With filming now in full swing for season three of The Crown, production has moved to Wales as the show prepares an episode that will explore one of the most tragic episodes in Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the Aberfan disaster of 1966.
On October 21st 1966, a colliery waste tip collapsed in the small mining village of Aberfan. At around midday on the last day before half term, 150,000 tonnes of coal waste slid down the hillside and engulfed Pantglas Junior School, killing 144 people in total. 116 of them were pupils at the school.
Eight days later, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Aberfan to pay their respects. The couple visited again in May 1997, and the Prince of Wales has since represented his parents at the 50th anniversary commemoration in 2016.
The show has not filmed in Aberfan itself, but in Cwmaman, a nearby village. Pictures from the set show children dressed in ‘60s clothes outside a replica of Pantglas School, and this week, Olivia Colman was photographed looking near-identical to the monarch as she recreated her visit.
The actress wore an orange suit trimmed with fake fur, paired with a matching hat, an ensemble which bore a close resemblance to Her Majesty's real-life outfit.
In order to depict the tragedy respectfully, the show’s production team has held public meetings with residents of Aberfan, many of whom remember and are still affected by the events of 1966.
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The first of these new cast members to be announced was Olivia Colman, who'll be stepping into the Queen's sturdy patent courts as The Crown moves through the Seventies and beyond. This is arguably the biggest role yet for one of Britain's best-loved (and most versatile) actresses, who already has one Golden Globe to her name (earned for her supporting role in The Night Manager). She'll be joined by Helena Bonham-Carter, who'll embody Princess Margaret in her most turbulent years, while Tobias Menzies will be Matt Smith's replacement as Prince Philip. Newly announced as an addition to the cast is Ben Smith, who will play Anthony Armstrong-Jones opposite Helena's Princess Margaret.
Speaking to the BBC, episode director Benjamin Caron explained why it was important to represent the disaster in this season of the show, which will chart the defining events of Queen Elizabeth’s reign from the mid ‘60s through to the mid ‘70s. ‘Every series of The Crown looks at major political events and moments in history, and this is one of them,’ he said. ‘Of course we should do this. This story in particular affected the whole of Wales, the United Kingdom and the Queen.’
‘Peter Morgan, the writer and showrunner, and I thought this was a story we wanted to tell. And we wanted to do that with truth and dignity, and also to make sure that it is never forgotten.’
‘We have been talking to local schools, and we also have some actors who grew up close to Aberfan. They are involved in the show. Some of the kids who we have been filming with earlier in the week grew up around the area. So we have, as much as possible, been trying to involve the local community.’
The Crown, which is set to star Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth, Helena Bonham Carter as her younger sister Princess Margaret and Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip, will continue to film in Wales when the show recreates the investiture of Prince Charles at Caernarfon Castle.