Just as his recipe for success was tasting bitter, redemption came along for Victoria‘s palace chef, Charles Francatelli—a storyline that actor Ferdinand Kingsley could really sink his teeth into! Want more Ferdinand Kingsley and fewer food references? You’re in luck! In a Q&A with MASTERPIECE, Kingsley shares character insights, reveals what happens when the Victoria cast get together to watch episodes on TV, and plays in our lightning round. Check back here after the season finale for Kingsley’s commentary. Until then: the main course!
MASTERPIECE: What drives Francatelli’s ambition? And how does it change over the course of Season 2?
KINGSLEY: Francatelli is somebody who believes that life is his to make of what he will…or at least that it should be. He is a strong believer in social mobility and in looking beyond the shores of our small island nation. He takes pride in being the very best at what he does, and won’t accept mediocrity when he can see potential. He feels that there’s theoretically very little that he can’t achieve. So when he feels his fate is taken out of his hands, first by Miss Skerrett and then by the Queen, he struggles and has a tendency to become resentful, even rebellious. Resentment and claustrophobia can lead people to make poor decisions, and Charles comes very close to making some rather rash ones, but events often have a way of bringing life into focus, and thankfully, Charles finds the clarity to sit down and ask himself which is more important: his heart or his ego.
If there’s one currency Charles Francatelli truly understands, it’s food…so the simple act of being able to help others eat, help others live, sets him free.
MASTERPIECE: Francatelli is on the verge of a life-changing move with his potential book, Secrets of the Royal Kitchen, when he finds Cleary devastated by her inability to help her suffering family. What does giving his watch to her mean to him?
KINGSLEY: When we spend our lives chasing something more—more money, more fame, more success (whatever that word means)—we can very easily lose perspective. I think that’s true in many walks of life, and it’s certainly the case in the acting profession. Charles has allowed himself to be seduced by the idea of wanting more, of feeling like he deserves more, which isn’t a bit thing in itself, until it’s your only way of measuring happiness. At a key moment, he finds Miss Cleary in the depths of despair. Suddenly he regains perspective—while he has been soaking up flattery, gifts and promises, his colleague’s family are literally dying for want of useable potatoes. If there’s one currency Charles Francatelli truly understands, it’s food—the real Francatelli once said that he “could feed every day a thousand families on the food that was wasted in London”—so the simple act of being able to help others eat, help others live, sets him free. In that moment, it’s as if anvils have been taken off his shoulders, and he wakes up to what he truly values.
MASTERPIECE: When you first read the scripts for Season 2 and learned about his action, what did you think?
KINGSLEY: I thought it was a crucial moment, and I was very thankful that it existed. I’d been playing a man who was starting to lose himself in bitterness and resentment, and letting his ambition take over, and it felt very important to be able to reopen his eyes. It felt like the moment that the Francatelli we know and whose company we hopefully enjoy really returned to the world. Tilly Steele [Cleary] really poured her heart into that storyline and was so open and vulnerable in the scene where Cleary and Francatelli connect that all I had to do was listen and to really see her—very little acting necessary.
MASTERPIECE: Are you a good cook in real life?
KINGSLEY: I’m not bad, y’know. Cooking for myself and people I love gives me huge pleasure. I’m not Francatelli-level, of course, but not many are. I’ve made a few of his recipes, some of them on-screen, particularly in Season One. Well, I say “I’ve” made them on-screen…the amazing props department did the legwork and I did the mixing, stirring and pouring. But yeah, come over to my apartment, I’ll do you a mean curry. Or a soufflé. Francatelli loves complaining about his soufflés. Crucial not to mix up your curry ingredients and your soufflé ingredients. Unless you want a spicy soufflé. NEXT QUESTION!
MASTERPIECE: What’s it like working closely with Nell Hudson?
KINGSLEY: Nightmare. Terrible actor and dreadful human…I’d love to leave it there, but I have too much of a guilty conscience to lie: Nell’s the best. We’re very lucky in that we became good pals pretty quickly. We met in the car on the way to set on my first day (which was a couple of weeks into the shoot) and we’ve since admitted that we both instantly thought “oh thank goodness, they’re nice.” It also helped that we discovered we lived literally around the corner from each other. I think we tune into one another as actors, so even the more heightened scenes between the two of us feel quite simple and honest to play. This is where you inform me she’s told you that she wishes someone else was playing Francatelli. Tough luck, Nell. It’s me. This is where you tell me I’ve been fired and someone else is now playing Francatelli.
MASTERPIECE: We understand that when Victoria episodes air, a number of cast members get together to watch the episodes live. So, who’s the best host?
KINGSLEY: We each bring a different quality to the evening’s events – I’m not going to start ranking my cast-mates (although obviously, I’m the best as I gave everyone the most wine).
MASTERPIECE: Who shushes conversations the most?
Hmm… Me? Nell? I don’t know! We are all sensitive enough to generally keep the noise down if anyone in the room has a big scene starting.
MASTERPIECE: Who brings the best snacks?
KINGSLEY: Sometimes the host cooks (before you ask: yes, I cooked), but if they don’t then the best snack-bringer is the person who goes to collect pizzas.
MASTERPIECE: Who’s most likely to live-tweet the episode?
KINGSLEY: David [Oakes, Victoria‘s Ernest], maybe. He likes a fruity mid-show tweet, but then who doesn’t?
MASTERPIECE: Who will do anything (from hanging out in the kitchen to not showing up) to avoid seeing themselves on TV?
KINGSLEY: Tommy [Knight, Victoria‘s Brodie]! Tommy turns up if Tommy turns up, and if Tommy turns up, it’s a beautiful thing.
MASTERPIECE: Francatelli is credited with inventing hot chocolate, but Albert may have surpassed him in Season 2 with his inventions… Can we look forward to more culinary inventions from Francatelli?
KINGSLEY: Ahh, Albert and his Inventions of The Week. Hey man, Francatelli invented a lot more than hot chocolate! You’ll see a fair few more flourishes and inventions from Charles, yes. I’m still waiting for the moment when he comes up with a lovely new sponge cake which Victoria loves, with a jam and cream filling, but he can’t think of what to call it. A sponge cake. For Victoria. Sponge. Victoria. Sponge. Victoria. WHAT WILL HE CALL HIS NEW CAKE? I should be writing this show. Oh, and this one’s not an invention, but keep a keen eye out towards the end of our Christmas episode, “Comfort and Joy” and you’ll see what looks like a brief and beautiful cameo by Jabba the Hutt. It is, in fact, half a cow.
MASTERPIECE: Is there any other character from Victoria that you’d like to play?
KINGSLEY: I like to keep Jenna on her toes by threateningly whispering her lines to her, just to let her know that I’m always ready, waiting to step in if ever her standards were to drop. Unfortunately for me, she remains really very good.
MASTERPIECE: What’s something from the Victorian era that you’d like to see in the present day?
KINGSLEY: I’m not sure there is very much by way of Victoriana that I’d want to bring into the twenty-first century. Life was really, really hard for a lot of people, and the differences between rich and poor, men and women, can and can’t were pretty drastic. So no, sorry, I wouldn’t trade any of the quirks of Victorian life for what we have now, imperfect though it is.
And now, a MASTERPIECE Lightning Round!
MASTERPIECE: Choose a real Francatelli recipe: Albert Sauce or Victoria Cherry Sauce?
KINGSLEY: Out of context, they both sound horrifying. But having just looked up Victoria Cherry Sauce in Francatelli’s “The Modern Cook”, it sounds bloody fantastic. I want that.
MASTERPIECE: Choose a dessert: “bombe surprise” or hot melted chocolate?
KINGSLEY: Absolutely bombe surprise – it’s got all your key food groups.
MASTERPIECE: What’s more festive: Christmas pudding or mistletoe?
KINGSLEY: Christmas pudding! I know Francatelli says otherwise, but that’s because he’s a terrible flirt. I, on the other hand, never flirt. 😉
MASTERPIECE: Choose a couple nickname: Chancy or Skerretelli?
KINGSLEY: People go for Skerretelli, but the problem with it is twofold: Firstly, it’s impossible to spell. Skerretelli? Skerrettelli? Skerratelli? Scarytelly? Secondly, Skerrett gets her whole name in the combined nickname, and all I get is an “elli” at the end like I’m some kind of pasta. I won’t stand for it. I WON’T.