Do not buy into the idea that Netflix’s “The Crown” is just another dowdy “Upstairs Downstairs” period fantasy for tea-drinking “Downton Abbey”-loving Anglophiles. The most expensive series ever made brings the English royal family to vivid life, from building a life-size replica of Buckingham Palace, to designing a $35,000 wedding dres, to finding a series of vintage coupes.
Emmy voters showered the show with 13 nominations, including Oscar-nominated showrunner Peter Morgan, director Stephen Daldry, and star Claire Foy, supporting actress Vanessa Kirby, and supporting actor John Lithgow. Last week, BAFTA laid five television award nominations on the series as well.
Season 2, which takes place 1956-1964 and has an even bigger budget, will air later this year. In the meantime, here’s why “The Crown” could win the competitive Emmy race for drama series against “Stranger Things,” “This is Us,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” among other fierce competitors.
1. It starts with the script
Executive producers Daldry and Morgan worked together on “The Audience” on Broadway, with Helen Mirren reprising her National Theatre role as the Queen. “Peter was fascinated with the story,” said Daldry, “and wanted to continue. We thought about long-form drama in order to explore a variety of storylines. It was a huge discussion. While the history is well documented, not a lot of people have put it all together.”
Working with researchers and story editors, Daldry and Morgan figured out the timeline. Season 1 begins just before Princess Elizabeth’s 1947 marriage to Philip Mountbatten and runs through her 1953 coronation (with various flashbacks), winding up in 1955. “What drew me in was the brilliant history of the post-war,”said Daldry. “It was the end of the empire, a country trying to find itself at the end of a tortuous, terrible war and redefine its place in the world. It was the end of the great imperial country that was Britain and the Queen at the center of it was the most famous woman in the world — and still is.”
Morgan dug up the little-known fact that Elizabeth was not well educated. “I was surprised by the fact that she was only educated in the Constitution,” said Foy. “That was crazy to me. They deliberately educated her not to know anything. At the time, that’s how young girls were viewed and educated. People were imagining that she would have time to come into her own with an apprenticeship with her father. And she was expecting another 30 years of married life before she became queen. She didn’t have that time, and was thrown into the deep end with a scant education.”
“You can’t retrofit the strength of her reign,” Morgan told IndieWire. “But at the same time, one of the reasons the show is as moving as it is, is because you do know what comes. You do know that this person’s going to be there a hell of a long time.”
2. Claire Foy carries the series on her shoulders
“Elizabeth is difficult,” said Daldry. “She’s the most visible invisible woman in the world. That visibility and invisibility is hard to play. The actress provides a huge amount of subtext to being a hidden character as much as a visible one. And Claire was brilliant at both things at the same time. It’s an extraordinary journey for a young woman to have the crown thrust upon her and find a way to cope with the complex demands.”
While Foy knew there was “massive risk” attached to the series, the theater and television veteran (“Wolf Hall”) was at a point where she felt like “I haven’t anything to prove,” she said. “Looking back, I’ve been scared of everything I’ve done. It drives you to make it great. Everyone realized this was something exciting, not some sort of cheesy ‘royal’ program, that would have been really disappointing. We tried to get it right. We never thought it was easy, we never stopped.”
Foy gets bonus points for shooting as she was feeding a four-month old baby. “I was absolutely out of my mind the majority of the time,” she said. “That’s nice, isn’t? You just try your best. I was juggling the show and my life. But when I was acting, I didn’t worry about anything.”
Having completed two seasons, Foy is done. If the series continues, an older actress will take the role.