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Nigel Lindsay as Peel
You might not immediately recognise the name Nigel Lindsay but he’s certainly known to MI5. The Four Lions star is on their radar after playing a “hapless” Jihadi in the comedy film about a terrorist plot that produced an unexpected result.
Garrulous and likeable, Lindsay tonight reprises his Sir Robert Peel in the second series of Victoria. But back to the spy business for the time being. He explains: “I met someone who knew someone who worked for MI5 and said ‘we use that [Four Lions] as a training video’.
He said, ‘we want to show people that they are human beings, and a lot of them are not very intelligent beings’. “We were never, ever, making fun of the religion.
It was four hapless idiots who could have been organising a stag do. But it just so happened they were trying to organise a bombing.” Lindsay admits he had fears about doing the project: “Christopher Morris [the controversial Brass Eye writer and producer] called me up and said, ‘let’s have a meeting’, which we did in a cafe.
“He told me, ‘I’ve got this idea, it’s a comedy about suicide bombers’. It was at the height of quite a few bombings, and I said, ‘What are my chances of being assassinated?’. He said, ‘I thought about this, if they’re going to come after anybody they will come after me’. Then there was a long pause and I asked, ‘And after you?’.
He replied: ‘No, you should be all right…’.
“After that ringing endorsement, I decided to do the film!” His role of Sir Robert Peel in Victoria couldn’t be further from Islamic terrorism. Lindsay features in every episode of the second series as his character is elevated to the position of Prime Minister and becomes something of a favourite of the monarch. “When we start he has just become Prime Minister. He’s the big cheese and the PM for the entire series, all eight episodes.
It’s lovely to be able to play a person you know is going to have a journey across the whole series and, basically, they can’t write you out!” Lindsay, 48 and born in London’s St John’s Wood, reveals that his character is involved in action sequences too. “We see him on a horse,” he reveals, adding: “I’m not a natural horseman but there’s something lovely about being in period costume with a top hat on, riding across the countryside on a massive estate.
“But my favourite bit is getting into those little carriages, with the two horses. That’s great fun! That’s a laugh. I mean, it was nice to be posh in those days, not so fun if you were working in a factory.”
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It helps him with finding this character, too, he believes:
“It really does,” he insists. “People don’t realise but whenever I walk into a room in ‘Buckingham Palace’ there are two footmen outside. They bow and nod as you walk in, because that’s what they did. They don’t realise just how much it helps you to get into character. People don’t do that in real life. It just sets you up and it really, really helps.” In the first series Peel came across as a fish out of water. Is that how it felt playing him?
“Well, yes, but that was slightly poetic licence from me because Peel actually went to Harrow [Lindsay also went to a public school, Merchant Taylors’ School in Northwood, Hertfordshire]. “He was born in Bury, and his father was a textile factory owner, so they had money but they came from working class stock. In the House of Commons he was perceived as a tradesman and he didn’t lose his northern accent, either.
He went to Harrow when he was 13 and, because he spoke with this northern accent, he believed in helping the working classes. Because of that, he was looked down upon as common. His father, though, was probably a millionaire.” Does that make Peel a modern man? “Well, it’s a good point. He was a modern man in his thinking and that’s why he got on with Prince Albert.
They were both looking for reform all the time and both looking at science, which was really interesting back then. So they bonded and Peel always looked forward rather than back and believed in the people.” He adds: “The Tory Party became the Conservative Party under Peel.
So he changed a hell of a lot and he was a man of modern thinking. “Lots of his biographies also say he was a ‘prosaic man’, or pretty dull and very grumpy.
That said, Victoria and Albert still visited him after he was prime minister.” But they didn’t get on with him in the first series? “No, but it seemed to me that Victoria was the sort of person who automatically didn’t like you until you proved otherwise.
“By the end, she really liked him and she and Albert really backed him. He split the party, and knew it was going to end up in his resignation, and they backed him the whole way and said, ‘If you need us to say anything, we will’.”
What mood do we actually find Victoria in during this second series? There’s the expectation of her having more children. “I don’t think that was her favourite pastime, knocking out the babies,” says Lindsay. “I think in this series, she comes into her own. She starts to find out what it is to be a queen. “We see her mature in to the role and she starts to make decisions on her own. Victoria and Albert go to different places.
You see them in Scotland, see them in France. She grabs hold of the reins of the reign if you like.” THIS IS Lindsay’s first period drama: “I can’t remember having done one. It’s not really my bag. I hope it will become so. I don’t really fit the category.
I’ve got this beaten-up face so I don’t really play the posh people. I’m not really a downstairs person either. I’m from real working class East End Jewish stock but I went to a public school, so I’m a mixture of the two. “Hopefully I will become known now, throughout the world, as the man who does period drama.”
Victoria, tonight, ITV, 9.05pm