Nigel Hawthorne had never worked with director John Erman before, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Besides working with a talented and able director,
he appreciated the acting talent that signed on to the script. Hawthorne remarked, "I've never seen all those names shoved together in
a television series ever. It's just astonishing to me. I remember when I saw the cast list for the first time, and I
could see he had gotten Ustinov and Diana Rigg and David Suchet and Jonathan Pryce ... all these
names that were just tumbling out. Even the footmen and the people playing servants are very, very
established figures in our theater world. And it's not because they need the work. It's because they like the
Diana Rigg enjoyed working with her cast members, especially with director John Erman. She said of him, "He's an adorable man.
He knows his subject. I suspect he's the sort of director that wouldn't dream of coming to a subject
without knowing it really well. He knows what he wants, and that is always an actor's ideal. You know, it's
the directors who don't know what they want, that you can’t stand. 'Oh well, let's do it this way.
Well then, let's do it that way...' In the end you've done it twenty ways. And frankly, the first way, generally
speaking, is the best. One's instincts tell one." 5
Rigg, who has worked with several of the actors in the past remarked, "It's been great fun for me,
because if you've been around as long as I have, you've worked with quite a lot of them, so they're chums.
And, you might not have seen them for quite a long time. So, the makeup van's been a very jolly place. I've
walked in there in the mornings, and there's been a face that I worked with years ago." 6
The Actors on Their Roles
Victoria Hamilton, who is a familiar face to Jane Austen film enthusiasts (Pride and Prejudice,
Persuasion and Mansfield Park)
found herself in a very different role as Queen Victoria. Sorting through the vast amounts of material written about
Queen Victoria, Hamilton was finally able to come to an understanding of the human nature of the beloved monarch.
Hamilton remarks: "She is extraordinarily strong, and also at many moments in her life, completely terrified
and utterly vulnerable. Her emotions swing dramatically in that way, to a point where you almost think that
people watching this are going to think she was schizophrenic, because she really does burn hot and cold...
While she’s growing up, her relationship with her
mother is terrible, because her mother is under the thumb of this dreadful man, Conroy. Her relationship
with both of them is a non-relationship really. The only person that she has that is a mother figure is
Lehzen, who is her governess..." 7
Hamilton continues: "As the years then pass, that relationship becomes strained because Lehzen doesn't get on with Albert.
Victoria slowly starts to realize that, as much as Lehzen was a very good governess, she's actually
hopeless at running the household, which is what she ends up doing. And so, they eventually part
company. It's something that happens a lot in her life--that she's very close to people for a certain
section of years, and then moves away from them. She's also desperately searching for a father figure,
because her father is dead. So when she first succeeds to the throne, she attaches all her affections to
Melbourne, who is the prime minister." 8
As for Victoria's relationship with Albert, Hamilton portrayed her as a
queen who grows in her love for her husband as well as in her personal character as a result of her marriage:
"One of the terrific things that I realized by reading all these books, is this myth that Victoria was simply
a very strong queen. The fact is, that actually, she wouldn't have been. Albert taught her to be a very good
queen. Certainly, as a child and a young woman, there is part of her that is just completely wild. She loved
horse riding and she used to go on long gallops every day, and she loved dancing and food...
You know, in her heart she was quite hedonistic until he came along.
When she came to the throne, suddenly she could do anything she wanted to... The girl just
wanted to party, and it wasn't until Albert turned up, that that side of her began to be tamed. I think there's a
beautifully written scene when he first comes back years after they first met. She's just absolutely bowled
over by how beautiful he is. That's why I think she asks him to marry her. I mean,
they get on and she starts to realize that he's a great
laugh. I think basically, it's a very young, innocent girl having her first crush ever on this beautiful man.
She doesn't actually learn to love him for him for years. You know, he is actually leaps ahead of her as far
as understanding their relationship. I think he accepts her proposal of marriage because he likes her,
but mainly because it will mean that he's in a position where he can do some work for the good, which is
very Albert." 9
Jonathan Firth had some background on Queen Victoria, but like many others, had little
idea of the kind of person Albert was. When he began
researching his character, it became clear to him that Albert was a tremendous person. He commented,
"Particularly, his influence on the cultural life of Britain was enormous. Most of our big London museums
were all built by him, or they were started by him,
or they were founded by him. He had a huge, huge impact. I think he was very much behind the
scenes, you know. He was a quiet guy. He didn't crave the spotlight at all. Obviously, Victoria, being the
queen, got most of the attention, and he was perfectly happy with that. Very interesting part to play." 10
Firth's research included reading Queen Victoria's extensive diaries, going to the Victoria and Albert museum
and the Albert Hall. He learned quite a bit from these experiences about Albert not only as a stateman,
but as a human being. Although Albert tended to have a stiff public appearance, he was actually a warm family man:
"Well, he hated being in public. He hated the spotlight... So, people who didn't know him very well
thought that he was very, very stiff and formal. That was his sort of public image, if you like.
But when he wasn't in the public eye, he was very relaxed. He was funny,
he had a terrific sense of humor, and he was very, very good with his children. He loved his children...
He was probably the better parent of the two of them. He was much better
with the kids than Victoria was. There is a scene where he dresses up as a bear, that's actually factual.
He did do that. He loved Christmas, for example. He kind of invented Christmas, in a way.
He imported to the Anglo-Saxon world the idea of the Christmas tree and all that kind of stuff.
I think they had been doing that in Germany for years, but it never happened in Britain before, certainly.
The idea of the family Christmas was very much his idea.
He was a very warm and loving family man, in spite of the fact that his public persona was very quiet and
reserved and formal." 11
Firth also adds that "what we think of as Victorian morality is really Albertian morality, which was imposed on her.
I knew nothing at all about him when I started, except that he was German and had something to do with the South Kensington museums. But I came to like him very much."
Nigel Hawthorne, best known for his role as King George in The Madness of King George,
the chance to play another royal character, Lord Melbourne, Queen Victoria’s first prime minister.
Having done some historical research on the background of his character, Hawthorne comments,
"I think Melbourne was a very difficult man because he was so easygoing. He'd had a romance
and a marriage with Caroline Lamb, a very, very errant spirit. She was totally off the wall.
She eventually left, as he was then William Lamb--before he became Lord
Melbourne--and went off with Lord Byron. She had a big affair with Lord Byron, and Byron eventually got
very irritated by her, and ditched her. And Melbourne took her back again. So this was the man that was
prepared to eat humble pie, knowing he had been cuckolded by Byron, who was very romantic and the
man of the day, the big heroic paretic symbol of the day. All the women fell for him. But he took her back.
He saw in Victoria something of that spirit, I believe. He was obviously much, much older than she. I mean,
she was 18 and he was nearly 50. And so, he saw in her the daughter that he'd always wanted. He had
just lost his own son, who died. He saw in this young girl something that he really adored. And it was funny,
they became incredibly close." 13
Diana Rigg reveled in her role as Baroness Lehzen. Rigg found the role compelling "because she is a complicated
woman, and she had great influence over Victoria. Victoria loved her a lot. She wrote, with hindsight, and she loved her more than her mother.
Although she was quite a strict old bag, you know? I love playing these sort of parts, slightly repressed
woman. I just like them." 14