Daisy Goodwin on Writing and Creating Victoria on MASTERPIECE

Deborah Gilbert | January 12, 2018

Series Writer and Creator Daisy Goodwin and actor Rufus Sewell (Lord Melbourne) at the Victoria Season 2 premiere reception in NYC

Series writer and creator Daisy Goodwin and actor Rufus Sewell (Lord Melbourne) at the Victoria Season 2 premiere reception
on December 11, 2017. Photo: Joe Sinnott/WNET

Gloriana! Hellelujah! The wait is over! Victoria returns on January 14 for Season 2 and it is everything you would want it to be. Writer and series creator Daisy Goodwin has gotten the band back together, so to speak, and we pick up right where Season 1 left off. I shared insights to the double episode premiere and my experience meeting Goodwin and the Victoria cast at the New York preview screening in my December British Telly Dish post. Now, I’m happy to share Goodwin’s insights in this exclusive interview, conducted this week by telephone.

Daisy has had a long, distinguished career in TV, and a long relationship with Queen Victoria as well – and it shows in what we see on screen. It is really quite remarkable to take a public figure who we all know, or at least, think we all know, and show us all kind of new colors and nuances to consider. With Victoria, Daisy does just that with a ‘stuffy old Queen,’ bringing to life a real woman with an extraordinary life, who wasn’t so stuffy after all.

Everything we see on TV – all the drama, the laughs, the great performances – all of it starts with the writer and a blank page. That is probably why I find writers the most fascinating part of the TV equation (put that in your computing machine Lady Lovelace!).

Writer and creator Daisy Goodwin at the Victoria Season 2 on MASTERPIECE premiere screening in NYC

Daisy Goodwin at the Victoria Season 2 on MASTERPIECE premiere screening and Q&A in New York City. Photo: Stephanie Berger/PBS

Deborah Gilbert: I read that you first read Victoria’s diaries while in college. What got you interested in her?

Daisy Goodwin: They just weren’t what I expected at all. I thought they’d be really boring and in fact they were teenage diaries. There was this quote where she says, “I saw Albert in tight white cashmere britches with nothing on underneath,” and I thought that was pretty cool. I suddenly saw her as a young girl and not as a kind of stuffy old queen, and I guess I just kind of took it from there really.

Deborah: After reading her diaries do you feel like you know her?

Daisy: Yes, I do. We’re not always sure they’re speaking the truth, but I think I know her well enough to know what she’s saying and what she’s not saying. I feel I know her quite well, intimately, you might say (laughs). I feel like I know her better than pretty much anyone else at the moment.

Princess Beatrice, daughter of Queen Victoria, in 1886.

Princess Beatrice, daughter of Queen Victoria, in 1886.

Deborah: Victoria’s daughter Beatrice re-wrote her diaries after she died. Do you think there’s any possibility the originals still exist, locked away somewhere?

Daisy: Oh God, wouldn’t that be amazing! I wonder. I suspect not, but I think it really depends on whether Victoria actually ordered them to be burned or not, because if she did, I think they would have respected her wishes. But if she didn’t, then they probably wouldn’t have dared. It’s one of those questions I can’t really answer but I don’t know that there’s that much in the diaries that we don’t know. I think that probably what her daughter took out was unflattering references to the kids and stuff about John Brown, but if Victoria was having a fling with John Brown, which I suspect she was, I don’t think she would have written about it in the diary.

Deborah: By the way, do you know if Prince Andrew’s daughter Beatrice named after Victoria’s daughter?

Daisy: Yes, I think it’s a royal name. The thing about Beatrice is she looks exactly like the real Victoria. If you want to know what Victoria looked like you should look at her.

Deborah: In her diaries, did Victoria ever say how she had the strength to stand up to all those formidable men around her who just wanted to take the power away from her?

Daisy: That’s not how she would have expressed it. But I think the most interesting thing she says is, after they told her she was going to be Queen, she spent an hour completely alone, which was the first time in her life that she had been able to do that. I think that speaks volumes. She gathers strength by being on her own and getting away from all the people telling her what to do.

Deborah: It’s really kind of remarkable that her upbringing didn’t break her.

Daisy: Yes, I know, isn’t it? I think she had this extraordinary sense of will, because she could have been really broken by her upbringing, but I also think she used it. I think she felt always that she had to prove herself, because she had to kind of get back at all the people [who] had tried to crush her. That was partly her self-sustaining myth.

Prince Albert, Queen Victoria and their nine children. From left to right: Alice, Arthur (later Duke of Connaught), The Prince Consort (Albert), The Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), Leopold (later Duke of Albany, in front of the Prince of Wales), Louise, Queen Victoria with Beatrice, Alfred (later Duke of Edinburgh), The Princess Royal (Victoria) and Helena

Prince Albert, Queen Victoria and their nine children in 1857. From left to right: Alice, Arthur (later Duke of Connaught), The Prince Consort (Albert), The Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), Leopold (later Duke of Albany, in front of the Prince of Wales), Louise, Queen Victoria with Beatrice, Alfred (later Duke of Edinburgh), The Princess Royal (Victoria) and Helena

Deborah: What do you think was her biggest contribution to society or history?

Daisy: It’s very hard to say. I’ve just been reading a book about the Suffragettes, and even though Victoria herself didn’t support women’s suffrage, the fact that she was on the throne and seemed to be competent while being married and having nine children inevitably made people think, hang on a minute, how is it that a woman is allowed to be queen but isn’t allowed to vote? How can a woman be the head of state and not be an MP? It’s interesting that, pretty much from the moment Victoria became queen, the move towards women’s suffrage got bigger and bigger. I think Victoria made a huge difference. It just made a nonsense of the whole notion that women were the weaker sex. I suppose the other thing I would say about Victoria is that she and Albert definitely saved the royal family. I think if it hadn’t been Victoria on the throne; if it had been another old bloke, one of her uncles, I wonder if the monarchy would have survived the upheavals of the 19th century. Because she was a modernizer.

Deborah: Did the success of series take you by surprise at all?

Daisy: Yes, always! Have you been able to see any of Series 2?

Deborah: Yes, I screened the first episode, which for us is a double episode. Because I have to write my recap I’ve already watched it a couple of times.

Daisy: Did you enjoy it?

Deborah: Yes! And I actually wondered when I was watching it if you read fan comments and if they affected who or what you included in Season 2, because Lord M [Melbourne] is back. He was obviously a fan favorite.

Daisy: Well yes, obviously why wouldn’t you have Rufus [Rufus Sewell]? He’s not just a fan favorite, he’s a writer favorite.

Deborah: Did you have that in your head at all when you were writing season 2?

Daisy: Not really because I know what I like and I think the reason it’s been a success is maybe what I like is what the fans like. You can’t write constantly looking over your shoulder. You just have to write what you think works, and what you think is true.

Deborah: When you are writing about real people, how do you decide which life details to leave in the story and which to leave out, and where to take dramatic license?

Daisy: You have to try and think about, what is the heart of the story and how can I illustrate that? What’s the real point of what’s going on? It’s great to be able to do stuff like Victoria being in a wheelchair after she had a baby and jumping out of it. I don’t know whether she actually did that but I know that she was in a wheelchair, so I can imagine that she would have jumped out of it.

Deborah: In the first episode of the Season 2 premier, Queen Victoria gives a speech at the commissioning of HMS Trafalger. Were those her actual words?

Daisy: No. I’m afraid I’ve used some dramatic license there, but she would have totally agreed with what I said. It’s my favorite moment in the whole episode, when she sees Albert and she realizes he’s come to hear her.

Deborah: Is there anything we should look out for in Season 2?

Daisy: Ada Lovelace is an interesting character in Episode 2. She’s [Lord] Byron’s daughter and was the first female computer programmer.

Deborah: Yes, I’m writing about her in the recap. It was interesting the way Lord M mentioned to Victoria in passing that she was Lord Byron’s daughter. I wondered if that’s what made Victoria jealous, because she thought the daughter would be like the father.

Daisy: Yes, exactly. Plus she knew all the stuff that Victoria didn’t know.

Deborah: I’d heard about her before and it is interesting how so many people or things you’ve heard about in the 19th century intersect with Victoria. For example, photography. I hadn’t known that she and Prince Albert were early patrons of photography, and she actually commissioned the first war photographer, so she could see what was going on in the Crimean War.

Daisy: Oh yes, they were very early adopters of photography.

Deborah: I guess she was sort of the Princess Diana of her day and everyone wanted to do what she did?

Daisy: Yes, totally. Because she wore white for her wedding, everybody started wearing white. She was a trendsetter in that sense. I do think it is very interesting that Victoria is having to negotiate some of the things that modern women have to deal with; having a baby, going back to work, feeling insecure, all these things.

Deborah: It looked like she had trouble bonding with the baby, and she asked Harriet, ‘Did you like your babies right away?’

Daisy: Yes, but I think really that she just wasn’t quite ready to have a baby quite so soon after her marriage, and then to get pregnant again so quickly was a bit of a problem. She was only 21. I think she just wanted to have a bit more time with her husband before becoming a mother. Later on in the series she gets bad post natal depression.

Deborah: She doesn’t have it now in the first two episodes?

Daisy: No. That’s just coming to terms with the change in the way that people view her. But I think in the next bit you’ll see, after the birth of her second child she does have post natal depression.

Deborah: What do you think about what has been written about her relationship with her children, which is often described as sort of a Mommy-Dearest or not very close relationship?

Daisy: I think people are a bit unfair actually. She didn’t feel guilty about her children, in the way that we tend to, but she wasn’t a neglectful mother. She was very attentive and I think when you have nine children you’re going to be a bit less patient than you would be if you had three. I think she rightly worried about the Prince of Wales, and so she treated him quite toughly. But when they were little she was very fond of them, and I think as they got older and became tricky she probably got a bit fed up. The more I read about Victoria the more I think she’s had quite a bad rap as a mother, but it is slightly undeserved.

Deborah: Do you have a historical advisor on the set like Downton Abbey did?
Daisy: Oh yes. We actually have two people. We have Andrew Wilson and we also have Allister Bruce who did work on Downton Abbey.

Deborah: Prince Albert is so forward thinking with technology, but seems less so with regard to his role and Victoria’s. That’s kind of an interesting conflict. How do you view that?

Daisy: Yes, well you’ve got to remember that he’s married to the queen who’s got all the power and all the money at a time when, in England, women are basically their husband’s property. So I think he’s pretty enlightened by 19th century standards. He’s completely faithful to her; never looks at another woman really, and I find him rather remarkable actually. I think he’s as forward thinking as he can be, but I think there is a bit of him that really wishes that he was the King, because I think he feels he’d be very good at it, which he obviously would have been. She was lucky to have him but he was also very lucky to have her.

Deborah: How long do you think you’ll be able to follow her story?

Daisy: I guess as long as people want to watch it.

Deborah: Will it be hard to say goodbye to her?

Daisy: Yes. I’m writing Season 3 now and it would be very hard.

Deborah: Is there anything you would like to have filmed but didn’t because it would be too expensive to shoot?

Daisy: Oh yes, so many things. We always have to kind of cut our costs according to the money we have. But I think it looks pretty good even though we don’t have the budget that certain other shows about royalty have, but it still manages to look pretty sumptuous, I think.

Deborah: In one of the scenes, in the second part of the premiere episode people are arriving at Buckingham Palace, and it must be done with CGI, but you can see this gorgeous vista all the way down to St. Paul’s Cathedral. I’m guessing they must have used historical records to know what it would have looked like then?

Daisy: Yes, all of that is done with incredible, painstaking care. It’s very hard to get that right.

Deborah: The show has some great character actors who brilliantly straddle the line between drama and comedy. Were you going for that when you were casting or was that a happy surprise?

Daisy: I think we wanted people who would bring out every nuance of the script, definitely. We were thrilled to get Diana Rigg, and we were thrilled to get Alex Jennings, all these great actors who really know how to give it all it needs.

Deborah: What was it like to see your story come to life, with actors speaking your words?

Daisy: It’s the greatest thrill imaginable! What more could a girl want? It’s fantastic!

Deborah: Is there anyone who’s a great practical joker on the set to break the tension on long days?

Daisy: Rufus is always trying to make everyone laugh right before a take. Yeah, he’s the worst. He’s really, really bad. Rufus and Alex Jennings are really experienced so they just get right into it, and they love trying to wind up the younger actors, kind of put them off their game.

Deborah: Have there been some good bloopers?

Daisy: Yes, they usually involve animals and children. Either the dogs won’t do what their told or Jenna’s got this horse called Almonzo which is a circus pony, so he’s always trying to do tricks.

Deborah: Is there a chance we’ll ever get to see the bloopers?

Daisy: I don’t know. I hope so. I hope someone is keeping them.

Deborah: Do those ladies in waiting live in the Palace, away from their families?

Daisy: Yes, they do.

Deborah: In real life, Harriet, the Duchess of Sutherland, had 11 kids, and she did four stints as Victoria’s Mistress of the Robes, so would she have had to leave them behind?

Daisy: We’ve slightly streamlined her family for the show, but yes they used to come and stay in the Palace and then they’d go back home, but they’d only do it for a few weeks at a time. And remember they’ve got fleets of nannies and people to look after their kids. They don’t have childcare issues.

Deborah: Do we know if there was really a fling between her and Prince Ernest?

Daisy: We don’t know. We can only speculate.

Deborah: I know that Mr. Francatelli’s cook books are still out there in print; have you ever tasted any of his recipes?

Daisy: Yes! I’ve made the Coburg Loaf, and I’ve made a couple of soups. They call for ingredients that aren’t generally that available, like pigs feet and stuff but they’re pretty good. They’re worth looking at. He was sort of a hero, I think.

Deborah: It would be fun to do a dinner party with all his recipes!

Daisy: Yes! A Victoria dinner party; that would be great!

Deborah: If you could travel back in time and ask Victoria anything, what would it be? Or is there anything you wish you could say to her?

Daisy: Oh God, that’s such a difficult question! I suppose one question I might ask Victoria is whether she had any regrets. I suspect not. And I’m very curious about what she thought about John Brown, but I kind of know. I’d like to know if I’m right about what I think went on, I suppose. Like did she really have a secret marriage with John Brown, that’s the thing everybody wants to know.

Deborah: Do you think she did?

Daisy: No. Well, they might have done but I think they definitely were intimate. It’s very tricky, actually. I think I ask all the questions on screen in my writing so I kind of get to the answers. So I feel I know. I think I know who her favorite child was. It was Prince Arthur.

Deborah: Why do you think he was her favorite?
Daisy: Because she said he was, and he was the best looking, and she quite liked a good looking man. I would liked to have had a frank discussion with her. I think it would have been impossible but quite fun.

Deborah: If you had been one of Victoria’s ladies in waiting, what advice would you have given her? Would you even want to be a Lady in Waiting?

Daisy: I think being one of Victoria’s Ladies in Waiting would have been quite hard. She needs to be the center of attention at all times and I think I might find that challenging. But I have admiration for Victoria. I don’t think so critical of her. I sort of feel she did an amazing job given the circumstances.

Deborah: What made you decide to write the story as a novel first, rather than a series? Did you always picture it becoming a series, or did that opportunity arise out of the success of the book?

Daisy: I started writing Victoria as a novel and then as I thought about it, it seemed so much the stuff of drama, and no-one had done a long form drama about her, so I decided to have a go. When I had finished writing the scripts I went back and finished the novel.

Deborah: Do you have any advice for anyone would like to write a novel?

Daisy: I think the only advice for someone thinking of writing a novel is just to write it, because it’s very easy to sit there thinking I’d like to be the sort of person who writes a novel and not write anything. And actually the only way to write the novel is to write the novel, I’ve discovered. It took me a long time to get to the point where I could write a novel, and then one day I just could. So give it a whirl.

Deborah: Do you have a favorite quote or words to live by?

Daisy: I think my motto is ‘Don’t let perfection stand in the way of the good.’I think Churchill said that, but I think, especially for women, it’s easy to think, ‘I can’t do that,’ because it won’t be perfect but actually it doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be as good as you can make it. And I think that gives you permission to make a few mistakes.

Deborah: Do you have a favorite quote from Queen Victoria?

Daisy: It’s very hard for me now because I’ve almost got to the stage where I can’t remember where my Victoria ends and the real Victoria begins, (laughs) if you know what I mean. They are very interwoven in my head. But there was a very funny quote she said where someone’s tried to assassinate her and she said, ‘It’s almost worth being shot at to know how much one is loved.’

Deborah: What do you think Victoria and Albert would have thought about that someday, in 150 years there would be a TV show about their lives?

Daisy: I think Victoria wouldn’t have been at all surprised and I think Albert would be saying, ‘but what about all my speeches to the Engineering Society? Why aren’t they showing that?’

Deborah: Do you have any message for PBS viewers?

Daisy: I hope they enjoy the show! I had a great time writing it!

Thank you, Daisy, we will! And thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.

Come back here to the British Telly Dish blog every Sunday night after each Season 2 Victoria episode to read my recap. Join the conversation using the hashtag #VictoriaPBS. Stream previews, clips and full episodes of Victoria now.

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