Glass interviews British actor Margaret Clunie

MARGARET Clunie is a British actor best-known for her role in ITV’s Victoria in which she plays Harriet, the Duchess of Sutherland, one of Queen Victoria’s best friends who supports her through her courtship with the future Prince Albert. Clunie has also had TV roles in Sky Arts’ A Young Doctor’s Notebook and Urban Myths, as well as in BBC’s Upstart Crow and Endeavour and she has had two major film roles – Sophia Grace and Rosie’s Royal Adventure and Johnny English Reborn.


Maragret Clunie, Leonardo VeloceMargaret Clunie. Photograph: Leonardo Veloce

Can you tell me something about your background? Where did you grow up? Where and what did you study?
I grew up in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire where my parents still live. I then went to Newcastle University and read English before taking the post-grad course at the Oxford School of Drama.

Can you tell me about why you became an actor? 
I can’t really give you a definitive answer – I’ve always loved acting, from doing every possible school show then university play to performing at the Edinburgh Festival with a group of friends when we were 17, it was just always something that felt right.  My parents took us to see shows as birthday treats, the very first play I remember seeing was the Hobbit – I think in Chichester – I was about five, and when someone died at some point in the play, I turned to my Dad and asked if the actual man onstage had died, to which he paused, then turned to me and said yes, yes he has … For years I really believed him and could not get over the fact a man had actually died in front of us. Thanks Dad.

I saw that you had a part in the BBC 3 comedy, Pramface. I absolutely loved that show. I hope it was as much fun to work on as it was to watch? 
Pramface was a riot to film. We filmed it up in Edinburgh, which was lovely, although I had to hold a baby in one scene which I was pretty nervous about.  Someone came onset to give me a “safety briefing” for it … said safety briefly genuinely involved a man saying to me “don’t drop the baby” before turning and leaving.  I managed to not drop the baby but I was terrified after that.

Have you ever done a similar type of show? Or would you like to continue doing similar work on comedies that are light-hearted,yet deal with genuine life issues, in the future? 
I’ve done a couple of comedies which I really love, you’re often allowed to play around with the script and improvise a bit which is always fun and I’d love to do more in the future. I think there’s many a life issue that should have the piss taken out of it, comedy can always be found in the strangest of places.  I was talking recently about mad temp work my friends and I have done over the years which I think is ripe for television, interning can really put you in the most bizarre situations.

You played the part of Contessa Silvia in Upstart Crow, the BBC comedy about Shakespeare’s life and plays, where David Mitchell plays William Shakespeare. Can you tell me a bit about your part?
Upstart Crow was such an exciting show to be a part of, The Contessa Silvia was Italian – I cannot believe they let me do an Italian accent on television … it was mad.  I auditioned for the show a couple of days after getting married and was on such a high I think I might have been quite mad when I met the director and producer … although I guess that worked out quite well!  Silvia turns out to be a double agent in the plot of that episode which was pretty great to play but also she falls madly in love with Valentine and immediately calls for their wedding. She was extravagant and quite silly which was a joy to play.

Margaret Clunie. Photograph: Leonardo VeloceMargaret Clunie. Photograph: Leonardo Veloce

I also saw that you were in A Young Doctor’s Notebook alongside Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm. Can you tell me about the show and your part?
The show centres around the goings on of a remote hospital during the Russian Revolution. I played Natasha who is on the run from the war and trying to reach her fiancé, who comes across this tiny village hospital where she promptly sets herself up to stay for a short while, much to the doctors delight.

What was it like to work with them? What did you learn from them?
It was my first time on a TV set for more than one or two scenes and they were unbelievably kind to me, explaining the jargon and helping out with camera angles and so on – it can all be pretty overwhelming stepping onto a set where everyone already knows each other but it was one of the happiest jobs I’ve ever done. The writers were always on set helping with lines and encouraging everyone to experiment with new stuff, I ended up slapping Daniel Radcliffe in the face at one point … then we had to do it again, and again and again. I felt quite bad about that by the end of the scene.

Now onto your most recent project – Victoria. You play Harriet, the Duchess of Sutherland. Can you tell me a bit about the show? What makes it different to previous depictions of the monarch’s life? 
This has very much been a younger depiction of Victoria where we see her coming of age and becoming a monarch as opposed to the usual way of seeing her as an old grumpy lady dressed in black.  Although this was touched on in the film Young Victoria, getting to play it out on television means more storylines and events from her early years have been covered, we see a young woman finding her place in a very male-orientated world.

Margaret Clunie. Photograph: Leonardo VeloceMargaret Clunie. Photograph: Leonardo Veloce
Can you tell me something about your character and what you enjoyed most about playing this particular character?
Harriet is one of the ladies in waiting and a great friend of the Queen. In real life, they were great friends until Harriet died, with her acting as an on-and-off Mistress of the Robes, depending on the government.  It means I’ve got to play some great scenes with Jenna, not only as a confident and advisor when she was first courting Albert in series 1, but in the second season we had some great moments together discussing motherhood which was lovely to play as just woman to woman.
What was your favourite thing about filming Victoria? 
Getting to relearn my Victorian history and then explore the entire world the show is set in, getting up everyday and transforming with your hair, make up and costume is such an exciting experience, then stepping onto set you really feel like you’re in Buckingham Palace. Especially during the Christmas episode when we’d arrive at a snowy set in the middle of summer you felt entirely transported to another place – it’s magical.

You have done a few TV shows based on real historical events or set in the past, is there something that attracts you to those kinds of roles?
It’s been pure coincidence. I’ve loved working on period dramas, having a reason to brush up on your history is always great … although I must say it would be great to do a role that didn’t involve a corset.

Margaret Clunie. Photograph: Leonardo VeloceMargaret Clunie. Photograph: Leonardo Veloce

What have been the high point(s) of your careers?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with great friends a couple of times and a few years ago I was part of a film called Goldbricks in Bloom directed by Danny Sangra with whom I’d done a few short films. It was his first feature and I was so so thrilled to be part of it.  The whole cast and crew was made up of friends and as well as it being one of the maddest, fastest and most hilarious shoots I’ve ever been on. It’s one of the pieces of work of which I am most proud. Plus my character was a nasty piece of work which is always super fun to play. (You can watch it at here.)
What has been the most challenging moment(s) of your career? 
I really struggled with the Ice Skating during the Victoria Christmas special. Not only was I rubbish at it, even though we had a wonderful teacher who tried really hard to get me to go a bit faster and not be a complete wuss, on the day I hadn’t managed to practice whilst wearing my corset – it was an absolute nightmare. Being that restricted by the costume meant I could barely use my stomach muscles so I could hardly move which was pretty embarrassing in front of the whole crew! I only managed to fall over a few times but I swore so much everytime I don’t think those bits will make the final cut … not very Victorian.
Margaret Clunie. Photograph: Leonardo VeloceMargaret Clunie. Photograph: Leonardo Veloce

If you are able to share, have you got anything particularly exciting in the pipeline?
Next up I’m doing a horror film called Here Comes Hell with some friends. They’ve funded it through kickstarter which is amazing.  It’s going to be a freezing shoot in January in an old stately home somewhere in Lincolnshire but the whole crew and actors are all friends so I’m really looking forward to it – plus working in January is always ideal so you can begin the year with a bang. In this case a very spooky, blood-soaked one.

by Allie Nawrat 

The Victoria Christmas special, Comfort and Joy, will air on ITV on Christmas Day at 9pm. Season Two will air on Masterpiece PBS on January 14, 2018
Photography credits
Photography: Leonardo Veloce
Styling: Thomas Ramshaw
MUA: Lara Himpelmann
Hair: Paul Jones
Fashion credits
Image one: top, Lanvin
Image two: dress, Sandro
Image three: full look, Christian Dior
Image four: dress, Stella McCartney
Image five: top and trousers, Lanvin