It is 1848, and revolution is breaking out across Europe. In Britain, one woman stands between order and chaos: Queen Victoria. Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who) stars as the young but fearless monarch, facing a crisis that threatens to end her reign, on Victoria, Season 3, which premieres tonight on MASTERPIECE on PBS.
In a recent interview, Coleman said she was helped tremendously in developing Victoria’s character by the queen’s own watercolors, drawings and sketches, noting that “the only thing that feels truly pure are the drawings, which were completely untouched.”
“You see through her eyes how she saw the world. When she was young, she drew ballerinas, opera scenes, melodrama, but when she was older she drew landscapes, children, very domestic, simple things,” Coleman said.
Also tremendously helpful, she added, were her own two personal encounters with Queen Elizabeth II, who in 2015 succeeded Victoria, her great-great grandmother, as the longest-reigning British monarch.
Their first meeting was at the premiere of Dr. Who, at which the queen “said to travel through time and space must be fun,“ Coleman recalled.
She saw the queen next at a polo match.
“What was most interesting and helpful was how people responded to her, the silence. The queen’s presence was completely the opposite of what it would have been for Elvis Presley or One Direction. There was a hushed silence, it was calm, respectful.”
Coleman said this observation helped her on the set of Victoria in the depiction “of Victoria meeting people. It helped me understand how the scenes work, how to play power, how to play the queen. When you have power, you don’t need to project it. If you push it, it won’t work.
“It translates into how everyone moves around you. You need an aura that removes you,” she added.
Coleman also predicted she eventually would turn the portrayal of Victoria over to another actress, as the queen ages, explaining “there comes a point when someone will take over.”
Continuing the story of Victoria’s rule over the largest empire the world has ever known, Victoria, Season 3 introduces new historical characters, including Laurence Fox (Inspector Lewis) as the vainglorious Lord Palmerston, who crosses swords with the queen over British foreign policy. Also vexing the queen this season is Kate Fleetwood (Harlots) as Victoria’s devoted but troubled half-sister, Princess Feodora, who seeks refuge at Buckingham Palace due to political unrest back home in Germany.
Other new characters include John Sessions (Outlander) as reformist Prime Minister John Russell, and Lily Travers (Kingsman) as the beguiling Duchess of Monmouth. Returning are Tom Hughes (Dancing on the Edge) as Victoria’s devoted, obsessive husband, Prince Albert; Nell Hudson (Outlander) as the queen’s chief dresser, Nancy Skerrett; and Ferdinand Kingsley (Borgia) as Charles Francatelli, the royal chef and cookbook king; among others.
As Season 3 gets underway, Victoria is pregnant with her sixth child. But she has much else on her mind, chiefly the Revolutions of 1848, when the downtrodden throughout Europe begin agitating for the overthrow of aristocratic rule. In England, this discontent leads to Chartism, a set of demands for universal male suffrage, the secret ballot, equal representation for voters and other reforms that were considered radical by leading political figures during Victoria’s reign. As with many crusades, passions are aroused on both sides—sometimes violently. At the time, who knew if events might turn out like the French Revolution, which resorted to widespread use of the guillotine?
Passion is also an issue in the bedroom at Buckingham Palace, where Victoria is reluctant to risk more pregnancies. Parents now of six, Victoria and Albert find themselves at odds about their offspring, especially the troubled Bertie; the role of the monarchy; and increasingly with each other.
Also premiering tonight on PBS is Victoria & Albert: The Wedding, a new, two-part series hosted by Royal historian Lucy Worsley, This provides an insider’s look into the elaborate planning that went into one of the most famous weddings of all time: the 1840 union of Victoria and Albert.
With the help of a team of experts, Worsley oversees the meticulous recreation of the most important elements of the wedding celebration, scouring history books, archives, newspapers and even Victoria’s own diaries for details. She is joined by food historian Annie Gray, clothing expert Harriet Waterhouse and military historian Jasdeep Singh, among others. From the bouquet and the beautifully tiered cake to the music for the ceremony and the wedding gown — Victoria’s game-changing white dress started a tradition that still lives on — each element of the wedding was carefully researched, remade by hand and put to use in a recreation of the big day itself.
Throughout, Worsley and her team unpack and explore the hidden iconography and symbolism of this wedding, uncovering new insights into Victoria and Albert’s relationship, both public and private, and shedding new light on the broader implications of the wedding. The series reveals how the pomp and pageantry secured Britain’s unwavering attention, as Victoria gained favor with her subjects and invented the modern ideal of marriage.
“In 1840, two 20-year-olds became the most important power couple on earth,” said Worsley. “The marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg was a pivotal moment in British history. It was a political union that became the greatest royal love story of all.”