We had the privilege of speaking to Margaret Clunie who plays Harriet, the Duchess of Sutherland in the Victoria which first hit our screens back in August 2016. Harriet, one of Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting and a close friend is a pivotal character in the series. With her storyline of forbidden love for Prince Albert’s brother, Prince Ernest of Coburg (David Oakes).
At the end of season 2, Harriet found herself a widow, but her chance to finally be with Ernest presented itself. It has paved the way for a new chapter in her life, but the situation didn’t quite have the outcome Harriet was hoping for. So can we expect for sparks to fly between the two love-struck members of Victoria’s court?
“There is a bit of love between Harriet, and Ernest, of course there is, as they are so madly in love with each other. The audience knows why he hasn’t gone to propose to her, but she obviously doesn’t, so it’s quite heartbreaking for her for most of the episode. The saddest thing is they do really love each other and that’s going to be the main problem for them. They never want to hurt each other” said Clunie
It’s been hard to avoid the festive trailer for the Christmas special plastered all over the TV. Filled with warmth, love and happiness, but we all know that drama lurks beneath the surface; we can smell it a mile away like the fragrant enticing smell of mulled wine and mince pies. Whilst not giving too much away, Clunie gave us a brief insight into the heartache Harriet has in store.
“Well, I think there is; Harriet gets quite a lot of the drama, to be honest. At the end of series two, we last see her standing, waiting for Ernest to show up, for what presumes, is to propose to her, and he didn’t show up. So Christmas begins for Harriet being really annoyed with him and spends most of the episode work out why. When she tries rectifying the situation, it all goes quite badly. She has a hell of a time, always!”
With most Christmas specials, the episodes are always filmed within conditions that are the polar opposite of what is being portrayed. This episode was indeed filmed during the summer of 2017, during the hottest period of the year which comes with its own challenges. Clunie divulged just how enamoured she was by the complete transformation of Harewood House for the wintry scenes.
“Oh My God, we were literally wearing fur coats in August, it got pretty hot. I don’t know where they got the Christmas trees from, they were amazing. Inside, it was easy to make the set look festive and Christmassy, and the decorations were are incredible, but then we did a whole ice skating sequence, which was obviously outside as it was meant to be a frozen lake. We filmed it at Harewood House in Yorkshire. They had to dress this whole plot of land as if it was Christmas and covered in snow and a fake frozen lake which looked incredible but it was hilarious because you would walk round the corner and you were suddenly in the middle of winter even though it was 25 degrees. We were wearing ice skates and coats and hats; it was very hot.”
As a long-standing monarch, Queen Victoria is known by many. Although others in her court, such as her ladies in waiting, had their names fade into the background and out of the limelight. Taking on a character from history who is hardly known outside the circles of historians comes with its issues, however, Clunie has taken it all in her stride. She stated that researching and learning about the Duchess had been one of the highlights of working on the series. She spoke to us about researching the Duchess for the show.
“I did The Victorians at school, but that was when I was 11 so I needed a bit of a revisit. You know stuff about the Victorians but never the specifics, Harriet Sutherland in particular, or the ladies in waiting. I never knew about that whole system, it’s really interesting, they worked on a rota, it was a full-on job and they lived in the palace. The Duchess of Sutherland, when she was mistress to the Victoria, intermittently, throughout the years and throughout Victoria‘s life, she would be in charge of choosing her jewellery, etc. It was a very intimate job and it‘s probably why they have ended up being such great friends. They lived very to each other, and Harriet’s house, Cliveden, which is now a very lovely hotel, really close to Windsor. There were stories, one in particular when there was a fire at Cliveden and apparently Queen Victoria sent fire trucks to save the day. They were close personally and friends learning It was fascinating, she is a historical figure that, to be honest, I hadn’t heard of at all”.
The popularity of Victoria comes amongst a surge of interest in our Royal history. Once an untouched subject, the general public has assumed the monarchy have idyllic lifestyles, where nothing goes wrong, the ideal life. Series such as Victoria and The Crown open up their worlds to show their lives’ are far from perfect and they have problems just like everybody else.
“It’s gone down so well, it’s been so exciting. I remember when I was told I had the part, I was so excited that I didn’t quite imagine it would go to this kind of level. People have been really appreciative and lovely about the whole series, and it’s been an absolute joy to work on. Everyone is so much fun, we all get on really well [cast], the fact that the audience has enjoyed it as well has been an extra blessing, and it’s the cherry on the Christmas cake” said Clunie.
She went on to state “It does make them more real, they are just having the same life problems as everyone else. In Harriet’s case, the whole being desperately in love with someone while she was married to someone else and having a hell of a time. The drama humanises these people who we would just normally see in a portrait, Queen Victoria an old woman, wearing black and looking very sad. When actually, in her younger years, as the series explores, she is full of life and so full of love for Albert and a really exciting character.”
As well as a great storyline, script and performances, Victoria is full of lavishly stunning costumes set amongst a backdrop of authentically striking sets. All bringing Victoria’s reign to life thanks to set designer Michael Howells. This transports the actors into a completely distinct period of time, Clunie revealed that the complete transformation for her was amazing.
The cast of Victoria has all been perfectly matched to their roles, from Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria, Tom Hughes as Prince Albert to David Oakes as Prince Ernest. Clunie disclosed the amount of love amongst the cast members and the special friendships that have been built over the two seasons, making filming a much more informal process.
“I think Nell said it in an interview; it was like being back at school and hanging out in the common room, which is exactly true. Everyone got on really well, which is wonderful. Everyone just hangs out in the green room. Someone brought in cards, we actually did a jigsaw once which actually took about a week which sounds really pathetic, but everyone got really into it. We are all just really good friends, we are always messaging each other and going out for drinks and hanging out. It’s really lovely that we’ve all become such good friends, which in turn makes the job so much easier when you’re on set. If you know someone that much better you know how they work and can appreciate how they approach things. It makes everyone’s lives a bit easier.”
As the Christmas special trailer hit our TVs, it was also announced that ITV had indeed commissioned season 3 of Victoria with both Coleman and Hughes reprising their roles as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, with the series to start in 1848 which was a hugely dramatic and eventful time for both the royal family and Europe, with revolutions on the continent and uncertainty round the monarchy, although Clunie was excited for the whole team that the series would be returning she couldn’t confirm if she would be returning for the third instalment.
“It’s very exciting, but yes we don’t know yet but that’s literally all I’ve heard. It’s really great news for the writers and production team, but yeah we have to wait until further down the line for that news”.
Victoria will be hitting ITV on Christmas Day.