Inspired by the life of Queen Elizabeth II and the British monarchy, Netflix’s sumptuous period drama The Crown has become one of the defining shows of our time. But what is historical fact, and what is the work of the imagination? Here’s everything you need to know.
What do you get when you combine exquisite period locations, sumptuous costumes, a star-studded cast, and a liberal sprinkling of royal drama and political intrigue? You’ve guessed it: The Crown.
Since the cast of Netflix’s beloved series stepped gracefully onto our TV screens in 2016, the world has become obsessed with the historical drama based on the lives of British royalty, cementing the show’s status as one of the defining TV shows of the decade.
With the third season of The Crown just around the corner, the royal biopic is set to enter a new era of love, scandal and political upheaval. Earlier in October, it was announced that The Favourite and Broadchurch star Olivia Colman is set to succeed Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in the next instalment of the epic drama, which will continue from the year of 1964, and cover Harold Wilson’s two periods as prime minister.
Here’s the first trailer for the new series:
Before The Crown returns to our screens this autumn, take a moment to familiarise yourself with the most Googled questions about the show.
What is The Crown about?
The Crown is a historical drama that chronicles the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, who is the oldest and longest-reigning current British monarch.
Based on Peter Monarch’s 2006 film The Queen starring Helen Mirren, and 2013 stage play The Audience, the series covers all major personal and political events that have occurred during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.
The drama has been spread out across six seasons, of which two have aired to date. The first season explored Queen Elizabeth’s marriage to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1947, and the breakdown of her sister Princess Margaret’s engagement to Group Captain Peter Townsend in 1955. The second season picks up with the Suez Crisis in 1956, and follows the retirement of prime minister Harold Macmillan in 1963, concluding with the birth of the Queen’s youngest child, Prince Edward, in 1964.
Who plays Queen Elizabeth in The Crown?
In the first two seasons of The Crown, Queen Elizabeth is played by British actress Claire Foy, who won an Emmy award for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her performance in the series, as well as a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award.
Last October, it was announced that the star of Broadchurch and The Favourite, Olivia Colman, would succeed Foy as the Queen in the third and fourth seasons. The Oscar-winning actress is set to play the monarch during the later stages of her reign.
In a recent interview with the Mirror, Colman expressed her excitement at playing the next reincarnation of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, revealing that when she first joined the cast, she took to imitating Foy.
“It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done because everyone knows the Queen’s voice and knows what she looks like,” she remarked. “When Claire Foy handed over the mantle she was incredibly encouraging.
“She did the most exquisite job…For the first couple of weeks I copied everything she did and I tried to imagine how she’d do it, because I was such a fan,” she added.
Who is in the cast of The Crown?
Alongside Claire Foy who plays Queen Elizabeth in the first two seasons, and Olivia Colman, who will portray the monarch in the third and fourth seasons, The Crown features a star-studded cast.
In the first season, British actor Matt Smith plays Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Meanwhile, the role of the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, is played by British actor Vanessa Kirby, who won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Television Series for her performance.
Elsewhere, John Lithgow (Dexter, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Footloose) stars as Prime Minister Winston Churchill, British actor Jared Harris plays King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, is played by Victoria Hamilton. Three-time Olivier Award winner and BAFTA winner, Eileen Atkins, also stars as Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother, Queen Mary.
The new season also welcomes Josh O’Connor (The Durrells) as Prince Charles, Emma Corrin as Lady Diana Spencer (the future Princess of Wales), and Emerald Fennell (Call the Midwife) as Camilla Shand (now known as Camilla Parker-Bowles, or the Duchess of Cornwall). Veteran actress Helena Bonham-Carter also joins the cast as a middle-aged Princess Margaret.
Speaking to the Mirror about her preparation for the role, Bonham-Carter revealed that she’d consulted one of Princess Margaret’s former lovers, landscape gardener Roddy Llewellyn for clues to her characterisation, as well as a psychic.
“I know it sounds bonkers,” she remarked. “ I thought I should just try and talk to Margaret and try to get it from the horse’s mouth as it were.
“And one of the things that this ghost, if she was there, said to me, was that she approved of my casting, but she was slightly worried that I wouldn’t be neat enough or brushed up enough or scrubbed up enough!”
What will happen in season 3 of The Crown?
The third season of The Crown will continue from the year 1964, and cover prime minister Harold Wilson’s two periods in power until 1976, as well as the breakdown of the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret’s marriage to Lord Snowdon.
Last year, it was confirmed that Olivia Colman would be succeeding Claire Foy and taking to the the throne as Queen Elizabeth. As the third season travels forward in time, we learned soon after that Outlander star Tobias Menzies would be stepping into Matt Smith’s shoes as Prince Philip.
Colman definitely looks the part, by the look of a first snap Netflix released in August of the Oscar-winning actress in her royal costume: a pink woollen two-piece, strings of pearls, and, of course, an elegantly handled cup of tea.
Where is The Crown filmed?
If you’ve marvelled at The Crown’s lavish backdrops, it’ll come as no surprise that the first two seasons wer filmed at some of the most regal locations in Britain.
During the first season, Queen Elizabeth was informed of her accession to the throne at Hatfield House, a grand medieval estate dating back to 1485 that was the childhood home of Henry VIII’s children.
On the wedding day of the Queen to Prince Philip, the series featured the magnificent Ely Cathedral in the historic riverside city of Ely as a stand-in for Westminster Abbey. During a post-war scene, the pair are pictured at the real Lyceum Theatre in Covent Garden, London, instantly recogisable by its iconic neo-classical columns.
While Buckingham Palace was unavailable as a filming location for The Crown, the team recreated Her Majesty’s residence at several stately homes across the country, including the Tudor-era Wilton House in Wiltshire.
How accurate is The Crown?
Like any work of entertainment created for our viewing pleasure, The Crown is a fictional re-telling of one of the most fascinating families in the world, which means that creative license has been used with dramatising the stories for the small screen. However, the major events, characters and their personal relationships are based on historical fact. As royal historian Robert Lacey points out in the Radio Times, “what you see is both invented and true.”
If you’ve wondered whether a young Princess Elizabeth was interrupted by a pet raven while studying constitutional history, if she really threw her shoes and tennis racket at Prince Philip during her Commonwealth tour, and whether she was trekking through the Kenyan bush on the day before she became Queen, Lacey has confirmed that they are all true.
“Henry Marten, the Vice-Provost of Eton who tutored the future Elizabeth II in constitutional history, kept a pet raven in his study. The shoes and tennis racket were filmed flying through the air by an Australian film crew as the Duke of Edinburgh beat a hasty retreat from the bungalow east of Melbourne where the royal couple were staying in March 1954,” he wrote.
It’s also true that Princess Margaret had an an affair with her late father George VI’s equerry, RAF Group Captain Peter Townsend, and she did issue a public statement in 1955 explaining that she would not go through with marriage owing to the Church of England’s stance on divorcees.
As for the despised portrait of Winston Churchill painted by English artist Graham Vivian Sutherland, who was commissioned to celebrate the Prime Minister’s 80th birthday in November 1954, the work of art was never burned in the back garden of Churchill’s home, Chartwell. But according to historian Sonia Purnell, who discovered a forgotten recording of the couple’s Private Secretary, Grace Hamblin, the painting was destroyed by Hamblin and her brother at the request of Lady Clementine Churchill.
At the same time, there are some events that can never be definitely proved. No evidence has ever been provided to prove the rumours of Prince Philip’s infidelity, although Ingrid Seward, royal biographer and author of My Husband and I: The Inside Story of 70 Years of the Royal Marriage, told the Radio Times: “She was forgiving of him, because she felt that he’d been emasculated by her position, and he’s a very alpha male.”
Does the Queen watch The Crown?
The idea of Queen Elizabeth II having a day of “Netflix and chill” in Buckingham Palace is a thought that makes people amused and fascinated in equal measure, and there has been plenty of speculation as to whether any of the royal family has watched the show.
According to The Express, the Queen has watched the TV series, and was left “reasonably entertained” by the first season.
However in the second season, the Queen was reportedly displeased with the storyline about Prince Charles being bullied at Gordonstoun school in Scotland, and the characterisation of Prince Philip in the scenes.
“The Queen realises that many who watch The Crown take it as an accurate portrayal of the Royal Family and she cannot change that,” senior courtier told the publication. “But she was upset by the way Prince Philip is depicted as being a father insensitive to his son’s wellbeing.”
“She was particularly annoyed at a scene in which Philip has no sympathy for a plainly upset Charles while he is flying him home from Scotland,” the source continued. “That simply did not happen.”
When does season 3 of The Crown start?
The third season of The Crown airs on Netflix on Sunday 17 November.