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Michele Dotrice as Queen Victoria

'She was an amazing lady': Michele Dotrice on playing Queen Victoria in 'Royal Mob'

Image: Royal Mob

Royal Mob tells the true saga of the extended family of Queen Victoria that once ruled the whole of Europe. Their loves, marriages and feuds dragged the continent into the First World War and a total, violent revolution.

The story is told through the eyes of four remarkable young women – Princesses Victoria, Ella, Alix and Irene – each of whom married into one of the great Royal houses of Europe. Their grandmother, Queen Victoria, is played by the brilliant Michele Dotrice best known for her role as Betty Spencer in the British sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘ Ave ‘Em.

Sky HISTORY spoke to Michele about what it was like filming Royal Mob, stepping into the flat-soled shoes of one of Britain’s most iconic monarchs, and her admiration for history and the people who have come before her.

What can viewers expect to see from Royal Mob?

I hope they will expect to see entertainment. It’s very entertaining, fast-moving, thrilling and fascinating with real insight, not only into Victoria but those four extraordinary granddaughters that moved into the crown heads of Europe and caused chaos. It’s a part of history I didn’t know anything about and it was fascinating to explore.

She was an amazing lady and I hope the audience will see through this series how extraordinary she was.

Royal Mob features interjections from several renowned historians alongside the scripted drama. How does this add to the overall viewing experience?

People are going to find it very, very interesting because it’s not your conventional dramatization. It’s 80% drama but it’s 20% documentary. You see bits of film from the time, photographs and paintings. There’s also the incredible input of astonishing historians telling you what you’re about to see, what you’ve just seen, and giving very clear accurate information.

That’s why it was so lovely playing Victoria because I knew it was accurate. The lines she was saying were documented so there was no wondering ‘did this really happen?’

Did you find it challenging taking on the role of Queen Victoria, one of the most iconic figures from British history?

Yes, I did. I was lucky as I’m vertically challenged, which Victoria was too. I insisted throughout that I had no heels whatsoever, just flat pumps, so that she really looks tiny when she’s with all these gorgeous men in all their wonderful finery and these elegant statuesque women.

I did some research, but you only really play what you are given in the script and that was very thorough. It was lovely to have the opportunity to play her from about 62 up until her death. The two women were very different.

One tends to think of her just being a very sad, lonely lady mourning the death of her beloved Albert. But she was very vital, a real powerhouse and she very much kept her hands on that. I found it interesting to read that she gave birth to nine children but hated being pregnant because it took her away from the affairs of the state. She liked to have her hands on everything that was going on. That was remarkable in a very male-dominated society.

She was also fun and friendly, and a darn good grandmother.

What research did you do to make sure you really encapsulated Queen Victoria?

I read a lot of books. The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria by Annie Gray, she loved her food. I found Queen Victoria and the Romanovs by Coryne Hall very good. Also, not that it applied in this case, I read My Dearest, Dearest Albert, just to get the feeling of a younger Victoria. I dipped into Queen Victoria: Born to Succeed by Elizabeth Langford, although I didn’t really use it much. It’s a big book!

But as I say, we had two superb writers, Abigail [Wilson] and Jamie [Brittain], they did it all for me. It was all there on the page.

Were you a big fan of history before starting Royal Mob and did you learn a lot about British history while filming?

I love history. I’m very fortunate to live in an Elizabethan manor house that’s split up into wings and it’s beautiful. I appreciate every brick in this building. I touch the bricks and I love the history of this particular building, but I’ve always loved antiques.

My father was an actor, Roy Dotrice, and many years ago he was in a one-man show called Brief Lives about the Elizabethan antiquarian and diarist John Aubrey. That show was so special to me. As you walked into the auditorium, the smell and the stage were just so extraordinary.

I’ve always been fascinated by those that have gone before us and just how privileged we are.

What was it like working with the other talented actors on the show, especially your four on-screen granddaughters?

They are delightful, beautiful girls – very vivacious. I think Queen Victoria had an affinity with each and every one of those four Hesse girls. Particularly with Princess Victoria, who you see this whole show through her eyes. Once again, they had many letters of correspondence between the Queen and her granddaughter which were lovely to read.

Victoria was very keen and worried that they made the correct marriages. Unfortunately, they didn’t and that brought about calamity. It’s a part of history I didn’t know too much about and I think those four girls are wonderful.

Are there any interesting behind-the-scenes stories from filming that our audience would like to hear?

We shot it all in Lithuania and Latvia, two countries that I’ve never been to before. I was a little concerned about how all of it was going to work, creating Buckingham Palace and all of these incredible places. But it all worked superbly. They have the most beautiful palaces there and they’re all in incredible condition.

Just the physical thing of filming there was most enjoyable. The Lithuanian and Latvian crew could not have been lovelier. They do a lot of filming there now, a lot of Hollywood stuff is filmed in Lithuania, particularly historical stories.

Our cast of actors had a darn good time, they were having a blast. I’m a little bit aged for all that, but they were out swimming in the lakes and hitting a few of the nightspots. They all got on superbly, there really were the Royal Mob.

We still have our WhatsApp group and everybody’s meeting up, it was very much a company. None of them had got a clue who I was, why should they? So it was rather lovely and refreshing to come into a very vibrant, young cast who carried off this important part of history with great aplomb and dedication.

Royal Mob starts at 9pm on Monday, 7 November, exclusively on Sky HISTORY.