The burden of being royal: Netflix’s The Crown puts human face on the monarchy

Does The Queen have Netflix? It’s one burning question that comes to mind as the anticipated new series The Crown, which details the early days of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, approaches its debut. 

The Crown is rumoured to be the most expensive original series from American streaming giant Netflix — with a reported budget of £100 million ($165 million Cdn), which would also make it one of the costliest TV series ever.

A lavish costume drama, it explores the story of Queen Elizabeth II (portrayed by Claire Foy), who as a 25-year-old newlywed is thrust onto the throne when her father, King George VI (Jared Harris), dies from lung cancer.

Claire Foy, Jared Harris

Jared Harris, seen alongside Claire Foy in The Crown, said republicans may see the series as ‘propaganda,’ while royalists might be ‘shocked.’ (Alex Bailey/Netflix)

The cast and creators kept a distance from the Royals and tried not to worry about what the Queen and her family might think of the show.

“Anything you do, you want people to like it and appreciate it,” Vanessa Kirby, who portrays Princess Margaret in The Crown, told CBC News recently in Toronto.

“But you can never control anyone’s opinion, let alone the Royal Family.”

Claire Foy, Vanessa Kirby

Claire Foy, left, appears as Queen Elizabeth II and Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret in The Crown. ‘I loved playing the naughty one,’ Kirby said. (Alex Bailey/Netflix)

Her co-star Harris, who plays her father, King George, went further.

“You have to not care and the reason is: you can’t self-edit,” he said. 

“Otherwise you might not make choices you feel an impulse towards if you’re worried about what someone else would think about it.”

Like the popular British series Downton Abbey, The Crown shows the intrigues and conflicts between those in power (in this case at Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street) and those who toil behind the scenes.

Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret in The Crown

‘Margaret couldn’t even choose who she was in love with or could marry,’ noted Kirby, seen here as Princess Margaret in The Crown. (Alex Bailey/Netflix)

The production’s creative pedigree is strong: The Crown was written by Peter Morgan, the man behind the 2006 Oscar-winning film The Queen, and directed by Stephen Daldry, who helmed Billy Elliot and The Hours.

The first season covers the initial decade of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. While Netflix has announced its commitment to two seasons so far, there are rumours the series could go on for a total of six seasons, bringing the Royal saga up to the present.

‘The burden of the crown’

The Royal Family has not expressed any official opinion, at least so far.

As for how audiences will receive The Crown, Harris predicted that North Americans would come to it with fewer preconceptions than British audiences, who are more preoccupied with the place of the monarchy in contemporary society.

“I think here they can just appreciate it for what it is,” he said, “which is this incredibly intense drama and story about these people, who had to make these choices in their lives, and what the burden of the crown really is.” 

Jared Harris

The Crown explores ‘what the burden of the crown really is,’ said Harris, who plays King George VI. (Alex Bailey/Netflix)

Harris, well known to TV viewers for his Emmy-nominated role as Lane Pryce in Mad Men, said he believed The Crown would help humanize the monarchy to average viewers, though “die-hard republicans will see it as shameless propaganda” and royalists “might be shocked.” 

“I made that jape the other day that one’s understanding — or my understanding — of the Queen is you lick the back of her head and stick her on an envelope,” he said.

“So this is something where you start to understand what their life is like.”  

The Crown is available for streaming on Netflix starting Nov 4.

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