Behind the scenes of the spectacular Victoria finale — thought to have cost £1m

Victoria has ruled Sunday night TV for the past two months – and Sunday night's glittering finale is certainly the jewel in the crown of the much-loved drama.

Because the one-hour episode, which sees the Queen’s husband Prince Albert open his groundbreaking 1851 Great Exhibition, cost a rumoured £1MILLION to make.

And the Sunday Mirror has been behind the scenes of the ITV drama to find the secrets of how it recreated the famous Crystal Palace and its then mind-boggling exhibits from around the world.

It took a team of 30 artists and set designers 11,000 man-hours to ensure the lavish sets were as authentic as possible.

And, in an echo of what happened for real 168 years ago, the test of whether it passed muster depended on the approval of Queen Victoria and her Prince.

It was a nervous moment for the show’s art director Stephen Daly and his team as stars and lovers in real life, Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes, walked onto the set for the first time.

“When I saw the smile on their faces, I knew we’d got it right,” said Stephen.

“This is the most expensive Victoria episode we have done.

“We spend weeks in a blank ­location and it’s my job to convince everyone it will work – but when you see the actors come on in costume and everything is set up and the cameras are rolling, it’s perfect.”

The third series of the global smash hit has seen Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s usually passionate marriage face multiple strains.

Scheming Lord Palmerston (Laurence Fox) and Princess Feodora (Kate Fleetwood) have played their part – but so has the stress of putting on the biggest celebratory show the world had ever seen and building a palace made of glass.

Sunday night's show sees Jenna Coleman’s Queen stand beside her beloved prince, as they unite – publicly at least – to open the exhibition in Hyde Park that was attended by six million people – a third of Britain’s population at the time.

In real life it was so successful it raised £186,000 – tens of millions in today’s money – and funded the birth of London’s V&A, The Natural History and Science Museum, and The Royal Colleges of Art and Music.

After the exhibition finished, the palace was dismantled and moved to South London, where it mysteriously burned down in 1936.

Its place is taken in the drama by The Palm House, a dome-shaped Victorian greenhouse-style structure in Liverpool’s Sefton Park. But it’s nowhere near the size of the original Crystal Palace – which was three times the size of St Paul’s Cathedral – so it needed a huge, intricate CGI extension for the outside shots.

Stephen, who examined hundreds of pictures of the original exhibition to recreate everything as perfectly as possible, explained: “The Queen arrives in her carriage and goes inside to the main reception.

“We recreated the awning that hangs over her and the plinth she was on, then we painted the columns and rearranged the palms.”

Actress Jenna, 33, revealed how the scenes were magical to film because the Queen loved being feted by her people – and huge crowds gathered to watch the day of filming.

“Victoria wrote about the crowds at her coronation and how loudly they were cheering – and at The Great Exhibition it was the same,” said Jenna.

“She wrote about the joy on people’s faces and the tears in their eyes. Being loved is incredibly important to her.”

Jenna’s pink silk gown, blue sash and white feathered headdress was a replica of what Queen Victoria really wore when she defied official advice and supported her husband’s project, which had previously been derided by critics.

But creating what was further inside the palace was a much bigger job – and the team had to use another hangar at an old RAF base in Yorkshire, next to the one housing the Buckingham Palace sets.

“The interior was a scaffold frame that we hung drapes on and divided into different exhibits from around the world,” said Stephen.

“There were bits of Britain, India, France, the United States.

“For the US ones we made a real canoe, and we made a tent for India. It was a combination of renting props and making things.”

The crew spent months sourcing and creating around 2,000 props including guns, industrial machinery, royal carriages and a host of stuffed animals – including a bear and even an elephant.

“We got the elephant from a London prop house but getting it in was hell,” laughed Stephen. “We nearly broke one of our cranes lifting it. We had a bear from a prop house in Manchester in our North American exhibit.”

A working loom came from a Bradford museum. While the props might look real, many are laser cut by computers and even 3D printers play a part to create smaller objects, like statuettes.

To ensure everyone worked exactly to the same vision, Stephen’s team created concept art of all their scenes.

“We do it for everything. The interior, the exterior,” he said.

Now filming has finished, most of the props are no longer needed. Stephen admits a lot are broken up – but some are kept by the cast and crew.

He confided: “Victoria’s bathing machine from earlier in the series is in the producer’s garden.”

After all that planning, the last thing Stephen had to look out for in his recreated Victorian world was the appearance of any rogue 21st-century objects.

Just this week Game of Thrones bosses were left red-faced when a Starbucks cup appeared in a scene, and Downton Abbey famously sent out publicity pictures with a plastic water bottle placed behind Lord Grantham.

Stephen groaned: “It’s a constant fight on any production. There’s always a bloody plastic bottle.”

However, some modern big names were on display at that exhibition more than a century and a half ago.

Jenna said: “What I loved about that day was we had WHSmith and Cadbury’s and Schweppes – all the stalls were set up!”

  • The final episode of Victoria in Series Three airs Sunday night at 9pm on ITV

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