John Lithgow and Claire Foy Discuss Putting on ‘The Crown’

John Lithgow in The Crown.

John Lithgow in The Crown. Alex Bailey/Netflix

The longest active ruler in the world has finally gotten her own TV show – well sort of. Queen Elizabeth II has held her position as monarch for 64 years and counting, and age 90 it’s about time someone made her the star of her own series, right?

Enter the new drama The Crown, the (mostly) true story about some very real people.

The 10-episode series follows 21-year-old Princess Elizabeth through her marriage to Prince Philip to the sudden death of her beloved father George VI and her accession to the throne, with this first season of the series covering from 1947 to 1955. (The second season is already in production.)

The Crown will, simply because of the setting and time period, draw comparisons to the dearly departed Downton Abbey, and for many it will be a fitting replacement, but the difference here is that while Downton featured fictional characters, The Crown is about real life people and the true struggles they faced, not some carefully crafted moves to wring the most drama out of each episode. This factor alone makes the series compelling in a way that Downton could never be.

It’s fitting that scribe Peter Morgan is at the helm of this sprawling $100 million venture (reportedly the most expensive Netflix undertaking) given his experience with writing about all things royal, especially Elizabeth herself. Morgan gave moviegoers The Queen and Broadway patrons The Audience, both pieces featuring Elizabeth at different times in her life.

In this telling, Morgan focuses on Elizabeth’s relationships, with both family and colleagues, which makes for some interesting transitions between the two. Especially when it comes to Elizabeth’s sister Margaret, a true early 20th century party girl, and the stern, but understanding Winston Churchill.

American John Lithgow steps into the role of Churchill here and the actor has admitted that he was a bit daunted by the role, saying, “I felt equal measure intimidated and excited. It’s a big responsibility.” Lithgow says that Morgan coined the term “Churchill Fatigue” in that all the major British actors have played Churchill in some form, adding, “So they needed a new spin and hired a clown from America.”

Playing the role of Elizabeth, Claire Foy, who interestingly played the role of Anne Boleyn in BBC’s Wolf Hall, believes that Elizabeth was rather ill equipped when she took over the throne, saying, “At that point she had no idea, there was no apprenticeship, so she was massively unprepared.”

Born of this insecurity was a unique relationship between Elizabeth and Churchill in which Foy says the Prime Minister counseled the novice about her role. “[He] was an incredible statesmen and he showed her the way, but at the same time [through that relationship] she was learned about politics and politicians.”

Foy also points to Elizabeth’s personal life as a foundation of the series. “You see she and Phillip, really in love and try to take on marriage and kids while [she] has the biggest job in the world.”

The Crown does move a bit slowly at times, but given the magnitude of the story, that’s understandable, but rest assured, those glacially paced moments always pay off.

If nothing else, use that time to enjoy the lavishness of the palaces, the clothes, the jewels and the fine art. It’s all beautifully and expertly recreated, even the dreary broken look of the city in the aftermath of the second World War.

The Crown flows well between the personal and professional storylines and makes clear that while Elizabeth is burdened by her role at times, she knows to never let on that this is the case; and at times this is a extremely sad realization for both the Queen and the audience as well.

In reality, no one knows the real Queen Elizabeth II, as it’s impossible to do so. This is in large part because of her job, one in which she must be Queen first and all other things second, but The Crown does open her up a bit in a manner that’s understandable, intriguing, and quite pleasing.

This is a series absolutely fit for a Queen.

All episodes of The Crown are available for streaming on Netflix. 

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