Being Queen Victoria isn’t easy – just ask Jenna Coleman.
Since taking on the role three years ago, the svelte young actress has spent most of her time wearing one sort of pregnancy bump or another (they vary in size, according to how pregnant Victoria’s meant to be) and on the day we meet it’s rather a large one.
‘Ummph!’ is the noise she makes when she finally gets to sit down at the end of a long day of filming in an aircraft hangar at a former RAF base in Yorkshire where Buckingham Palace has been lovingly re-created.
Not only is she sporting a bump, but also layers of petticoats beneath her dress.
It’s exhausting just looking at her.
‘Yes, the bump is big,’ she laughs.
Stars of ITV’s Victoria, Jenna Coleman, Tom Hughes and the actors who play their children, pictured in a new image inspired by the famous Winterhalter portrait
‘We’re literally at the stage of being about to drop baby number six.’
Victoria had nine children in total – five of whom were depicted in the famous Winterhalter portrait of her family, which has been re-created by the cast of the ITV series (main image) – so Jenna has some way to go.
Thankfully she’s resigned to being pregnant so often, and her only real concern is trying to find new ways of doing labour scenes.
‘The problem is I’ve run out of noises,’ she admits.
While being pregnant hasn’t put her off having children, Jenna, who in real life is dating Tom Hughes, who plays Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, says she wouldn’t have so many.
‘Oh no, not nine of them. I can tell you that for a fact.’
But there are a few advantages to being permanently with child.
One is that she doesn’t have to wear a corset, and the second is she can really have fun in the role.
‘Victoria gets a bit agitated when she’s pregnant, as well as walking with a waddle.’
Being pregnant and vulnerable is one of the themes of the third series of the costume drama, which has been a ratings hit both here and in the US.
While earlier series followed her struggle to gain her independence from her mother, her romance with Albert and her problems trying to assert herself as queen, this series looks at a threat not only to her, but to the monarchy itself.
The series picks up in 1848 with revolution in the air.
It’s the queen mum!
German artist Franz Winterhalter who painted The Royal Family in 1846 (pictured) was one of the first to portray Queen Victoria as a mother
German artist Franz Winterhalter’s painting The Royal Family In 1846 was one of the first to portray Queen Victoria as both sovereign and mother.
The scene captures a charming family moment.
Two girls (Princesses Victoria and Alice) tickle their baby sister (Princess Helena), while their little brother (Prince Alfred, dressed in skirts) toddles towards them and Mummy cuddles her eldest (Prince Albert Edward, or Bertie).
But it also symbolises the strength of their dynasty, as Victoria and Albert are seated on thrones surrounded by their five healthy children.
The painting hung in the dining room at Osborne House, the home they adored on the Isle of Wight, and it was one of Victoria’s favourite depictions of her husband, although critics likened Albert’s hands to a farmer’s.
It’s now in Buckingham Palace’s East Gallery.
Karl Marx has published his Communist manifesto, kings are being deposed, including the French monarch Louis Philippe, and the people are rising up.
In England the Chartist movement, calling for votes for working men, is becoming ever more angry and in one scene a brick is thrown through the window of Buckingham Palace.
‘It’s the first time that Victoria realises her position on the throne is not secure, and it’s a scary time for her,’ says Victoria’s writer Daisy Goodwin.
‘The series kicks off with Louis Philippe, who she went to stay with in the last series, being deposed, fleeing and arriving at her door.
‘It makes her realise that even she is not safe.
‘I thought it was an interesting idea for us, as a world obsessed with popularity, to see her contemplate being a queen without a people.
Writer Daisy Goodwin chose to explore Victoria’s (as portrayed by Jenna in series two) insecurity while on on the throne – due to the fact people around the world are currently obsessed with popularity
‘The brick through the window at Buckingham Palace really happened and I wondered how that must feel when you’re already vulnerable and pregnant, to have your sense of self change.’
Things became so fraught that sandbags were placed outside Buckingham Palace because of fears that fires might be started, and in the series the problem leads to more rows between the passionate Victoria and her sensible husband Albert.
‘Everyone wants her to leave London, saying it’s not safe, but she feels she needs to be seen to have the people on her side,’ says Daisy.
‘They have a humdinger of a row in front of the whole court and she throws a glass of wine at him, something else that actually happened.’
Into this already delicate situation come several characters who have the potential to disrupt things even more.
Victoria’s half-sister Feodora, played by Kate Fleetwood, arrives penniless from Germany.
She immediately makes herself at home – but also stirs things up (see below).
Meanwhile, Victoria’s prime minister John Russell (John Sessions) appears unable to control his wayward foreign secretary Lord Palmerston (Lewis star Laurence Fox), a womaniser who’s insanely popular with the public.
‘There’s an element of Boris Johnson in him, mixed with Willy Wonka,’ says Laurence, who plays the politician as 20 years younger than he was in 1848.
‘He’s rude, he undermines everyone and refuses to behave well to anybody, including the queen.’
From the start, when we see him announcing in the Commons that he’s sent a letter to France supporting the republic, it’s clear he and Victoria will have problems.
ITV’s Victoria is loosely based on the diaries of Queen Victoria (pictured as portrayed by Jenna Coleman in series one), Jenna revealed she reads the diaries but only up to where the show is
Laurence adds, ‘On one occasion at the Palace, the queen says to him, “Do you know why you’re here?” and he replies, “Because I’m an asset to any gathering.”’
Jenna Coleman says that in Palmerston, Victoria sees not only an arrogant upstart politician, but also someone the public might love more than her.
‘He’s a tricky character.
‘He doesn’t have any respect for protocol and doesn’t abide by her rules.
‘He’s charismatic and the public love him – they call him Pam.
‘She sees him as a rival in the popularity stakes.’
Politics-wise, Daisy says that while researching the show she was struck by how similar it was to today. ‘
The debate then was whether we should be allied to the continent or be in “splendid isolation”.
‘Palmerston is very much for isolation.’
The series is loosely based on Victoria’s diaries as well as contemporaneous accounts.
‘I like to read her diaries but I only read to where we’re up to,’ says Jenna.
Enter the scheming half-sister
A key character we meet in this series is Queen Victoria’s half-sister, Princess Feodora.
Feodora’s father, German prince Emich Carl of Leiningen, died when she was six; her mother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, then married the Duke of Kent, the fourth son of George III, and gave birth to the future Queen Victoria a year later.
The two girls were brought up together at Kensington Palace and were close despite a 12-year age gap.
Kate Fleetwood (pictured) stars as Queen Victoria’s half-sister Princess Feodora in the new series. She grew up close to the Queen despite a 12-year age group
‘She used to come into my room very often and sit writing her letters… she was always so gay and cheerful,’ Victoria recalled.
When George IV, Victoria’s uncle, took a fancy to the teenage Feodora, her mother feared the match could produce heirs that would stop Victoria taking the throne.
Feodora was hastily married off to a German prince.
In the series, Feodora arrives in London in rags after escaping the turmoil of Europe.
Kate Fleetwood, who plays her (pictured), says she’s a sympathetic character but mischievous.
‘She’s a master manipulator.
‘She believes she could have been queen herself had she not been knocked off her perch.
‘She’s been festering in Germany and wants to get back to a lifestyle she feels entitled to, so she plays Victoria and Albert off against each other.
‘It’s a complicated family, only this time the sibling rivalry is with the queen of England.’
‘I love the details, like when she writes about how she’s walking with the prime minister but all she wants to do is roll in the grass.’
The eight-part run also covers other real-life events including Victoria’s first visit to Ireland, at the time of the Potato Famine.
The series ends with one of the greatest triumphs of the Victorian age, the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Filming took place at the glass Palm House in Liverpool’s Sefton Park, standing in for the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park that housed the exhibition.
‘In the run up to the Great Exhibition everyone was saying what a disaster it was going to be,’ says Daisy.
‘It was like the 2012 Olympics when everyone was saying what a waste of money it was and how it would be a failure, but actually it was the pinnacle of Albert’s contribution to this nation.
‘For me, Albert is the unsung hero of the Victorian era.’
Victoria returns to ITV this month.