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A royal bromance in Victoria!

Nigel Lindsay

In the penultimate episode of Victoria, Prince Albert forms an unlikely friendship with Tory leader Robert Peel. We spoke to actor Nigel Lindsay to find out more...

In the penultimate episode of Victoria, Prince Albert is struggling to be accepted by the Tories and the British people. Why? There seems to be a feeling, which is conveyed in the episode, that the Tories were wary of this family coming over from Germany and inveigling their way into British royal family, even though Victoria had German connections. It was felt in some circles that Albert was marrying for money and power, and that we were being invaded. So, yes, they definitely against the idea.

What does Albert do to increase his popularity? Albert was a very quiet and methodical man, but was really interested in progress and change. I don’t think it was done on his part to win him power and love from the population but it was pointed out to him that if he got more involved with the English way of life, if he found a cause, he might be more acceptable to the British. The first cause he found was slavery, he went to the anti-slavery conventions and he was very keen on progress so when he heard that Peel had a train on his land, they formed a bond.

What happens when Albert and Victoria visit Peel? Victoria decides they should tour the country a bit in order to make the face of the monarchy more public. Obviously this was before television and the internet so people didn’t know who they were, so she goes on these tours because there was still a slight clamour for her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, to be king. So she goes on a popularity tour, a bit like John Major getting on his battle bus, and they go and stay with this very old fashioned Tory gent, who humiliates Albert. Peel is on the neighbouring estate and when they go and visit him, he realises what’s happening. It’s the beginning of a bromance between Peel and Albert.

How does this gent humiliate Albert? He’s a very old fashioned, stuck-up Tory grandee. And his wife isn’t much better; she has no time for Albert, and not much time for Victoria, to be honest. He just talks down to Albert and there’s all this stuff about precedence, who holds whose hand going into dinner, that sort of thing. All Albert’s ideas are laughed at. They try to humiliate Albert by advising his steward that he should be wearing a certain set of clothes for hunting and shooting, but they’re clothes that no one would be seen dead in. They try to get the steward to set the clothes out for Albert but he’s advised by someone else not to do it. They try to humiliate Albert at all times but he actually proves himself to be a much better shot than everyone else. They’re shown up to be the snobs that they are.

How did you find working with Tom Hughes? It was great. He’s a very serious man. And he’s very professional. He gets on with it. He had to find a character for Albert, who wasn’t the most easygoing of people. I find it interesting working with actors if they’re playing someone like that, or playing someone nasty or whatever, they tend to stay away from you on set quite a lot but Tom and I got on really well. It was very interesting watching him work. We work quite differently, but I’ve been doing it a long time and have seen many different methods of approach to the way people find their characters. You just let people get on with it as long as it doesn’t impinge on what you’re doing.

How did you find playing a politician in the House of Commons? I only had one scene in the House of Commons which is in the last episode. It’s always very difficult with those of scenes because I was supposed to be haranguing a huge audience on the other side of the house. But there were just 15 crew members in front of me, scratching their bums and trying not to look me in the eye. That's always difficult. Those scenes are quite nice because you’re giving a loud speech. Most of the camerawork is quite intimate, you’re trying to keep it low and make the performance come from inside you. But with scenes like that you’re projecting, you’re trying to give a big speech to a big audience so I find them fun, but difficult when you’re supposed to be looking at 300 MPs when there are only a few people and a camera pointing at you.

Did you like being in a period drama for a change? I was talking to someone recently about period drama and I can’t remember having actually filmed anything like this before. I usually do a lot of comedy and modern stuff but I’m not usually picked out to do period drama so I really enjoyed it. Putting on a costume helps you. And the sets were fantastic too so you really feel like you’re at Buckingham Palace. It really helps. I’m doing a police drama at the moment and I’m filming in someone’s kitchen. It feels like I’m in my own kitchen so it’s quite difficult to get into a different character. But when you’re playing a character in a different time, with a different costume, with a wig on, it makes you feel inherently different from the beginning, so you’ve got an advantage. And everywhere you look, everyone looks like they’ve come out of the 1830s, so yeah I really enjoyed it.

he locations look amazing – did you enjoy filming the outside scenes? That’s another thing with filming something like Victoria. Everywhere you go is either a stately home or some other lovely place. At the moment I’m filming next to a sewage works in Dublin and there’s a constant waft of raw sewage blowing in. Also, the building we’re using as a police station is freezing cold, dusty and smelly. Raw sewage is all you can smell, even when you go back to your trailer. But with Victoria, you’re in a massive stately home, you’re riding in a carriage – it’s great fun. It makes a change, let me tell you!

You play a politician but were you interested in any of the politics? I’m interested as any person should be really. I found the research about Peel was fascinating. He was a really interesting, if difficult, politician. When his memoirs were published, a critic said why would anyone want to read about Peel, one of the most boring men ever. When I saw that I thought ‘Oh my God! This isn’t going to be much fun for me as an actor, trying to portray a man like that.’ But actually, when you get down to it and read about him and the politics of the time, it’s fascinating. One of the things you can say about Peel is that he was very principled man who always stuck to his beliefs, and that’s what came across later in life when he became so popular. You may not have agreed with him, but you had to admire him.

What were your favourite scenes to film? Undoubtedly the scenes on the train. That day was such fun. This man had lovingly crafted this steam train, which I think was a reproduction of Robert Stephenson’s Rocket, which was one of the first steam locomotives. Tom and I were like little kids as we pootled up and down this one line of track all day. The guys who played the engineers were actually from the local steam museum so it was fascinating talking to them. And we arrived in a horse and carriage. That’s one of the perks of this job you get to do different things and go to so many different countries and meet really interesting people. I did an episode of Death in Paradise which was three and a half weeks in Guadaloupe, which wasn’t at all bad. It was a gift of a job.

Would you be up for playing Robert Peel again? Well Peel isn’t even PM by the end of the last episode. I’m not giving anything away by saying Victoria gives birth to her first child at the end of the series, and Peel wasn’t PM until a few months after that.

What else are you up to? So I’m filming the police series – Innocent for ITV – at the moment, and I’ve just finished working on the second series of Unforgotten with Sanjeev Bhaskar and Nicole – I was going to say Nicole Kidman, but of course I mean Nicola Walker! I’m literally filming both at the same time, which has been great fun.

Victoria continues on ITV tonight at 9pm.