Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
It’s Christmastime at Buckingham Palace — snow falls, candles glimmer, and ice shimmers as the royal family prepares for a royal Christmas.
Prince Albert: And that is what I want my children to feel — I want them to know that Christmas will always be a time of enchantment. A time where everything is perfect.
Jace: In the second season finale of Victoria, icy danger and familial drama skirt around the edges of the Christmas festivities. Meanwhile, Prince Albert, with memories of the traditional German Christmases of his youth fresh in his mind, has some particular ideas about how to decorate the palace — including an upside-down tree suspended from the ceiling.
Prince Albert: So. There will be a tree for each member of the family. And underneath them there will be an altar. And here, in the center of the room, we shall have the main tree, hanging from the ceiling.
Jace: Like many of show creator Daisy Goodwin’s plotlines, the royal Christmas celebration is one based on actual history, commemorating the role that Prince Albert played in bringing many modern holiday traditions to England.
Daisy Goodwin: Basically before Albert comes along Christmas…it was such a kind of orgy of drunkenness and misbehavior. Albert basically brings his German Christmas traditions with him, which are a Lutheran Christmas, and one of the things he does is to introduce Christmas trees. He took Christmas more seriously than anyone probably before or since. Every member of the family had their own Christmas tree that was set on a table or altar, and there were thousands of presents, you know, set under the tree for them, so the whole Christmas magic was extraordinary. They’d have all their trees covered in candles, they’d have decorated with sweets and orange peel and all these gingerbread things. And there would be another enormous tree hung from the ceiling and he and Victoria would go in and decorate all the trees and then they ring a little bell and then the children the rest of family were allowed to come in and see all these trees lit up, and that all happened on Christmas Eve, which is the German tradition, and that’s exactly how the royals still celebrate Christmas today.
Jace: The breadth of modern Christmas traditions established during Victoria and Albert’s reign surprised lead actor Jenna Coleman.
Jenna Coleman: Albert was the person who brought over the Christmas trees, Christmas cards didn’t really exist until then…It’s amazing to see Christmas becoming Christmas before it was Christmas as we know it.
Daisy: In 1848, there was a cover of the Illustrated London News, which was the bestselling periodical of the time, which had an engraving of Albert and Victoria and their family sitting around their Christmas tree, and after that it was like, that’s it, everybody wants a Christmas tree, and that’s when it all happens, and from then on, the Christmas tree has become an absolutely integral part of Christmas here, and all over the world.
Jace: Prince Albert did more than just introduce Christmas trees to the British public. He also introduced the beloved jolly figure of Christmas delight himself: Santa Claus.
Daisy: He was the first person to introduce Santa Claus. So he got one of the footmen to dress up as St. Nicholas and confuse the children and say Have you been naughty or nice? And the children were driven mad by this because they didn’t know who it was.
Jace: But Christmas at Buckingham Palace wasn’t all elfin mirth-making and breakable baubles. According to Goodwin, the real Prince Albert actually did fall through a frozen pond while skating.
Daisy: It’s one of those things that almost never appears in any of the standard biographies. But I was reading the court circular about Victoria and Albert and it just had this thing about you know his Royal Highness Prince Albert was skating on the ice and he fell in and Victoria was the only person light enough to get across the ice to pull him out. So isn’t that interesting? Well I just thought well I’m putting that in I was delighted in a way because I could have made it up, but it’s even better than it’s true.
Jace: Now the two collapse on the snow after Albert is pulled out of the ice and they press their heads together not saying anything. Do you feel that moment of silence says everything?
Jenna: I do. It’s interesting because it wasn’t initially written like that. That’s something that during the blocking because you know obviously once you get onto a set and the set changes and you realise that we couldn’t we what we realised was when we pull Albert out we couldn’t stay on the ice it would be too dangerous then. So you know these restaging are really blocking and and in a way that’s just the way it played out like that. It almost felt that there was no there was no words that could quite encompass you know that that feeling of if you ever leave me in a way. So that’s just what happened.
Jace: For lead actor Tom Hughes, Albert’s second season habit of jumping in freezing cold water was a familiar trope by the end of production.
Tom Hughes: Well it was just cold, you know but I’ve kind of got used to Daisy writing scenes where I end up in freezing cold water now. So you take that with with a pinch of salt.
Jace: The scene was filmed during the summer months in a large parkland in north Yorkshire, but scenic designer Michael Hawles worked his magic to create a winter wonderland in the park.
Tom: Everyone’s out sunbathing and eating ice creams and there’s people, you know, kids being pushed on swings, and people playing football and dogs running around and then you’re in a top top hat and coats and then we wandered under this bridge and then you just arrived. Adrian Schiller, who plays Penge, said it was like stepping into Narnia, and it did kind of feel like that. You just turned a corner under this archway and saw this winter scene. And I mean that in itself was pretty magical. And so the whole thing just becomes the best day at work you’ve ever had, really, you know.
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Just like Albert’s winter ice capades, Queen Victoria’s relationship with the young Sara Forbes was also based in reality.
Daisy: The story of Sarah Bonetta Forbes is an extraordinary postscript to Victoria’s story, really. Here is this child that has been taken into slavery by King Gezo Dahomey. He’s murdered her parents and he’s about to murder her, when Captain Forbes who’s part of the West Africa anti-slavery patrol turns up, and he says, you know ‘Don’t kill her because, you know, my, my Queen wouldn’t like it.’ And King Gezo says, ‘Well okay, I’ll make a present of her to your Queen.’ And so that’s what happened. Captain Forbes brings her back and Victoria says, ‘Well she can’t be a slave because you know we don’t have slavery and I don’t I don’t hoe with that but I will take her into my household.’ And then in fact she does. She takes on her upbringing, but in the end she goes back to live with the Forbeses, but Victoria always takes a very close interest in Sarah. She pays for education. She becomes the god daughter. Her first child is called Victoria after her and you know she’s part of Victoria’s kind of the many people that Victoria was very, very kind to. And it’s interesting you know one of the one of the things I find so engaging about Victoria was that for all her faults, she had a very — she was extraordinarily free of prejudice of any kind actually toward, you know, color prejudice she was fascinated by people from different countries.
Jenna: Victoria rallies against the idea that any person could be given as a gift. And also there’s there’s something in her — she’s a young orphaned princess who has been abandoned and I think Victoria connects very deeply with Sarah and somehow thinks by helping Sarah and bringing her into the royal nursery, that perhaps she can heal some of her own wounds, subconsciously.
Jace: The dastardly Duke of Cumberland did indeed return to Buckingham Palace in order to reclaim a cherished family heirloom.
Daisy: Cumberland, who is probably the wicked fairy of the series he did come back and demand this diamond necklace and Victoria absolutely refused to give it back and there was a huge fight between the two of them…and Cumberland and he was just as awful as he appears in the series. So, you know, I do make things up in the series, but wherever possible I stick to the facts because they’re usually better than anything I could make up.
Jace: And yes, Queen Victoria did, in fact, have a pet parrot.
Daisy: She did have a parrot. And I wanted I always like to introduce random animals into the show, and so I thought, thought the parrot was was rather brilliant, actually. And parrots are essentially comic animals. And I also found an interesting parallel in that it’s the only thing the palace that Sarah recognizes, because it reminds her of home.
Jace: And despite that the fact that we’re watching this Christmas special in February, this Victorian Christmas reminds us of the origins of one the most festive times of the year.
Jace: I mean this is the root of this entire holiday as we know it in modern times.
Jenna: Exactly. It was just, it was begging to be told I think.
Jace: From parrots and orphans to elevated illuminated Christmas trees, the second season finale of Victoria had it all. But for even more insight, you’ll have to wait until a final bonus episode of the podcast, set for release next Sunday.
We’ll feature outtakes, bonus interviews, and more with the cast and creative talent of Victoria. While you wait for this extra special bonus episode of the podcast, be sure and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you find podcasts. Reviews help other MASTERPIECE fans find the show, and help give us insight about what you’re hearing.
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MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Susanne Simpson is our executive producer. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.
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