3. Dueling royal sisters and a resentful husband mean juicy drama
Behind the scenes at Buckingham Palace, strained sisters Elizabeth and Margaret are hugely entertaining. When Elizabeth has to keep her headstrong, passionate younger sister in line, sparks fly. “It’s very accurate,” said Foy. “They’re able to deeply insult one another with the barbed comments siblings can give each other, and it’d be all right, in a weird way. It hurts Elizabeth that she’s hurting her sister. She feels very protective about her. The beauty of Margaret is she’s so alluring and charismatic and open and bright and shiny, at the same time she’s selfish and incredibly narcissistic. It’s a relationship pattern of behavior: ‘I love you.’ ‘I’m sorry.'”
Equally complex is the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as he tried to cope with walking behind a wife who was monarch of the realm. “For me the great secret is Prince Philip,” said Daldry. “He’s an incredibly charming character who’s always had an odd place in the English psyche.”
He was such “a complex character you couldn’t make it up,” said Foy. “They were both approaching the problem from their own point of view, when the other person in the relationship doesn’t understand how important is is that the other person give a little something of themselves. They wanted to be understood by each other, but weren’t doing it. The fact that one person and their importance completely trumps anything else so that they would always come first made him angry at their uneven relationship. He couldn’t separate public and private. I don’t think it’s necessarily a male and female thing. It’s more the fact of what you will or won’t put up with.”
4. John Lithgow breathes new life into Winston Churchill
The producers cast American Lithgow as a famous man who has already been played by too many leading Brits. “Lithgow brings gravitas and statesmanship and originality to it,” said Foy. “It was a breath of fresh air. He was separated from it. He had no qualms. He doesn’t come to it with any preconceptions or any sort of build-up of the years of what you were told about the person. He was able to bring an incredible heart and soul and humanity to someone who is making bad decisions, begging a bit like a child for [the Queen] to support him and go with him.”
Daldry said that the casting choice wasn’t based on impersonation. “He was far too tall,” he said. “He doesn’t look anything like him. But that should never be the deciding factor. I’m never looking for lookalikes. Churchill had an American mother, so casting an American didn’t feel outrageous to us.”
Lithgow was so physically unlike the aged Churchill that costume designer Michele Clapton had to work closely with him on his costume. “We created a shape for him,” she said. “As the character became more and more stooped, we made him look like a hunchback as he contorted himself into this figure.”
Episode 5, “Act of God,” reveals Churchill in all his frailty as he deals with a crippling, never-ending pea-soup fog that descends on London. “The country’s run by sick old men, dying or dead,” said Daldry.
5. Movie director Stephen Daldry set the tone
“The Crown” was a massive enterprise, and many cast and crew unaccustomed to the vagaries of a nine-month, non-chronological television shoot. With four directors double-banking two episodes at a time, often shooting at the same time on the same locations, everyone had to get up to speed fast. “It’s a much more collegial way of working,” said Daldry. “We share information, talk to each other, share edits with each other.”
The executive producers planned to shoot the episodes in chronological order, but a wrench in Daldry’s schedule threw filming into disarray. He eventually shot the first two episodes, including Elizabeth and Philip’s wedding, but the series began with Philip Martin directing the final Episode 10, as well as 3 and 5, which lead up to the coronation. Cinematographer Adriano Goldman (“Jane Eyre”) filmed “Trash” for Daldry, and on Episode 2 he embraced the contrasts between the warm colors in Africa and “the darker, bluer, colder London,” he said. He filmed six of the 10 episodes, and provided a steady beat for the different directors while adjusting to their styles. “The challenge on ‘The Crown’ was how to deliver this massive amount of footage and still be sophisticated,” he said.
6. And then there’s that wedding dress
“My first week we shot the final scenes in Episode 10,” Foy said. “It couldn’t have gotten any more ridiculous!” She relied on her costume designer, Emmy nominee Michele Clapton, to help to find her bearings every day. “She approached it from the character,” Foy said. “It was all about character.”
In Daldry’s Episode 1, Elizabeth is “someone who has no idea what she’s doing,” said Foy. “Costumes reflect that. She starts off very young, she becomes a new mother, then gradually develops a uniform.”
Clapton knew how to manage a big-scale production from “Game of Thrones,” learning to delegate and give space to her crew, putting them in the right places to help her. With the royals, “it was really important to get it right and carry out the right research,” she said, tracking the Queen Mother and her daughter Elizabeth as a young woman who becomes more and more like her mother as she ages. “We’re trying to tell a visual story that runs alongside the narrative.”
While she enjoyed replicating outfits for fashion trendsetters Princess Margaret and Wallis Simpson, Clapton went to town with the opening-episode wedding, which in real life was austere and constrained as befitted the post-war period. She upped the ante for the sake of TV, spending on hats with sweeping feathers and tons of pearls and yards of hand-stitched embroidery. Elizabeth’s $35,000 wedding dress was trailed by a beaded train about seven meters long. “It took one big lump of the budget,” Clapton said. “We made the little bridesmaids’ headpieces from scratch with rolling paper and wax and beads and buds.”
7. Buckingham Palace.
Production designer Martin Childs (“Mr. Holmes”) provided a setting that enabled the actors to feel embedded and at home. “They live in this environment,” said Foy. “If anything, the backdrop of their life is the design of his work. You never question it. It’s there to help you. Everything felt authentic about it.”
“The sets never looked brand new,” said Goldman. “They looked very lived in, more approachable and comfortable. By seeing the Queen taking off her makeup before she goes to bed, there’s intimacy you’ve never seen before. The show has this freshness, a level of realism that is quite new.”
Childs enjoyed gleaning anecdotal memories from people who knew the ’40s and ’50s and the royals first hand. “In 1947 and into the ’50s, the country was on its knees,” said Childs, who built the interior set of Buckingham Palace to work through all episodes and four directors. “London was an austere, brown, gloomy place. Churchill’s world had limited resources, so Downing Street looked ravaged. The wedding was an opportunity to provide a red and gold jewel in a gray and brown world so it gets noticed.”
In Season 2, which features Elizabeth’s relationship with Prime Minister Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam) as he colludes with Egypt on the Aswan Dam, promises Childs, everyone “moves around a lot more. There’s a lot more color and travel.”
“We go into huge scenes in the second season,” adds Daldry, thanking Netflix for increasing the budget. “The world tour, big funerals, all sorts of things needing resources!”