Why Is The Crown (Season 2) Netflix’s Most Expensive TV Series?
“Okay, bye guys,” says the third assistant director, chasing the press off the set politely as filming is about the begin. We are in Lancaster House, where they are filming episode seven of the Netflix series, The Crown season two. Today’s scene surrounds the moment that Prince Philip is told that his and Queen Elizabeth II’s third child is a son—and while the scene is being set up, the changing of the guards takes place outside these windows, at the Buckingham Palace.
The first season started with the royal couple’s 1947 wedding and ended with the start of the Suez Crisis. “Season two picks up from the Suez Crisis, and takes place from 1956 to 1963,” explains producer Andy Stebbing. The Crown is set to run for six seasons, each covering a decade of the queen’s life. All 10 episodes of season two will be available globally on Netflix on December 8.
While the show is widely known as one of Netflix’s most expensive series, the producers are tight-lipped when we ask about their infamous budget. But with a couple of days spent on set, from attending the filming of a motorbike scene on The Mall (a tree-lined royal road that leads up to the Buckingham Palace) and Lancaster House, to visiting different departments and the built sets at Elstree Studios, we can understand why the cost behind creating The Crown could be phenomenal: everyone is punctilious in getting the series accurate, down to the very last detail.
“They have a very good research team; I’m amazed at the amount of information that they know,” says David Rankin-Hunt, the series adviser who spent 33 years in the Royal Household. “And of course, the budget allows for the cast and crew to spend that little bit of extra money to get it exactly right. There has been very, very little that isn’t very accurate.”
On set, Rankin-Hunt oversees everything from factual accuracy—“there are a lot of uniforms for different occasions, and we ensure the medals are in the right order and against the right uniform”—to royal decorum nuances. He gives an example: “It was Christmas, they had all turned up for a welcoming glass of champagne—and Claire (Foy, who plays Queen Elizabeth II) suddenly said cheers, but you know, the Queen wouldn’t say anything. She would just hold her flask up. Just little details like that.”
The leads Foy, Matt Smith (who plays Prince Philip) and Vanessa Kirby (Princess Margaret) read up extensively on their characters, and work with a voice coach. We speak to the trio, together with Matthew Goode who joins in season two as Antony Armstrong-Jones, Princess Margaret’s husband.
What was your perception of the royal family growing up?
Matt Smith (MS) It’s sort of ingrained in your cultural sensibility. I was aware of them, but I didn’t pay that much attention to them. They were just sort of there; Buckingham Palace was just sort of… there. Now I drive past it with a renewed sense of interest. I’ve become much more fond of them, having made this show.
Vanessa Kirby (VK) I loved learning about the historic kings and queens; that was always fascinating to me. The modern-day ones… I didn’t know what their purpose was because I don’t think it’s that clear anymore. But I feel really proud of the show. Being part of it has helped me lose the judgement and dissolve the prejudices that I had against these human beings. I thought they were just privileged and irrelevant…
Matthew Goode (MG) I thought they didn’t do that much. But actually, the Queen does a phenomenal amount of days a year, even now aged 90.
VK Yeah, 64 years of doing something that was never your choice. I mean, the amount of people, including me, would have crumbled and been like #$(&*% this! I mean, Margaret might have done that too!
Were you a fan of the Queen before you took on the role?
Claire Foy (CF) As an actor, you sort of forget everything that you have been told and go in with a blank page. But through osmosis, her voice and the way she moves has always been there at the back of my mind so that helps as well.
How much research did you do to prepare for your role?
MS We did quite a lot. We had a wonderful team that helped us, and we read a lot of books, watched a lot of footage. There’s a programme called The Windsors that I’ve been catching up on. As with many biopics, we had a great vocal coach, William Conica. We just tried to steep ourselves in the time, the period, and the history of the family. I learnt a great deal not only about the royal family, but also the culture and the state of Britain, really.
Claire, how does it feel playing a living monarch, and probably the most famous monarch of our time?
CF At a certain point, you can’t be scared of what one, the world is going to think or two, that person. We will never be sensational, disrespectful or mean. She’s just a great character that [show creator and writer] Peter [Morgan] has written, because it’s his invention. And really, the opposite of me.
Matt, do you feel protective over Prince Philip? He has had a lot of bashing in the press.
MS When you do your research on him, he’s a wonderful man. If you speak to the staff or the members in the royal house, he’s one of the most popular in the family. And he’s managed to hold on to a sense of self in spite of his situation. That’s really difficult, and there’s a lot to be admired. But I suppose you do that with every character that you play.
Vanessa, has playing Princess Margaret changed your idea of who she was?
VK Oh, completely. I mean, I thought of her as an old lady, and heard a little bit about some drinking habits, but I didn’t know anything else. It’s amazing to look at someone again in their early life, and really get to know who they were then. I tried to read everything I could find because you can’t look at someone at the end of their life without looking at what made them into that sort of person. It’s been so nice to finally, even as an actor, find your partner [Armstrong-Jones, in season two]. Even with Peter [Townsend, her lover from season one], he was always right at the back; like six rows back at the coronation. He was a bit excluded, as a character. So having someone who…
MG Someone who can stop you from getting bored!
VK Yeah, basically! Someone to mess around with.
As the series goes on in years, the producers are going to recast the roles, every two seasons. How do you feel about that?
MS It’s good for the show because it won’t get stagnant. It’s difficult to maintain a show over six seasons. With this, it allows fresh blood.
There have been a lot of talk about production budgets. Tell us about the most lavish sets you have been on?
CF I mean, this [Lancaster House] isn’t a set. That’s the point: none of them are sets. There are a couple of bedrooms built, but they are very few. We are travelling around the country filming the different parts of the palace so it feels more lived-in.
What about costumes?
CF The costumes are amazing. You can’t really play or do a show about the royal family without getting the costumes right and unfortunately for the costume department, they rarely wear the same thing [twice] on a public occasion. There’s a lot of making, and costume designer has an amazing group of makers. One of them makes my dresses, I’m not joking, 24 hours a day, she still loves it. I don’t know how, by that point, I’d be like fingers bleeding. There’s just so much love and attention that has been put into it; it really is extraordinary, the amount of work that goes into it.
Are there any iconic costumes in this season, since you had the wedding and coronation dresses in season one?
CF [To the Netflix rep: Am I allowed to talk about the Americans?] It’s not as iconic as the wedding and coronation dresses but I do meet Jackie Kennedy in an interesting outfit. And Margaret’s wedding. I have some really interesting frocks, they get sort of brighter and brighter and brighter as time goes on.
What do you think is Queen Elizabeth’s contribution to British style?
CF Well, I think Norman Hartnell, who designed all her gowns, was amazing. From about ’62 she pretty much stuck to the same style, which is a dress and a long coat for public occasions; brooches and pearls. She’s never wavered from that, ever. Her hair is always done the same way as well. It’s funny to say that she would be a fashion icon because she has never followed fashion: she’s not a follower, she just is herself.
Why do you think the show has struck a chord with people all over the world?
VK I think it’s because they are the last remaining public personas that you don’t have access to. You don’t really know who they are behind closed doors. You used to have the Grace Kellys; people who had a mystery about them. With social media, there’s more access to celebrities’ lives, and this is a real stronghold of protection.