The Crown focuses on Queen Elizabeth II as a 25-year-old newlywed faced with the daunting prospect of leading the world's most famous monarchy while forging a relationship with legendary Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. The British Empire is in decline, the political world is in disarray, and a young woman takes the throne....a new era is dawning. Peter Morgan's masterfully researched scripts reveal the Queen's private journey behind the public facade with daring frankness. Prepare to be welcomed into the coveted world of power and privilege and behind locked doors in Westminster and Buckingham Palace....the leaders of an empire await.
- Written by Netflix
Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ Tracks a Royal Marriage
The first season of the new Netflix series ‘The Crown’ looks at Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II during the early years of their marriage
By CARYN JAMES
Updated Oct. 26, 2016 11:38 a.m. ET
“He was swoon handsome,”Peter Morgan says of the young Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. “He put the D into dashing, and the D into dangerous because he was an outsider, disrespectful, uncontainable.”
Today the 95-year-old Philip is a fixture of the British royal family. But the sumptuous Netflix series “The Crown,” created and written by Mr. Morgan, shatters that image. Here Philip is a brash, forward-looking young husband and father, in the rocky early years of marriage to the woman who soon became Queen Elizabeth II. “She is our ‘A’ character, but their marriage is our ‘A’ story line,” Mr. Morgan says.
All 10 episodes of season 1 arrive on Nov. 4. The series could run for six seasons, each covering a decade, but so far Netflix has ordered two.
Mr. Morgan had done plenty of research on Elizabeth, now 90 years old, but says he knew far less about her husband. He wrote the film “The Queen” (2006) and the play “The Audience” (2013), both with Helen Mirren as the monarch. England’s royal family has been the basis of a number of films, including “The King’s Speech” (2010), with Colin Firth as Elizabeth’s father, King George VI. “The Crown” deals with a range of personal and political issues during Elizabeth’s reign.
The budget for the series—$110 million for two seasons—is more than double the cost of a typical drama, but not unheard-of. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and Netflix’s “The Get Down,” for instance, cost more. The series is pricey partly because it was shot in grand English locations standing in for places like Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, and because many scenes are filled with jewels and horse-drawn carriages. Such rich period details—as well as story lines exposing tensions within the aristocracy—have propelled fictional series such as “Downton Abbey.”
Season 1 follows Elizabeth (Claire Foy, who played Anne Boleyn in the series “Wolf Hall”) from the day before her wedding in 1947, through her accession to the throne five years later, and on to 1955, with occasional flashbacks to childhood. Philip (Matt Smith) appears early, renouncing his titles as prince of Greece and Denmark. (His family had been exiled from Greece when he was a child, and he grew up on the Continent and in England.)
Princess Elizabeth’s marriage to this relatively poor foreigner isn’t a match anyone in the royal family wants, except for the strong-willed bride. She is conspicuously head over heels. “When the number one person is completely intoxicated with love, and subservient to a dangerous element, that makes managing the dangerous element very tricky,” Mr. Morgan says. “Philip would snap and say what he thought. The courtiers didn’t know how to manage him.”
Philip bristles against changes that hit him like personal affronts. When Elizabeth becomes monarch, he must give up his naval career. He resists the idea that at her coronation ceremony he must kneel to his own wife. Mr. Smith (best known for his recent run as “Dr. Who”) says, “That’s the great conflict about Philip—the desire to be the alpha, but to constantly be usurped and emasculated by his wife because she is the queen of England.”
Mr. Morgan stays true to historical facts, but invents intimate moments. He says of the royals and their marriage, “Sometimes writing them as complex adults that work through problems is more respectful than pretending everything is hunky-dory. Given that we all know they end up together, it gives you the license to imagine and color in.” When Elizabeth offers her husband what seems like a make-work role as head of the committee planning her coronation, Philip snarls, “There’s no need to matronize me.”
But the series also depicts Philip pushing for a more modern coronation. In reality, it was due to his influence that the ceremony was televised, Mr. Morgan says, “against the wishes of the old gray hairs,” but wisely bringing Elizabeth closer to her subjects. This Philip can be a bumbler. On a royal tour, he compliments an African wearing a tribal crown: “Like the hat.” He stumbles home drunk after carousing with friends. “They’re the things that make him utterly likable,” Mr. Smith says of these missteps. “They humanize him and make him a normal person in an abnormal world.”
In that anything-but-normal world, Elizabeth faces an intensifying tug of war between duty and emotions. She is fond of the aging Winston Churchill (John Lithgow), whose party is trying to nudge him out of his second go-round as prime minister. Princess Margaret wants to marry a divorced man, Peter Townsend (Ben Miles). As head of the Church of England, the queen cannot permit the love match.
The Duke of Windsor, who as King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936, is a figure of both pathos and wit. Mr. Morgan’s lines include the snarky nicknames the duke used behind his family’s back. The queen mum is Cookie. The queen is Shirley Temple. Philip he calls the Foundling.