Jenna Coleman stars in our autumn issue
All photographs by Richard Phibbs and styled by Miranda Almond. Above: Jenna Coleman wears embroidered silk cape, £6,840, Alberta Ferretti. Gold and diamond ring, £3,700, Buccellati
As the former companion to Dr Who, Jenna Coleman is no stranger to adoring fans. Since taking on the role of Queen Victoria in ITV’s drama, she has found these interactions have a different tone: her interlocutors tend to be rather more respectful these days. Indeed, she reveals with a laugh, one dropped a curtsey before asking: “Your Majesty, please can I get a selfie?”
And I, too, find myself leaping anxiously to my feet when I spot Coleman advancing through the Sunday-morning strollers in Clissold Park, and am taken aback when she offers to go into the café herself to order our drinks.
Embellished silk dress, £6,335, Miu Miu. Pink gold and diamond ring, £12,000, Dior Joaillerie
Tiny – just over five feet tall – and dainty, Coleman has a doe-eyed prettiness that makes her seem far younger than her 31 years, and a slight but distinct Lancashire accent. Despite this, and her casual attire (vintage jacket with missing buttons, jeans, bulging rucksack), there is a definite formality and dignity about her manner, honed, no doubt, by months of playing a monarch. Majesty, whether on- or off-screen, weaves a spell that nothing else can match. Perhaps it’s not surprising: are we not, after all, taught from childhood by the most famous fairy tales – Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella – that Royalty is quasi-magical, princesses dazzlingly beautiful, princes charming, kings and queens rich beyond the dreams of avarice…? When those fairy tales appear to come true, as embodied by Diana, Princess of Wales, or, latterly, the Duchess of Cambridge, it is no wonder that a national obsession is born.
In his seminal work The English Constitution, published in 1867 when Victoria ruled the waves, the essayist Walter Bagehot mused: “The mystic reverence, the religious allegiance, which are essential to a true monarchy, are imaginative sentiments that no legislature can manufacture in any people.” It must be a source of enormous frustration to committed republicans that, while the idea of a hereditary head of state is undoubtedly illogical, even indefensible, it remains so popular. Poll after poll sees the British public favouring the status quo by a margin of over three to one. In fact, there are few political questions on which we are more united.
Beaded tulle dress, £5,040, Erdem
Latterly, this inexhaustible fascination with the monarchy has been profitably mined for entertainment. The eagerly anticipated second season of The Crown, Netflix’s lavish dramatisation of the current Queen’s life and reign, is released in November. Meanwhile, the new series of Victoria begins in September, and follows the Queen as she attempts to reconcile her duties as a mother and wife with those of a monarch, in the struggle to “have it all” that continues to exercise successful career women to this day. Hence, says Victoria’s creator Daisy Goodwin, the series’ appeal to an unexpectedly high proportion of millennial women. “A young woman is in charge, is the motor of the show rather than the love interest. And this is a teenager who is the most powerful woman in the world,” she points out. “It’s a very subversive show in a way that people don’t realise; it’s profoundly feminist. I didn’t come to it with a political purpose, but it’s obviously there.”
This may seem a little ironic, given that Victoria was famous for opposing women’s suffrage and refusing to contemplate the existence of lesbianism. “But having a woman at the helm does change people’s perception of women in society, so Victoria had a huge influence on her time,” says Goodwin. “I recently did a debate with Philippa Gregory on Victoria versus Elizabeth I, and, while basically Elizabeth had more power, her way to rule was to pretend to be a man. What is so gripping about Victoria is that she doesn’t do that. With no apologies, she is a woman, she’s in control, she has all the money, and she’s not waiting for Mr Darcy to propose – she does it herself. And she never apologises, never explains, she doesn’t have self-doubt. None of that “I’m not pretty enough, I’m not clever enough.’ She has a very strong sense of her destiny. That’s what makes her an interesting role model.”
This is an extract from Lydia Slater’s interview with Jenna Coleman in the autumn issue of Town & Country, on sale from 24 August.
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Gabriella Wilde stars in our summer issue
Gemma Arterton stars in our spring issue
Stella Tennant is our autumn cover star