The New Year on Masterpiece PBS
presents an exciting new period drama, Victoria
. Written by bestselling novelist Daisy Goodwin (The American Heiress
), this seven-part series premiers on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017
and follows the ascent of 18-year-old Alexandrina Victoria (Jenna Coleman) to the throne in 1837 and her early reign as one of Britain’s most iconic monarchs. Based on Queen Victoria’s personal diaries, this new series delves into the Queen’s sticky family politics, her relationship with her first prime minister and intimate friend Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell) and her courtship and marriage to Prince Albert (Tom Hughes).
Screenwriter Daisy Goodwin has graciously agreed to answer a few of our pressing questions before Victoria begins next month.
The general perception of Queen Victoria is from her later years as a dour, plump widow dressed all in black. Does the new television series Victoria represent a different story of her life?
Very much so. It starts on the day she becomes Queen, just a month after her eighteenth birthday. Imagine waking up as teenager and finding that you are the most powerful woman in the world. Victoria is young, headstrong and intoxicated with her newfound freedom. She is raring to go.
As the daughter of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, the fourth son of King George III, Victoria was really a long shot to become the heir to the throne. Did her upbringing properly prepare her for her destiny?
Not really. Her father died when she was a baby and she was brought up by her mother and her mother’s advisor, Sir John Conroy. This pair thought they would be able to run the country through Victoria, and so they did everything to make her as dependent on them as possible. She had to sleep in her mother’s room, and she wasn’t even allowed to walk down the stairs on her own. But Victoria was not prepared to be anyone’s puppet. the first thing she did when she came to the throne was to move out of her mother’s room.
Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, the German Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, was a widow by 1820, raising Victoria under very close supervision. What was life like for the teenaged heir to the throne?
It was claustrophobic. Victoria was given no freedom and was never alone.
At the time of her accession, Lord Melbourne became Victoria’s first prime minister. What influence did he have over an inexperienced Queen? Was he a father-figure, or her first-crush?
I think he was both. He was the first man who took her seriously for herself, which is an intoxicating thing if you are a young girl with little experience of men. Melbourne was famously charming and he took a great interest in the young queen. You have only to read Victoria’s diaries of the time to realise that she hung on Melbourne’s every word. I think he was her first love, and she was certainly his last.
Many of Victoria’s family members and her advisors pressed her to marry. When her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was suggested, Victoria resisted. What made her change her mind and agree to marry him? Do you think their union was a political arrangement or a love match?
It was both! Victoria had no intention of marrying when she came to the throne, she was having too much fun. She had met Albert when she was 16 and found him a bit wet and more interested in an early night than dancing and parties. But under constant pressure from her uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians, who was keen that she should marry Albert, she agreed to see him again. He had changed a bit in the three years since they had last met and within minutes of seeing him again, she was smitten.
You have a cameo role in Victoria as the Duchess of Inverness. What was it like to portray a member of the British Royalty? How did you get along with your corset?
I loved my day on set. It gave me a real insight into the fantastic concentration you need to be an actor. One minute everyone is chatting about their Christmas plans and the next moment we are playing Dukes and Duchesses. The most extraordinary thing was seeing Jenna and Tom playing Victoria and Albert, they were so regal in character — I felt genuinely nervous about meeting them. The corset was actually rather good. I don’t think I have ever had such good posture!
You have also written, Victoria: A Novel of a Young Queen, a tie-in to the series published by St. Martin’s Press in November. Writing a screenplay and a novel are two different mindsets. Was the transition a challenge for you?
I love writing novels because you have total freedom, but screenplays are enormous fun because they are so collaborative. There is nothing better than seeing your words being turned into TV gold by fabulous actors. I feel very lucky that I can do both.
When one is writing about an historical figure who is as well-known as Queen Victoria, do you stick to the facts or can you call upon artistic license?
I stick to the facts, but I permit myself to imagine the way people might have thought or the conversations they could have had.
Does the novel reveal even more details about Victoria, her family and her romance with Albert than was previously known?
I hope it gives you a real insight into the woman behind the image we have all seen on stamps and coins.
I understand that reading Victoria’s personal diaries were part of your research. Did you discover any surprises about her personality or life during the course of your study?
Victoria loved men! One of my favourite moments was discovering the entry she wrote just after meeting Albert in 1839, “just saw Albert looking so handsome in his white cashmere breeches, with nothing on underneath.”
What’s next for Daisy Goodwin? Can you share any news about your current projects?
DG: Right now, I am writing series 2 of Victoria.
Daisy Goodwin is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter. She attended Columbia University’s film school as a Harkness scholar after earning a degree in history at Cambridge University, and was chair of the judging panel of the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction. The creator and screenwriter of the Masterpiece presentation Victoria on PBS, she lives in London. Visit Daisy at her website, follow her on Twitter at @daisygoodwinuk and on Facebook.
Victoria airs Sundays, Jan.15, 9:00–11:00 p.m., Jan. 22 - March 5, 9:00-10:00 p.m. on KCTS 9. Note that a new episode will not air on Feb. 26. Enjoy the pageantry, politics, and passion!
Images of the production @2016 courtesy of ITV Plc/MASTERPIECE. Book cover @2016 St. Martin’s Press. Portrait of Daisy Goodwin @2016 Francesco Guidicini.