Queen Elizabeth II may or may not have a Netflix account, but “The Crown” executive producer Peter Morgan says that the Royal Family is “very, very aware” of Netflix’s new drama about the early years of Her Majesty’s reign, which focuses on Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) 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 (John Lithgow).
“I think Netflix are working on getting her to give an endorsement,” Morgan quipped during Netflix’s panel for the show at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “Through untraceable back channels, countless approaches have been made” between the production and the royals, he said, but the family has no involvement in the project, which Morgan admitted is preferable. “I want my independence, they want theirs, I don’t want to be associated with the palace.”
Morgan said that his impression is that “they are very nervous and very excited… I think they don’t like not having control, but they also understand that [a series] dealing with this subject with respect is a rare thing. These are people who are not used to being taken seriously.”
Members of the cast — which also includes Matt Smith as Prince Phillip, Victoria Hamilton as the Queen Mother, Jared Harris as King George VI, Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret and Dame Eileen Atkins as Queen Mary — admitted that it was intimidating to approach such iconic characters, but that they attempted to find the real person behind the public figure, a task that was easier for some than others.
“The hardest thing was just getting over the fear – I was very intimidated by the entire prospect of playing Churchill, being an American playing the ultimate Englishman among the best theatre and film actors in England,” Lithgow said. “I immersed myself in the history of Churchill… Everyone has heard his speeches, what’s really fascinating is looking behind that.” The private man behind the oratory skills “is very different from the public Churchill,” Lithgow said. “It’s hard to find, but when you find it, it’s gold.”
Foy, meanwhile, said that there was very little to uncover about the “real” Elizabeth, since the queen “doesn’t express herself” publicly. “That’s not part of the job, and that’s where the Peter Morgan side comes from. I just had to imagine what it was like, being a girl who wanted to live in the countryside with her husband and children and dogs and horses. She was a shy, retiring type, very close to her lovely sister, and suddenly she’s given the top job, and she’s the most unlikely person to have it. I think she’s a very good, good person who has given her life for her country, whichever way you look at it.”
Morgan said he was interested in exploring “the terrible impact becoming queen had on her and all her relationships,” which was why he chose Elizabeth and Phillip’s marriage as “storyline A,” the throughline that takes us through the series. “This is a couple for whom divorce was not an option,” he noted.
Smith admitted that he “was rather ignorant” about Prince Phillip’s story before he got the role, but found it “remarkably interesting… I fell in love with his certainty about life, I thought Peter had written such brilliant entitlement to him. He was a great family man and against that, when she became queen, his life changed as much as hers did. Both their lives changed irrevocably, and he had to walk two steps behind her for the rest of his life, and he did it with grace and wit and a bit of sarkiness.”
Morgan also addressed Britain’s recent Brexit decision and its impact on the monarchy, admitting, “it felt like our country was having a nervous breakdown and there was no confidence or trust in our leaders, and that an entire political generation was focused only on itself, and within that, only on its own self-destruction. I don’t think Britain is alone in this extraordinary crisis of leadership. It does make you look at someone who has given up their life in a slightly different way. Brexit was great box office for her, it’s been a desperate box office for democracy and the democratic process.” As for what he suspects about the queen’s political leanings, Morgan said, “I bet she would’ve voted Brexit, but to her eternal agony or eternal relief, she’s never voted in her life.”
The 10-episode first season of “The Crown” premieres Friday November 4 on Netflix.