Behind the scenes
It was billed as the next Downton Abbey but this time it was filmed in Yorkshire. ITV’s Victoria has been a resounding success with filming underway this year for series two. This is Y goes behind the scenes of the TV smash hit.
Peel back the face of Harewood House last winter and something magical was taking place. As the gates were closed for another season, the majestic stately home began to be transformed into a palace fit for a Queen. Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace to be precise. Giant catering, costume and makeup trucks filled the car park, scaffolding with lighting rigs covered the house face and runners carried props in and out of the rooms as scenes were changed and shot.
Harewood House played a part in bringing to life the story of Queen Victoria a tiny (4’11”), neglected teenager who overnight became Queen and eventually the most powerful woman in the world.
The ITV drama starring Jenna Coleman, Rufus Sewell and Tom Hughes, drew in average audiences of 7.6 million per episode last autumn, before airing in America on the Sunday night time slot which Downton Abbey occupied for six years.
David Lascelles, Earl of Harewood, said: “It’s bigger than anything we have ever had here. We’ve done bits and pieces over the years and we have had Emmerdale on site since 1997 which has been great. We took the decision two or three years ago to go for it (hosting film crews). It’s a delicate thing in a house full of precious objects so we have to balance the priority of looking after the film crew properly and looking after our primary responsibility.”
But balance it they did and throughout six months of this year, the film crew are back again to shoot series two. The fine line between accommodating film crews and preserving precious antiques is no mean feat. Take the Axminster carpet in the Yellow Drawing Room. Thought to date from around 1780, it’s one of only eight carpets across the country which remain within the original Robert Adam schemes.
“It’s a very significant piece of work,” said Alexis Guntrip, marketing manager at Harewood House. “So in order for them to film in here we had to move this carpet out of this room which is easier said than done. It’s heavy, it’s massive and required support from special conservation textilists. We had to have its condition checked. Imagine trying to roll a biscuit – that’s what we were trying to do!”
Over in the Cinnamon Drawing Room and in the largest room of the house – the Gallery – all bulbs had to be removed from light fittings and picture lights which shine on the 29 Renaissance paintings to transform the rooms into the pre-lightbulb Victorian period. “The only problem for us,” says Alexis, “Is that once the crew go home, there are no lights left so it was ‘interesting’ trying to find our way to the door in the dark!”
Rooms were stripped of antiques by specialist staff at Harewood, while the film crew brought in furniture to create the right feel for camera. The kitchen which normally exhibits a huge collection of copper pots was brought to life with roaring fires in the ovens, smoke machines and special effects to recreate a busy working kitchen in Buckingham Palace.
Light switches were covered over by the crew who boxed them off and painted them to match the wall colours and some of the house’s 14,000 book, which are marked with a white tag to highlight repairs, had to be delicately covered with a black tag to blend into the book shelves.
It was a similar story for Castle Howard – first made famous by TV hit Brideshead Revisited back in the 1980s. As the Victoria crew moved in, the stately home’s team worked to protect their artefacts collected by generations of the Howard family. They also worked with the crew to change the face of the rooms. And for one week, Castle Howard doubled as Kensington Palace - all while the house remained open to the public.
Hannah Cooke from Castle Howard said: “Although it’s a balancing act between keeping the house and gardens open to the public while ensuring the production team are happy, visitors loved getting a glimpse of some of the famous faces in costumes as they moved between the set and the green room.”
At Newby Hall near Ripon, some of the rooms became Brooks, a Gentlemen’s Club situated in Mayfair. The Statue Gallery and the Library were transformed into a smoky 19th century club where Lord Melbourne and the Duke of Wellington would discuss the important issues of the day. Also used were some of the exteriors, and the cellars and attics which are not open to the public, but became kitchens at Kensington Palace and attics at Buckingham Palace.
Meanwhile Carlton Towers, the private family home of Lord and Lady Fitzalan Howard, which was transformed into Windsor Castle. general manager Helena Briden said: “The epic grandeur of our Venetian state room, the Card room and Armoury provided the most breathtaking backdrop. Watching how the sets came to life was fascinating.”
Victoria didn’t just see Yorkshire’s stately homes and landscapes transformed. A big pull for the production team Mammoth was Screen Yorkshire’s newly launched Church Fenton Studios, a former RAF base located half-way between Leeds and York. Victoria was the first production to film at the studios. Executive producer Dan McCulloch said Yorkshire stood out as the perfect place to shoot the production thanks to the easy access between the studios, stately homes and Harrogate where the cast and crew stayed.
“The whole shoot was six months long with a break at Christmas. There’s the Church Fenton Airfield with this wonderful hangar we could convert into a studio to build Buckingham Palace. It had height - which is hard to find these days - which could host the ambitious set we wanted and we had all these wonderful stately homes around us: it became clear this was where we should be based.
“We also thought Harrogate was a lovely place to base our cast because of the quality of the hotels, there’s lots to do and the mixture of contemporary culture and history was perfect.”
Screen Yorkshire say the studios are a game changer for attracting large scale productions. Creative England provided crew and locations support and helped with securing filming permissions for the shoot. Series two is being filmed from February to July and is due to be screened later this year.
This article was taken from This is Y 2017