Victoria‘s Prince Ernest, David Oakes, takes us from the Saxe-Coburg stronghold in Bavaria to the Scottish Highlands when he shares insights about his character, his cast-mates, and his experiences filming Victoria Season 2 in an exclusive Q&A with MASTERPIECE. Check back after the finale for Oakes’ take on what’s next for Ernest and the Ernest/Harriet relationship!
MASTERPIECE: It’s hard to watch our beloved Ernest behaving the way he does in France, particularly when he offers the crushing insight, “What did you think Miss Coke? That I was a man of delicate sensibility? Well I am afraid I must disappoint you.” What has led him to act this way?
OAKES: Simple. His dad just died. He’s just inherited huge responsibilities. His behavior isn’t entirely out of character, but it’s certainly an augmentation of his more roguish attributes. Perhaps it’s the stress of that, or perhaps it’s his last hurrah before settling down to responsibility. But one thing is for certain, Albert has Victoria to soothe him after this family trauma whilst Ernest has no one. In fact, Albert rarely seems concerned for Ernest’s well-being except when it could perhaps tarnish the standing of him in the English Court. That is the burden Ernest must bear as the older brother.
MASTERPIECE: How did you like filming in the Scottish Highlands?
OAKES: Filming on location is always a treat. I spend as much of my spare time as possible walking in the Lake District, and subsequently was looking forward to going hiking and bagging a few Munros [a group of Scottish mountains of 3000′ high]. Unfortunately, we were bound to work, and I did not have a huge amount of time to explore the stunning Scottish countryside. But the fly-fishing scene, a day spent splashing around the river being devoured by midges, was particularly memorable.
MASTERPIECE: Do you have a favorite off-screen moment of filming at Blair Castle in Scotland?
OAKES: Whisky. (FYI: The downstairs team, with a few notable exceptions, are the best drinking partners!)
MASTERPIECE: We understand that when Victoria episodes air, a number of cast members get together to watch the episodes live. Who’s the best host?
OAKES: Daisy [Goodwin, Victoria‘s writer & creator]: always the best spread and with a generous amount of bubbly libation.
MASTERPIECE: Who shushes conversations the most?
OAKES: Nell [Miss Skerrett]: more than any of us, Nell gets thoroughly drawn into the romances. I swear there are times when she forgets she’s in it and has read all the scripts!
MASTERPIECE: Who brings the best snacks?
OAKES: Anna Wilson Jones’ [Lady Emma Portman] curry night is a thing of legend!
MASTERPIECE: Who’s most likely to live-tweet the episode?
OAKES: Ferdie’s [Charles Francatelli] acerbic wit is the one that causes most hilarity. He’s been known to embellish our Victoria WhatsApp group with film clips with alternate commentaries!
MASTERPIECE: Who will do anything (from hanging out in the kitchen to not showing up) to avoid seeing themselves on TV?
OAKES: We’ve invited him many times, and we’re starting to take it personally, but Peter Bowles [The Duke of Wellington] simply won’t come out to play!
MASTERPIECE: Prior to filming Season 2, you visited the Saxe-Coburg castle, Rosenau, Ernest and Albert’s childhood home…What surprised you the most?
OAKES: I fear that often we Brits falsely represent the Germans as humourless, angular and straight. Nothing could be further from the truth when looking at Ernest I and Ernest II. Rosenau was a derelict medieval hunting lodge before Ernest I got his hands on it. He recreated with a passion for romanticism, of Walter Scott, of damsels in distress, of valor, of honor, of bright and joyful colors. Ernest I’s wedding to Ernest and Albert’s mother was a full week of medieval festivities with jousting and full-on fancy dress. This was not a place for austerity or gross decadence; it was a family home of beautiful wood work, of hearts and passions. It lacked the decorum of William Morris perhaps, but it wasn’t ashamed of being true to the joy of humanity and romanticism.
MASTERPIECE: What was the most valuable insight about Ernest you gained from the visit?
OAKES: He had huge responsibilities. A people to govern. But the manner in which he did it was progressive. He was invaluable in the unification of Germany; he even personally led his troops into war on one occasion prior to this. I think perhaps our onscreen representation of Ernest isn’t entirely accurate, but I have always tried to show that, even though not seen on screen, he has a busy and active life elsewhere.
MASTERPIECE: Is there any other character from Victoria that you’d like to play?
OAKES: Dash, Victoria’s loyal Spaniel. My tutor at drama school said my animal studies were second to none, and I’ve long awaited the chance to bring a little more canine creativity to my televisual portfolio. Or, if you insist on someone human, it would be a character from Season 3 or 4 or 5—Frank Buckland. Scientist-priest, close friend to Victoria and Albert, head of the Royal Fisheries, and all-round eccentric who liked to gastronomically sample every species of animal that passed through his care. Or Sir Richard Owen. Or Darwin!
MASTERPIECE: What’s something from the Victorian era that you’d like to see in the present day?
OAKES: Philanthropy focused upon great social responsibility.
And now, a MASTERPIECE Lightning Round!
MASTERPIECE: Archery or ice skating?
OAKES: Combine the two for a kind of medieval biathlon?
MASTERPIECE: Mercury powder or leeches?
OAKES: Leeches—always loved arthropods; they even use leeches today in modern medicine, to help with blood circulation when reattaching fingers and toes. Awesome.
MASTERPIECE: Ortolans or cock-a-leekie soup?
OAKES: Ortolans—Evil, yes, but the mythology of something being so sinful is pretty sexy.
MASTERPIECE: Wilhelmina Cook or Princess Gertrude?
OAKES: Ernest would choose both; David wouldn’t be so judgmental as to compare two wonderful woman… but he might be a pillock and refer to himself in the third person.
MASTERPIECE: German opera or bagpipes?
OAKES: German Opera, obviously! (Starts humming “Ride of the Valkyries”!)