Writer Daisy Goodwin and exec producer Damien Timmer explain how they created ITV’s drama about Victoria’s early years as queen
Daisy Goodwin is the creator and producer of a long list of returning popular factual formats from Grand Designs to Escape to the Country. After quitting TV to write a series of historical novels she’s now returned to the small screen, this time as the screenwriter behind ITV’s big budget drama based on Queen Victoria’s first years as monarch. Goodwin and exec producer Damien Timmer explain how the show came about
Is it difficult to go from factual producer to drama writer?
DG I read history at university and my plan was always to make historical docs. Then I got sidetracked and ended up making popular TV formats. I’ve worked across the piece but my career has all been about telling stories, it’s just that the modes have changed.
How did you come to screenwriting?
DG I wrote a couple of novels based in the 19th century and my last novel had Queen Victoria as a character and I got more and more engaged with her. When I quit Silver River and decided to write full time I thought I would write another novel about Victoria but as I was doing my research I realised it was really the stuff of drama.
Was it a difficult transition from novels to scripts?
DG Although I hadn’t written a drama before I did 100 years ago go to film school in New York. I always found writing dialogue the easiest thing when writing my novels and screenwriting for some reason feels very natural – once I figured out how to use Final Draft. Also because I’m very familiar with the material I’m not scared of it either. I know what I think is important and what is not, what I can do and not do and still remain true to the facts. Having said that I did have help. I was lucky to work with Mammoth and Damien and Rebecca. I’ve learned so much from them.
What’s your take on the story?
DG My take on it is ‘teenager becomes queen’. I have a teenage daughter and she’s a handful so what would it be like if tomorrow she became the most powerful woman in the world? That was a compelling notion and a great place to start a drama from. It centres on the first few years of Victoria’s reign. It starts with the day she becomes Queen. It’s really about her struggle to assert herself and break free of her mother and her mother’s adviser John Conroy and to show the world that she is capable of being queen. There were a lot of people who thought that maybe the crown should have gone to the next man in line, her uncle the Duke of Cumberland. It was quite a fluid situation. It was not the slam dunk we might expect now.
How crucial was the casting?
DG Casting Victoria was the biggest hurdle. My biggest thought was she must be very small and we must get the sense that she’s this tiny girl at the centre of a forest of old men. That has come thorough very clearly. You really get the sense that this is not the way things were intended to be so she has to work hard to assert herself.
What about the world she inhabits?
DG We wanted to get over in the script and the production that Britain was not an empire at that point. It was a nation on the up. It’s got entrepreneurial and scientific development but it has third world poverty too. It’s a really volcanic place. There were lots of carriages and chandeliers and things we expect from royal life but we’ve also tried as much as we can to show this is a moment of huge technological and social change. This is a world that’s in ferment. It’s not a Jane Austen world of bonnets and balls.
What is the show’s look?
DT The first series is in the early years of Victoria’s reign. When people think of the Victorian era they think of a style that tends to be lots of dark wood, forbidding and rather severe and very ornate. But when she comes to the throne the Regency style is still very present. It’s a colorful, romantic style and that’s a lovely backdrop to this teenage queen.
How was Buckingham Palace created?
DT Rather than build standalone sets, production designer Michael Howells built a big expanse on the ground floor so we could have completely free movement. We could take the camera from the throne room to a ballroom to private areas and huge ceremonial rooms and it’s all connected. A lot of it had ceilings so once you were inside you really were in this early 19th century palace. We based ourselves in Yorkshire which worked really well. The majority of the action is in Buckingham Palace and we very quickly had a model of a combination of a big studio build at the Yorkshire Studios and location filming in other grand spaces around Yorkshire.
The eight-part series follows the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign as she ascends the throne at the age of 18. It is created and written by ex factual producer and now novelist Daisy Goodwin, in her screenwriting debut.
Production Mammoth Screen
Creator and writer Daisy Goodwin
Executive producers Dan McCulloch, Damien Timmer, Daisy Goodwin
Producer Paul Frift
Lead director Tom Vaughan
Development Rebecca Keane
Composer Martin Phipps
Production designer Michael Howells
Distributor ITV Studios Global Entertainment
Cast Queen Victoria – Jenna Coleman; Prince Albert – Tom Hughes; Rufus Sewell – Lord Melbourne; Alex Jennings; Paul Rhys; Peter Firth; Catherine Flemming; Eve Myles; Adrian Schiller; Nichola McAuliffe; Daniela Holtz; Nell Hudson; Tommy-Lawrence Knight; Nigel Lindsay; Alice Orr-Ewing