Cast Interview: Jenna Coleman
After three seasons of playing Victoria, Jenna Coleman may miss the young queen’s passionate lack of filter, but she certainly likes where Victoria is going! Hear from the actress herself about playing the queen as a mother, a symbol of endurance, and as a deeply smitten wife. And get Coleman’s take on the harrowing Season 3 conclusion as she shares her thoughts on Victoria and Albert’s remaining time together.
MASTERPIECE: A huge point of contention this season between Victoria and Albert is her desire to be loved by her subjects. So where does that desire come from, and why doesn’t Albert understand?
COLEMAN: I think Albert believes there should be a remove between Victoria and her people, and I think Victoria looks upon her people very much as her subjects. And I suppose what Albert’s really contesting is ego. Victoria needs the applause, needs the people, needs to feel worthy, needs to feel that she is supported and has an ongoing relationship with them. I suppose it’s just two very different standpoints, and ultimately, they both have merit. And I think towards the end of the series, that’s kind of what they realize. They’re each other’s yin and yang.
MASTERPIECE: I understand you visited the real Osborne House. What that was like for you, and did it give you insights into Victoria and Albert and the kids?
COLEMAN: Yes, hugely. There’s Kensington Palace and Windsor Castle, but other people have lived there as well, so you can see hints and temperaments of them, but this is the only place that is truly theirs, that Albert built, that they had decorated, that they lived in, and that hasn’t been lived in since.
So in terms of stepping into their family home and getting a sense of them, it’s incredible. They’re everywhere. Even though it’s a palace, it’s got more of a cozy feel. It’s domestic, and it’s just peppered with remnants of their characters—things like piano stools that still sit side by side. Their joint desks, the double desks next to one another—you can see a real unity there. I’d love to go back, actually. You feel very close to them there.
I think she thinks they’ll kind of live forever. I really do. He is her hero, to all intents and purposes, and I don’t think there’s a doubt in her mind that if she falls, he won’t *not* be there to catch her.–Jenna Coleman on Victoria’s relationship with Albert
MASTERPIECE: You have so many great scenes this season with the wonderful young actors playing Victoria’s children. Were there any particularly fun or tender moments?
COLEMAN: Oh, I mean, there’s all sorts. Louisa, who plays Vicky, is so unbelievably smart. And she’s bilingual, she speaks French, so she taught me all the French that I had to speak this series. Which is pretty apt for our ongoing relationship!
They’re just fab. It’s amazing that they’re their own characters now. They’re little people, as opposed to the babies in our arms in the first series. They’re now characters in their own right. I suppose the palace is getting fuller and fuller. It’s making it feel more like home.
MASTERPIECE: And what was it like working with Laurence Fox? He’s reputed to be something of a prankster on set.
COLEMAN: Oh, yeah, he’s funny. What’s really good is the relationship that we have together as the characters. Like, Victoria hates him. In all of her diaries, she’s saying she meets him and she thinks he’s arrogant and he’s got no respect for her or the authority, and she feels undermined. But the public love him—he’s charismatic—and I think she feels really threatened. She sees him as competition. But they kind of become allies towards the end. But, yeah, Laurence is hilarious.
MASTERPIECE: I’ve read that he loves horses. Did you have any riding scenes with him?
COLEMAN: Yeah, actually, and I had a new horse this year, and I was just terrible. My old horse has unfortunately retired. But Laurence is great, because he’s so experienced. He really looked after me on a certain day of riding a misbehaving horse.
MASTERPIECE: And how did it go with your new horse this season?
COLEMAN: Well, I’ve had various horses. I’ve got my Irish horse, when I go to Ireland. And I’ve got my London horse, and my…So, yeah. To be honest, I suppose horses are like people. It depends how they’re feeling on what day. I get it. I totally get it.
MASTERPIECE: Poor Victoria’s lot seems to be losing those who are closest to her, like Lord M. and Lehzen and Dash and Peel, and then now, Skerrett. Can you describe what it means for her to lose Skerrett?
COLEMAN: Well, obviously, we’ve got lots of new characters this year, which is really exciting, but, you know, Nell was there from the start. So suddenly, you get that real sense that time is passing and they’re getting older as characters. And it’s an amazing thing, but you lose people along the way. And I suppose it’s an interesting thing in Victoria’s life, because her life can never change. She’s in the palace, she’s Queen, her life has a kind of a rhythm, and she kind remains still. She loses people around her all of the time, yet she remains and endures. And I think about that a lot, really, and think of the future where she grows with Albert, and then onto John Brown, and all these characters that she meets. But she’s a real symbol of endurance.
But, she does lose a lot of people along the way, and I think her reliance on Skerrett in her day-to-day life is huge, and it leaves a big gaping hole for her.
MASTERPIECE: So when I was watching, I was getting angry throughout the series at this perception of Victoria as irrational or crazy because of her pregnancies and the childbirth. Did that upset you too, and can you please help me understand how to forgive Albert for falling right into Feodora’s trap.
COLEMAN: I think there was always this controversy around Victoria—she’s mad, she’s she’s irrational, she’s emotional. And because she is. If she feels something, she says it, and she feels things very violently, is what she wrote her diary. She wrote something about “my very violent feelings of affection, there’s no outlet for them.” She feels things very deeply and viscerally, and it’s kind of what makes her an unlikely queen, in many ways. Because we see queens as a figure of decorum and duty and endurance and all of those Mother Teresa qualities that we bestow on what we think the heroine is. What I think Daisy [Goodwin, Victoria‘s writer and creator] in particular has tried to do in this series is show how being mathematical and logical about a situation has its merits, but being emotional about a situation also does. And having those feelings and having that outlet, is not a bad thing.
But it’s a really interesting viewpoint in terms of “Oh, hormones are all over the place. Pregnancy messes with a woman’s mind.” It was very much the feeling of the time. There was a line like, “Childbirth, it makes women stupid.” But with Albert, I think Feodora is very much the Iago of our story and she’s very clever at finding where the emotional reliance is and seeking that out. And I think Albert ultimately felt sidelined and alone in his own right, as did Victoria, and Feodora is just very adept at emotional manipulation.
MASTERPIECE: It’s very hard to watch Victoria and Albert grow apart. Their scene after the christening, when Albert says, “It is all I have left,” is devastating. Was that as hard to film as it was to watch?
COLEMAN: It was really hard, actually. Because they’re more disparate than we’ve ever seen them. I think ultimately, what Albert’s saying is, “I’m here out of duty.” I just remember doing that scene, where we walked along the hallway afterwards, and the idea that he doesn’t love her anymore…Her whole universe and world is completely shaken to its core. It’s probably, up to that point, one of the most shattering things that that has happened to her, because I just don’t think she could ever imagine a world where it were not the case. It’s become so much V&A, Victoria and Albert, and I think it’s a bit of foreshadowing of what’s to come. And a world where she suddenly no longer has him is unimaginable to her.
MASTERPIECE: Has that become more present for you, that sort of sense of the future, this season as you were filming?
COLEMAN: Well obviously, for me, as Jenna, I’m aware that the time that we have left to tell their love story is limited. I recognize that. And you have all these pressures of really wanting to tell about this middle part of their ages, with all the children and their brood, in their 30s—it’s never been told before. You’ve got The Young Victoria and you’ve got Judy Dench as Mrs. Brown, but these middle years have never, ever been explored. So I’m aware, as Jenna, there’s a ticking clock.
But obviously, for Victoria, I think she thinks they’ll kind of live forever. I really do. He is her hero, to all intents and purposes, and I don’t think there’s a doubt in her mind that if she falls, he won’t not be there to catch her. And I think ultimately, when it comes to that point, well, the story telling is going to be really interesting.
MASTERPIECE: What can you tell us about the harrowing conclusion of Season 3?
COLEMAN: I suppose we’re really wanting to leave the viewers in a state of not knowing what’s next—is it the moment we lose Albert or not? I suppose it’s a cliffhanger ending. Because really, once Albert finished the Great Exhibition, it was kind of like he worked himself utterly to the bone. A complete workaholic. And you can even see from photos, once the Great Exhibition’s done, he’s on the decline, health wise, through sheer force of work.
MASTERPIECE: So for you, Jenna, as someone who knows Victoria so well now, what would you hope for Victoria and Albert in their short remaining years together? What would you wish for them?
COLEMAN: What’s really interesting is, I actually don’t know that part of history yet, because I always read it series by series. So in fact, from the Great Exhibition until, I think, the Crimean War, in terms of their relationship, it’d be a case of me obviously getting all that in the scripts I’d need to delve into.
It’ll be interesting to see what shape their relationship takes—I definitely feel that towards the end, she always kind of puts Albert on a pedestal. If you look at statues of them and images, and she’s always kind of bowing down to him, and I think towards the end, and especially after his achievements in the Great Exhibition, he is just totally her angel, her hero. So I think he was very much on a pedestal, and I think after so many children, she’s a lot more willing to share her responsibilities and give up a lot more of herself to him. So it’d be interesting.
MASTERPIECE: For my last question, I’d like to look back. Back in Season 1, we talked about that vein of steel running through Victoria. In this season it really reemerges: her instincts are right about the Chartists, about Bertie’s tutor, about Theodora, Dublin. She trusts her instincts and she stands her ground. So, what has it been like to play her now in your third season as she’s come into her power, and her own? Has it been really different, and how have you felt about that?
COLEMAN: I love it. I feel very rooted with her. I feel like she has moments of real instability, but she’s got ownership in terms of her role and her relationship with the Prime Ministers and how this works, and she’s kind of got it down. It’s a really nice thing to feel—she knows how the ropes work in terms of what her role is, and her relationship with her people, which I suppose is ultimately what crux of the series is: that intuitively she has a relationship with her people and she knows how to be queen. She might not be mathematical or smart or this or that, but there is one thing that she does have: understanding her people and her country intuitively. And I suppose that’s the idea that we’re playing with a lot this series. I loved her lack of filter, and her immediacy, I really loved. But it’s lovely to feel her becoming firmer. I was always really surprised with our series, because it felt like a very different Victoria to what I knew. And now I feel a bit like I’m growing more and more and more towards that Victoria that we know in the portraits.
Want to go deeper into topics Jenna Coleman discussed?
Watch the adorable actors playing Vicky & Bertie discuss experiences on set, their roles, and their forever friendship.
Read an interview with the charming Laurence Fox (Lord Palmerston).
Listen to a fascinating MASTERPIECE Studio podcast interview with Kate Fleetwood (Feodora).