Blackpool’s Jenna Coleman and partner Tom Hughes talk love stories and accents with Natalie Anglesey at the wrap party for Victoria
ITV’s glorious evocation of the life of legendary British monarch, Victoria, has captured 7.7 million television viewers across this country and almost as many in America. As a nation we love period dramas and this is a compelling look at the private lives of prominent figures we’ve only read about in our history books.
“Victoria and Albert were the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton of their day – only the jewels were bigger,” laughs screen-writer and co-producer, Daisy Goodwin. “We’ve already seen Victoria ascend to the throne at 18, fall madly in love with Prince Albert and marry him when they were only 19. But they had very different temperaments. Albert wanted to protect her, while feisty Victoria was trying to be wife, mother and queen. In this new season we witness their tempestuous marriage and the births of three of their nine children who formed a European dynasty. In spite of it being an arranged marriage, they were both in love and faithful during their 24 years together and enjoyed a healthy, sexual relationship – as their nine children proved!"
The stars are two young actors who were already making a mark long before they were cast as Victoria and Albert. It’s been a meteoric career rise for both Blackpool’s Jenna Coleman, who plays Victoria and, similarly, for Chester’s Tom Hughes, who portrays the stoic Prince Albert. A couple in real life – although they guard their privacy closely – on screen they enact one of the greatest love stories of all time.
Supported by family and friends at the launch, Jenna confessed she knew little about the Victorian era before she was asked to play the role. “When I was learning my lines I found it useful to read bits of Victoria’s diaries – although I tried to keep to the time span we were filming. One of the things I love about her is how open and impulsive she is. But she also had this will of iron, which she needed to survive as queen. I have great admiration for her both as a woman and a monarch.”
To play Albert, 32-year-old Tom not only grew a moustache but had to come to grips with a believable German accent. “I had an excellent voice coach and I used to go to sleep listening to tapes of the accent! They really were quite different as a couple, as Albert’s passion was for logic and science and he wanted to contribute to an era on the brink of the Industrial Revolution.” Indeed his doting aunt confirmed to me later that some Germans told her they thought Tom really was German!
Jenna’s interest in acting developed when she was head girl at Blackpool’s Arnold School. Her grandmother had named her after Jenna Wade, the character played by Priscilla Presley in the 80's hit American television series Dallas. Jenna was a member of In Yer Space theatre company and performed at the Edinburgh Festival, winning an award for her performance. It was to be the first of many.
While auditioning for drama schools in 2005, Jenna was chosen to play Jasmine Thomas in Emmerdale and followed that with the BBC drama series Waterloo Road. She appeared in BBC Four’s television adaptation of John Braine’s Room at the Top, and in Julian Fellowes' Titanic. They both appeared in Stephen Poliakoff's drama series Dancing on the Edge.
In 2011, Jenna made her feature film debut in Captain America: The First Avenger and the following year won the role of Clara, companion of the eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith. She continued in the role after his regeneration into the twelfth Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi – until she left to play Victoria.
Like Jenna, Tom was passionate about acting while still at Upton-by-Chester High School and was a member of Cheshire Youth Theatre, as well as Jigsaw Music Theatre Company. He went on to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 2008, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in acting.
Success came quickly, as the following year Tom featured in the BBC series Casualty 1909, and ITV's Trinity. A musician, he appeared in the Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll as Dury's bandmate Chaz Jankel. Tom had been a guitarist in the indie band Quaintways, but left in 2011 when he was named one of BAFTA’s Brits to Watch.
As his acting career took off, Tom starred as Bruce Pearson in comedy-drama Cemetery Junction, written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. In the same year he appeared in Sweet Nothings at the Young Vic, and was nominated for a BIFA Award for Most Promising Newcomer. He played pupil barrister Nick Slade in BBC’s Silk, and appeared in the BBC thriller Page Eight, alongside Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz. A variety of roles followed, including the leading role of Joe Lambe, in the BBC Cold War drama, The Game.
Tom grinned at the suggestion that costume drama was glamorous. “We’ve a great team who look after as wonderfully, but we film on location – so the lavish sets of Buckingham Palace are created in a huge aircraft-hanger on a disused runway in Yorkshire! We’ve had to rehearse lots of dancing, fencing and riding. I discovered horses don’t particularly like me – although eventually I found a couple who just about tolerated me!”
Jenna, who was wearing the highest black Jimmy Choos I’ve ever seen, adds: “I had to learn to ride side-saddle, but got used to it, although I had a rather frisky show pony. The costumes are so beautiful I didn’t mind wearing corsets for seven months on set as it helps with posture – but I did have to wear a variety of bumps to signify each pregnancy. Filming with so many children on set was often quite hilarious as, in between takes, their parents hid behind pillars holding bags of crisps to keep them happy!”
With such busy schedules I wondered if they found time to return to Blackpool and Chester? “We live in London because it’s an exciting city but, with today’s technology, staying in touch with our families isn’t difficult at all,” Tom smiled. “We do try to get home when we can but today we have our families and cast members here because we’re about to enjoy our wrap party at the end of filming.”
The rest of us will just have to wait for the end of this season of Victoria – but I can promise you, it will definitely be worth the wait!