I am so excited for the Season 3 premiere of Masterpiece’s Victoria on January 13 at 9pm (on broadcast and online)! I had a thrilling, behind-the-scenes view of filming on the set when it was still many months away. Creator/writer Daisy Goodwin describes the new season as “a hugely dramatic and eventful time for both the royal family and Europe, with revolutions on the continent and uncertainty around the monarchy.”
How did I arrive on the set of Season 3? It all started during Victoria’s first season when I was writing recaps for THIRTEEN. As I tweeted about them, Goodwin retweeted a couple, adding ‘Hilarious!’ Very cool, she likes my recaps, I thought.
In 2017, we got to meet in person at a screening in New York City and she agreed to do this interview with me! I always find that writers make the best interviews, and Daisy was no different. And like most of the British writers and actors I’ve interviewed, she said, “If you’re ever going to be in London, let me know.” I always assume they are saying that just to be nice, but in a couple of instances I’ve taken the subjects up on it and had some lovely reunions!
This past June before I took off for WLIW’s To The Manor Born tour to the UK, I thought, be bold! I emailed Daisy to say I’d be in England, and asked if I could visit the set. She responded immediately and positively. I assumed I’d be scheduled for a day they were dark, just to see the empty sets. Instead, I was invited on set when they were filming Season 3 scenes – and I got the royal treatment, too! All in all, I got to see three scenes: one with Victoria and Mrs. Skerrett, one with Skerrett, Francatelli and Mr. Penge, and one with Skerrett and some new guy who looks like he might be trouble. I hope my personal and special preview of Season 3 adds to your appreciation of this stellar series.
Photo Gallery: Victoria on the set
The Victoria production company sent a driver to pick me up from the York railway station and bring me to the set at Church Fenton Studios: a nondescript airplane hangar about 20 minutes outside York.
Once I arrived, Victoria’s producer David Boulter took me on a tour around the offices and the buzzing art department. Seeing the staff and crew at work was like the on-screen credits come to life. It truly does take a village to put a series like this together, and every person is an important piece of the puzzle. I was shown a big map on the wall where all the on-location filming sites – such as streets in York, Keighley train station and the Venetian-style Bradford City Hall – were marked. It looked like the plans for a military invasion.
Right outside the studios, they were shooting a scene with a Victorian seaside bathing machine. David apologized for the smell in the air and explained that the spot was on top of an underground cesspool (much like Buckingham Palace was when Queen Victoria first moved in). I joked, “Oh, the glamour!” The very star of the series, Jenna Coleman (Victoria), overheard me, started giggling and came over to say hello.
Coleman was getting ready to shoot close-ups for scenes of Victoria and Mrs. Skerrett exiting the small bathing house on wheels; the rest of the scenes would be filmed on a beach in Flamborough, Yorkshire. Weeks after I got home from the UK I saw this article with paparazzi photos of those scenes filmed in Flamborough.
I always find it interesting that scenes are filmed out of sequence, and think it has got to be difficult for actors to maintain an emotional through line. But actors have told me that it’s just part of the job and they just learn to take it in stride.
If you, like me, had never heard of Victorian bathing machines, they look like old fashioned circus wagons, and were used in the 18th and 19th centuries, allowing modest ladies to swim in the ocean. The wagon was rolled right up to the water’s edge, and a lady could change into her bathing suit inside, then exit and run right into the water. When she had enough, she would run right back into the wagon. It seems silly given that beaches were segregated and women’s bathing suits (or bathing costumes, as the Brits call them) covered them from neck to ankle anyway, but it was the custom of the day. The production company found an authentic Victorian bathing machine to rent for these scenes.
Next we were off to Buckingham Palace, or rather, the indoor sets for it. Walking into that grand gallery that we’ve seen so many times on the show was like stepping through the looking glass! It didn’t matter that there were ladders and cameras, and people (in modern dress) working to get it prepped. It was like I was there, and all those amazing 19th-century characters might just come around the corner at any moment. I also walked through Victoria and Albert’s bedroom, the music room (I could almost hear Prince Ernie playing the piano), and all the downstairs rooms (which is where they were filming that day).
One of the set designers gave me a tour, knocking on the pillars to show me they were made of cardboard. Things look very different from the back than from the camera-ready front – like the palace’s “stone” balustrade (see the photo gallery, above). Upstairs, some changes were being made to the grand rooms and the designer showed me (on his iPhone) what the new décor would look like. I was sure Prince Albert would be proud of the use of modern technology.
In the costume department I met award-winning costume designer Rosalind Ebbutt who, before meticulously recreating costumes for Victoria, had been a designer on Downton Abbey.
An amusing example of attention to detail is the undergarment the women wear to give their skirts their bulk. Accurate to the period, it is stuffed with horsehair and weighs over 20 pounds! This undergarment never shows on camera, so they could use more modern (and lighter!) materials and methods to give the dresses that same look, but they keep it historical. Wearing a 20-pound petticoat affects the way a person moves, and helps an actor get in character – and (as a woman) it also makes you thankful you live now, instead of back then! We had a little discussion about how these undergarments served to keep women in their places.
And lest we think the costuming department is all about creating fabulous costumes, it’s also about laundry. It was funny to see the men’s Darcy shirts hanging to dry outdoors on a line! I also found out that the iconic British military red coats are rented, and sometimes, when there are too many period dramas filming at a time, they are difficult to get! I was wondering if they had a Jets/Sharks thing going with Poldark, but didn’t want to sound like a geek by asking.
It was fan-tastic to spend time with the staff and crew, and David told me that when I was done in the costume department, to feel free to wander around and watch everything. Wander around the set on my own?! Holy cow! I have been on enough TV and theater sets to know that this was a HUGE privilege! Amazing! I was a little nervous, worrying that I’d accidentally wander through a scene on a live set and ruin something, but luckily I didn’t.
I watched as the crew prepped the dresser’s room set for a scene with Mrs. Skerrett (played by Nell Hudson). Every item was placed just so, and a smoke machine gave the downstairs some “atmosphere.” Even the dress extras (one a scullery maid, the other a page), who only walked past an open door, were attended to with meticulous care. They’ll appear on-screen in the background for a fraction of a second as the main characters speak.
I was offered a seat with the crew right outside the room, to watch on the video assist monitors as they filmed Hudson’s scene. Every crew member was watching the monitors with eagle eyes, looking for anything that might be amiss. Between takes they would go into the room to fix an errant hair or a thread. Every single person I encountered had a great dedication to detail – and we who love the show are the ones who benefit!
In between takes, while the crew was resetting, Nell Hudson sat and chatted with us. The big conversation topic that morning was the lunch menu and I was invited to join everyone once the morning scenes were shot. The craft services (catering) truck had impressive entrees (and gluten-free options – yay!) and I had the best mushy peas and chips I’ve ever had. The weather was gorgeous so I sat with the crew at picnic tables on the lawn. I learned there’s a vibrant TV industry up north (silly me, I assumed the British industry was mostly London-based). Victoria is the most elaborate period drama ever filmed in the area.
Everywhere I went I was introduced as being, “from New York.” Do you remember those old Hebrew National hot dog commercials, where Uncle Sam is holding the hot dog, and is told that they are kosher, and her reacts with a surprised “Oh” face? That was the reaction every time I was introduced. I still laugh thinking of it.
After lunch it was back to the downstairs, this time for a kitchen scene. The day flew by and too soon, it was time to get a ride back to the train station, making it just in time to catch my train. I have always had a great respect for the talent and dedication it takes to create something as wondrous as the period dramas we see on PBS, but I have a newfound respect for everyone involved.
I am truly grateful for this Victoria set adventure. On the train ride back to London I was thinking, wait, did that just happen?
Speaking about the monarchy in general and Queen Victoria in particular, the Victorian era journalist Walter Bagehot famously said, “We must not let daylight in upon magic.” People have asked me if seeing the operations behind the scenes let daylight upon that magic and ruined the fantasy for me. I say emphatically, no it did not!
It only deepened my love and respect for the show.
Warm Up for Victoria Season 3 Premiere
I – like many of you – have been watching the rebroadcasts of Seasons 1 and 2 on Thirteen and WLIW (check schedule through January 7) and every time I do, I think to myself, “I WAS STANDING RIGHT THERE!!!” I still can’t believe I was so lucky! You can binge-watch past seasons by becoming a member of THIRTEEN and streaming episodes through THIRTEEN Passport.
Thanks to the care and talents of the entire cast and crew, creator Daisy Goodwin, and PBS, Season 3 of Victoria premieres Sunday, January 13 at 9 p.m. What (or who) are you hoping to see? Me? I’m hoping that Lord M’s dead parrot scene was not the end of him; that he was just resting and we’ll see him again. And this season introduces new characters. The great Kate Fleetwood (seen in Macbeth on Great Performances) plays the mysterious Feodora, Victoria’s older half-sister who returns from Germany; and Laurence Fox (Inspector Lewis, also from Masterpiece) portrays the “wayward” Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston. January 13 will be here before you know it! It’s almost time, Victorians!
Come back here to the British Telly Dish blog every Sunday night after each Victoria episode premiere to read my recap. Join the conversation using the hashtag #VictoriaPBS, and let us know in the comments below or on Facebook what you hope to see in Season 3.