The arrivals of Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Princess Anne (Erin Doherty) midway through “The Crown’s” third season infuse the show with a youthful energy reminiscent of the first two years. But, they also offer a sense of rebelliousness, shaking up the royal family’s status quo.
Charles and Anne have both grown up within the suffocating confines of royal life, but Season 3 sees Anne refuse to put on a show for a documentary about the royal family, while Charles becomes much closer with his uncle the Duke of Windsor (Derek Jacobi), who infamously abdicated the throne to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson (Geraldine Chaplin).
“I completely sympathize with Anne, obviously she’s going to break the rules now and then, she’s a teenager, that’s what you do,” Doherty tells Variety. “She and Charles have been formed within this constricted environment, of course they’re going to want to break out of that. Wouldn’t you?”
Charles has spent his entire life waiting in the wings, and ironically, viewers have to wait until halfway through Season 3 of Netflix’s “The Crown” to meet the latest iteration of the perennial heir to the throne. When he does arrive, Charles (Josh O’Connor) is portrayed as a trapped 20-something waiting for his life to begin.
“There was this one line which comes in Episode 8, where Charles described his life as being like Purgatory. He says he’s waiting for his mother to die for his life to take meaning. It’s such a Shakespearian idea from Peter Morgan, this idea that this young man is waiting on the sidelines for his mother to die, it’s such a big question and it’s what excited me about playing Charles and opened up all these ideas for me about playing him,” O’Connor says.
By the time O’Connor arrived on set for Season 3, he says Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter, Tobias Menzies and many other actors had all been shooting for “quite some time,” which he helped him capture the “loneliness” and “isolation” that Charles feels in Episode 6, titled “Tywysog Cymru,” which means “Prince of Wales” in Welsh. In this episode, the young prince is packed off to a university in Wales to learn how to speak the local language in a matter of weeks, with the goal being prepare him for his investiture speech which will be broadcast to the entire nation.
During his stay in Wales, Charles becomes sympathetic to the Welsh nationalist cause, and makes the decision to make several last-minute tweaks to his speech to reflect the importance of Welsh culture. The speech is a triumphant moment for Charles, however, he is swiftly brought back down to earth by the Queen (Colman) when she learns exactly what he said to the nation.
“In a way that investiture speech is the closest that Charles gets to a coronation,” O’Connor says. “In that episode we wanted people to understand the predicament that Charles is in and how that affects him as a person and his relationship, or lack of relationship, with his parents.”
O’Connor says he “doesn’t engage with the royal family” outside of playing this role and had “no particular interest” in portraying Charles as the royal that people think they know today. Instead, he wanted to create a character who grows in strength and autonomy — “because I don’t think any of us do know him at all,” he says.
However, not be outdone by her older brother, Anne comes barnstorming more centrally into the picture in Episode 4. The young princess is a force of nature compared to the stiffs around her in the royal family. And while she may not have the weight of a crown on her shoulders like Charles, she still bears the considerable pressures that come with being a young, female royal in the public eye.
Doherty says she knew very little about Anne before signing on for the role. Her first port of call in exploring the character was to watch endless YouTube videos of her speeches, which immediately made her fall for how “amazing and lovely she is.”
Doherty has had her own experience being thrust into the public limelight with appearances in “Call the Midwife” and “Les Miserables,” but nothing quite like the “character assassination” which Anne was subjected to in her late teens.
“I never expected her to be that forthright with her opinions, and that’s coming from the perspective of a young girl similarly growing up in a relatively public eye,” Doherty says. “People said these horrible things about her, she was called frumpy when she was young, but she didn’t let it affect her and she continued to do what she wanted. She was so determined to be herself in this bizarre kind of world that she was born into, and I just thought, ‘You go, Anne!’”
In Season 3, Anne sleeps with the older Andrew Parker Bowles (who will later become Camilla’s first husband), wears her hair like a “wild lion’s mane,” and routinely refuses to do what her parents tell her. “She calls them out. It’s amazing, and it’s so much fun to play,” Doherty says. “She’s kicking up the dirt; she’s not afraid to make a mess and ask, ‘Why are we doing this?’”
Anne’s biggest moment, arguably one of the most memorable in the season, comes in Episode 9 when she is summoned to Buckingham Palace by her parents to be “tried” before a familial tribunal for her “sexual dalliances.” On her way there, she blasts David Bowie’s “Starman” over the car radio, belting out the words at the top of her lungs. It’s a moment which is symbolic of Anne’s rebellion, of her desire to move with the times as the rest of her family remains mired in the past.
“We filmed the whole song and it was so much fun, and I was there miming getting angry at other drivers,” Doherty recalls. “Every time I played her it made me feel very angry when I pushed my voice down, you feel suppressed and locked in and that reflects her life really well. That was the key into her psyche for me.”
Ultimately, both Doherty and O’Connor “deeply sympathize” with the lives that Charles and Anne have been thrust into, and their desire to escape. The duo both tease that more fun and drama is expected from Anne and Charles in Season 4, especially with the addition of Princess Diana into the mix.
“From the first episode she’s in, you see her being shoved into royal duties — being thrown in at the deep end — and by the end of the season it’s expected that she’s going to break the mold and have fun because, oh my God, I would,” Doherty says of Anne.
As Anne so tunefully sings in the penultimate episode, “Let the children lose it. Let the children use it. Let all the children boogie.”