On Tuesday, April 4, the VisionTV premiere of “Victoria” will take place at 8pm ET/5pm PT. This critically acclaimed period drama tells us the story of how Queen Victoria rose to the thrown at the tender age of 18, and how her life unfolded from that moment onward.
Bringing us this story is bestselling author Daisy Goodwin. Prior to writing the monumental “Victoria” TV series, Goodwin studied history at Cambridge and penned Victorian-era novels “My Last Duchess,” “The Fortune Hunter” and “Victoria,” the last of which serves as a companion book to the Jenna Coleman-led series.
In Goodwin’s own words, here is how “Victoria” came to life:
Daisy Goodwin: Queen Victoria first came into my life when I was nineteen years old studying history at university. I had an essay to write on the politics of the 1840’s and on my reading list were the Diaries of Queen Victoria. I opened the first of the red and gold tooled volume with reluctance, for me the Queen/ Empress was a boot faced old bag in a bonnet whose stern features gazed out from marble statues in town halls across the country. But the words on the page in front of me did not correspond at all with the image in my head: on the 11th of November 1839 the nineteen year old Victoria wrote in her diary,
“How handsome dearest Albert looks in his white cashmere breeches. With nothing on underneath.” These were not the words of a sour-faced monarch but the passionate outpourings of a love struck girl, who just happened to be a queen. As I read on through her diaries full of exclamation marks and underlining’s, I realized that Victoria was so much more than a face on a stamp – this was a teenager with all the longings and desires of adolescence who also became, through genealogical accident, the most powerful woman in the world.
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Some decades later as I had yet another argument with my own teenage daughter, I thought how different it would be if tomorrow she was to wake up and find herself Queen, at a time when being Queen meant power as well as influence. It seemed to me to be the stuff of drama, and as my daughter yelled at me that she wished she had never been born, the first few scenes started to write themselves in my head.
I hadn’t written a screenplay before, but I had lived with Victoria’s voice for so long that she seemed almost to write herself. And there was no shortage of plot: we look back now and think of her reign as a time of ossified magnificence, but when she came to the throne there were many people close to her and in the na9on at large who thought that the tiny (4f 11’’) young girl with her peculiar sounding name (Victoria was a made up name, the Beyoncé of its time) was not capable of being the sovereign of the country that was fast becoming the most powerful nation on earth.
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The script was commissioned by Mammoth Screen who shared my vision of the teenage queen growing up in public and was commissioned right away by ITV. Our biggest challenge was to cast Victoria. My only brief was that she had to be small – I felt that the image of this diminutive teenager holding her own among a forest of taller, older men was essential to the raison d’être of the show. Fortunately for the series, Jenna is not only a great actress but she is also just an inch or so taller than Victoria. When I first saw Jenna step out on set on the first day, her hair arranged in the pendant braids that Victoria wore, with that regal tilt of the head, I knew we had found our Queen.
Victoria’s first love was her Prime Minister Lord Melbourne who is played by Rufus Sewell who embodies all the charm and wit of the man who was nicknamed ‘sweet William’. But the great passion of her life was her husband Albert, described by a contemporary ‘ as the handsomest prince in Christendom’, played here to perfection by Tom Hughes. With a suppor9ng cast that includes Peter Bowles as the Duke of Wellington, Peter Firth as the Duke of Cumberland and Alex Jennings as Victoria’s maternal uncle the toupee wearing Leopold King of the Belgians, the rich variety of this fascinating period of English history has come vividly to life.
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The time in which the series is set was one of great turbulence for Britain. It was a time of great technological innovation: gas lights, postage stamps and railways were just being invented, but it was also a time of huge difference between rich and poor – Buckingham Palace was bordered on the one side by Belgravia and on the other by the slums of Pimlico. It was a time of great poli9cal and social upheaval as working class movements for social justice such as Chartism began. Foreigners especially Germans, were regarded (then as now) with suspicion and the notion of an English queen marrying a penniless German princeling was deeply unpopular.
It was a time when married women were still the legal property of their husbands, divorce was practically unknown, prostitution was rife and contraception was unheard of. And yet presiding over this deeply divided society was a diminutive girl who had grown up in Kensington Palace under an overprotective mother (Catherine Flemming) who would not let her walk down the stairs unaided in case she fell over, and her mother’s manipulative advisor Sir John Conroy ( Paul Rhys) who hoped to use Victoria to control the country. It was not an auspicious start, and yet through sheer force of character, Victoria prevailed. My Victoria has many flaws, and yet she has such a strong sense of her own identity, a refusal to be moulded, which starts when she chooses her own name, that makes her a heroine for our times.
“Victoria” premieres Tuesday, April 4 a 8pm ET/5pm PT on VisionTV!