lic per­sona of Bri­tish roy­alty. Gen­er­a­tions of their pre­de­ces­sors had been mired in in­fi­delity and scan­dal, so as a royal cou­ple they were al­most unique in their loy­alty to each other.

It’s un­likely any other con­sti­tu­tional monarch has had as much in­flu­ence on the lives of her peo­ple as Vic­to­ria did. Many of Vic­to­ria and Al­bert’s tra­di­tions are still in use too, from Al­bert’s in­no­va­tion of the en­gage­ment ring to the Christ­mas tree. Over­all, the monar­chy to­day, with its em­pha­sis on or­di­nary fam­ily life, phi­lan­thropy, duty and sta­bil­ity – with a good dose of cer­e­mony thrown in – owes a great deal to the model she cre­ated.

It was a fas­ci­nat­ing pe­riod of his­tory, so no won­der a third se­ries is be­ing writ­ten right now.

Adapted by Lisa Se­wards from Vic­to­ria & Al­bert: A Royal Love Af­fair, by Daisy Good­win and Sara Sheri­dan, pub­lished by HarperCollins, price £20. To or­der a copy for £16, p&p free, visit mail­ or call 0844 571 0640. Of­fer valid un­til 21 Oc­to­ber 2017. Vic­to­ria, to­mor­row, 9pm, ITV.

‘Vic­to­ria had a fond­ness for wine and whisky’

Vic­to­ria (Jenna Cole­man) and Al­bert (Tom Hughes) on a visit to France and (in­set) the Queen en­joy­ing new-found free­dom in Scot­land

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