Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is known for her dedication to a demanding job. Claire Foy, who plays Elizabeth as a young ruler in Netflix’s The Crown, can claim the same.
Foy accepted the central role in Netflix’s 10-part series when she was pregnant, knowing that filming would begin just a few months after her daughter’s arrival.
“I’d never had a baby before, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” the actress said by phone from London. “But I’m so glad I made that decision.”
The Crown reportedly is Netflix’s costliest series to date, pegged at $100 million. The money is on the screen in lavish scenes such as Elizabeth’s coronation and location shooting in Scotland and South Africa.
A second season is already in production.
The Crown opens in the bleakness of post-World War II Britain, with a respite provided by Elizabeth’s marriage to Philip Mountbatten (played with sexy swagger by Matt Smith of Doctor Who).
The scene in which they exchange vows is a charmer, with a nervous-looking Elizabeth coaxed along by teasing smiles from Philip. There’s no film of the ceremony, Foy said, but a preserved radio broadcast inspired the scene’s direction.
“She did sound fragile and very, very little and sort of, not unsure, but she definitely didn’t belt out her vows,” Foy said. Given Elizabeth’s youth, her longtime love for Philip and “the idea of forever and everybody you know is watching you,” it was natural for her to be overwhelmed, she added.
The bride’s expectation of playing helpmate to her new husband and his naval career is ended by the death of her father, King George VI, at 56. Elizabeth was 25 when the royal responsibility she believed to be decades away passed to her.
The drama follows her early years as a monarch in a changing world, along with those in her orbit including her free-spirited sister, Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby), and political leaders Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) and Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam).
Writer and executive producer Peter Morgan didn’t come to the topic cold: He wrote the 2006 film The Queen, which dramatized the battering that Elizabeth and the royal family’s image took after Princess Diana’s death. It earned an Oscar for star Helen Mirren and a nomination for Morgan. Last year, Mirren received a Tony Award for her portrayal of Elizabeth in Morgan’s play The Audience.
For The Crown, Morgan’s prose rests on the findings of researchers who spent more than two years reading archives, biographies and cabinet meeting minutes, as well as Morgan’s own conversations with people “connected to the Royal Household,” as Netflix coyly put it.
At a news conference, he acknowledged the careful dance between members of the royal family and the production.
“I think that they’re very, very aware of it,” he said, and “countless approaches” were made “through untraceable back channels.”
“And in a way that protects both sides: I want my independence and I’m sure they want their independence,” he said. He believes the family understands the project was done with “some degree of respect,” Morgan said.
“These are people who are used to slander, cartoons, satire. These are not people who are used to being taken seriously. And whilst that might be a terrifying prospect, I think it is also the only worthwhile way of looking at our recent history,” Morgan said.
For Foy, portraying someone with such a crafted public image was a challenge. But ultimately, she said, the goal was the same as with any part: striving for authenticity and humanity in depicting Elizabeth’s loss of a parent, a universal experience, as she takes on “the biggest job that anyone can do.”
“That’s all you hope for when you do a drama,” Foy said. “If you’re portraying anything that anybody has been through, you don’t want people to watch it and not recognize it or feel betrayed by the portrayal of it. That’s true if you’re a queen or not.”