The Crown: Your Cheat Sheet For Netflix's Must-Watch Royal Drama
By Katie Rosseinsky Posted on 27 Sep 2016
If anything can pique our interest, it’s a lavishly set, perfectly cast costume drama. The Crown, Netflix’s most ambitious (and most expensive) original series to date, provides just that – with an added dose of royal intrigue thrown in for good measure. Charting the life of our very own Queen Elizabeth II, each ten-part season of the Emmy-winning show deals with a different decade in this second Elizabethan era, playing with our abiding fascination with what goes on behind palace doors as it goes.
With the second season having proved another hit and a third already in production, here’s everything you need to know about The Crown…
So, what is The Crown* *about?
Written by Peter Morgan, the man behind The Queen and The Audience, The Crown explores the political crises and personal intrigues of Elizabeth’s reign, from her fledgling marriage to Prince Philip to Princess Margaret’s own relationship woes, eventually moving on to deal with more recent history (three words: Charles, Camillia, Diana). Set in the 1950s, season one opens with the tragic death of King George VI, and follows the 26-year-old Elizabeth as she learns how to wear the ‘crown’ of the title, adapting to her new role as head of the world’s most famous monarchy. Elsewhere, Princess Margaret makes an unsuitable match when she falls in love with the divorced Peter Townsend, which begins to drive a rift between her and her sister, while Prince Philip struggles to adjust to his newly subordinate position, deferring to his wife’s authority as Queen.
What happens in season two?
The second season of The Crown (and the last for Claire Foy, Matt Smith and the first iteration of the show’s ensemble cast) sees cracks begin to deepen in the royal marriage: with Prince Philip dispatched on a tour of the Commonwealth, whispers about his alleged indiscretions begin to reach the Queen. Margaret, meanwhile, finds a new suitor in the form of society photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones. John and Jackie Kennedy even make a transatlantic cameo in episode eight, which imagines what really went on during their 1961 visit to the Palace. Later in the season, we get an insight into Philip’s troubled upbringing, and a glimpse at Charles’ fraught experiences of boarding school at Gordonstoun in Scotland.
And what will happen in season three?
Given that The Crown is anchored in historical fact, we can certainly hazard a guess as to what the ‘70s-set season three has in store. Producer Suzanne Macie has already confirmed that we’ll be introduced to Camilla Parker Bowles (now the Duchess of Cornwall) next season: the Prince met Camilla (née Shand) at a polo match in 1971, and dated her until 1973, when he departed with the Royal Navy and Camilla announced her engagement to Andrew Parker Bowles. In an interview with Town & Country, the series’ history consultant Robert Lacey revealed that we’ll see ‘the break-up of this extraordinary marriage between Margaret and Snowdon,’ adding that ‘this season, you see how it starts, and what a strange charater, a brilliant character Snowdon was.’
Outside of palace walls, the ‘70s was certainly a turbulent decade, marked by widespread strikes and an economic slump, a backdrop which will doubtless seep into Peter Morgan’s storylines. And as for a certain People’s Princess? Morgan has previously hinted that Diana won’t make an appearance next season: ‘if she were to be introduced, it’d probably have to wait until the fourth,’ he told Vanity Fair. The future Princess of Wales did, however, meet Charles for the first time in 1977, when she was just 16 and he was dating her older sister, making a cameo not entirely improbable…
How much did it cost to make The Crown?
Painstakingly recreating palaces certainly doesn’t come cheap. Along with its potentially controversial take on The Firm, the show has made headlines because of its huge budget. Netflix’s priciest production to date, the first season reportedly boasted a budget of around £100 million. To put that in period drama context, each episode of the Beeb’s recent War and Peace adaptation cost around £2 million, while an installment of Downton was a relative bargain, costing half that. If whispers are to be believed, a sizeable chunk of that budget went on the show’s jaw-dropping costumes. For season one, designer Michele Clapton (who has also been celebrated for her sterling work on Game of Thrones) and her team created thousands of historically accurate costumes from scratch, including the famous Norman Hartnell coronation gown and various pieces from Princess Margaret’s extensive designer wardrobe.
How accurate is The Crown?
If you’re anything like us, watching one episode of the show inevitably leads to spending another hour Googling the various characters, storylines and scandals which you’ve just seen unfold on screen, all in pursuit of one question: just how historically accurate is The Crown? In the vast majority of cases, the answer is ‘really quite truthful, actually.’ In the case of the Windsors, it seems the truth is far more intriguing than fiction. While writer Peter Morgan might sometimes play fast and loose with the facts in favour of a particularly dramatic scenario or heated conversation, all of the storylines we’ve seen so far have had their grounding in history. The show even employs a historical consultant, Robert Lacey, to ensure things don’t get too far-fetched.
What does the Queen really think about The Crown?
If certain quarters are to be believed, the team behind the show can count one Very Important Personage amongst their legions of admirers: the Queen is reported to be a fan. Mind-blowing as it might be to imagine Her Majesty in possession of a Netflix login, the Queen was apparently persuaded to give the show a go by her youngest son, Prince Edward. ‘Happily, she really liked it, although obviously there were some depictions of events that she found too heavily dramatized,’ a source claimed to the Express.
Prince Philip, meanwhile, looks upon the show less favourably, according to an anecdote relayed by his on-screen counterpart Matt Smith. When a friend of Smith’s ventured to ask the Duke whether he’d watched the show, his response was to exclaim ‘Don’t. Be. Ridiculous,’ according to a profile piece in The Observer.
Who’s in the cast?
For seasons one and two, the show assembled an impressive (and now award-winning) cast. Claire Foy, a veteran of period dramas like the BBC’s Little Dorrit and Wolf Hall won a well-deserved Golden Globe for her performance as Elizabeth, supported by former Doctor Who Matt Smith as Prince Philip and Vanessa Kirby as the younger Margaret. The supporting line-up included John Lithgow as a taciturn Winston Churchill, Mad Men star Jared Harris as Elizabeth’s father King George VI (aka, the monarch so memorably played by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech) and Victoria Hamilton as the Queen Mother.
See how the cast of The Crown compare to their real life counterparts in the gallery below…
Who will join the cast in season three?
As yet, Olivia Colman is the only cast member confirmed for the show’s third season: the Broadchurch and Peep Show star is gearing up to step into Claire Foy’s shoes and take on the role of Elizabeth as she moves into her forties. Helena Bonham Carter is rumoured to be replacing Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret, while Prince Philip’s casting remains under wraps…
When will season three arrive on Netflix?
With production on the third season only commencing towards the end of last year (the task of re-casting the royals can’t be hurried, after all), it’s unlikely that we’ll be treated to more episodes in 2018. Instead, we can expect more from The Crown in the first half of 2019. The countdown is on…
Keep up to date with all the Fashion & Beauty news, click here to subscribe to Grazia on Great Magazines and have the latest issue delivered to your door every month.