Netflix’s new must-see original series The Crown – rumoured to have cost the streaming site Dhs510million – might look like Downton Abbey with its big houses, period clothes and plummy accents, but it plays more like House of Cards.
Written by Peter Morgan, who worked on the Oscar-winning biopic The Queen, it follows the early life and times of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. Across ten episodes, Queen Elizabeth asserts her authority over veteran Prime Minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow), denies her sister Margaret’s desire to marry for love and readjusts her relationship with her new husband, Philip (Matt Smith). It’s addictive stuff – part soap, part Shakespearean drama.
How do you think the British royal family would feel if they watched The Crown?
I genuinely don’t know. They could be massively annoyed. I’d be more concerned if I was doing something where I could be walking down the street and someone who’d been in that situation went: “You’re a liar!
I hated that and I hated sitting there watching you!” That’s not going to happen. I’m not going to bump into the royal family in Covent Garden. I’d like to think I’ve approached it in a respectful way. I’ve done nothing to be sensationalist and tried to do it as truthfully as possible without thinking about the consequences. I don’t think the Queen would mind that really.
But The Crown isn’t just promotional material for the royal family.
No. It’s a drama about some interesting people. And the interesting thing about them is that they’re all constantly in these dangerous or exciting or whatever situations. We’re not there to say: everything they’ve ever done is marvellous and they’re such whole well-rounded people and all that.
The writer of The Crown, Peter Morgan, also wrote the movie The Queen with Helen Mirren…
I know they [the royal family] are grateful for Peter Morgan’s work in the sense that at a time when the monarchy was needing to change, he cast some light on them as human beings. It helped to bring them into the modern age.
Where do you even start preparing to play an icon like the Queen?
I had 30 years’ experience of listening to her voice and watching her movements, and you can’t underestimate how much of her we know already and recognise. I did meet her once at an event, but there were about 400 other people there at a Charles Dickens Bicentenary thing where they just briefly introduced me. You can’t really find anything out about her. You hear little things like, “Oh, she keeps dog biscuits in her handbag”, and it’s a real nugget, but it doesn’t help me in any way about her personality or how she thinks, which is what I want to understand.
How did it feel when you first put a crown on your head when filming?
I’d been moaning a lot because the costume was heavy and the crown was heavy. I was complaining all the time, I was a real misery guts. But there was a point where I was holding the sceptre thing and had the crown on and I had a wobble. I’m sat on a throne pretending to be the Queen and thinking, “This is ridiculous!”.
The Crown will be on Netflix from Friday November 4.