New series The Crown is the first original Netflix series shot and produced in the UK. Featuring Matt Smith and Claire Foy, the story follows Queen Elizabeth II’s early years from princess to queen.
Andrew Eaton, producer of The Crown, says proudly: “I think this is a bit of a game changer for British drama.” That may be an understatement.
The Crown, which launches on Netflix on November 4 with the first season’s 10 episodes, is the global video-on-demand giant’s first original series shot and produced in the UK
The series follows Queen Elizabeth II’s early years and her long reign since 1952, including her dealings with prime ministers across the decades.
This first season tells her story from 1947 to 1956 (when she went from princess to newlywed to queen), with the second season (shooting now) moving into the 1960s.
CREDIT: ALEX BAILEY/NETFLIX
The idea started with writer Peter Morgan, who has been fascinated by Her Majesty since his film The Queen and play The Audience.
“Peter has this skill of telling a story about our relatively recent history that makes you feel like you’re in the room,” Eaton says. “We go to great lengths to get it accurate with the look, the feel, the history. That authenticity helps to make the imagined parts feel real…Peter takes you into private rooms and private conversations”.
Filming was not possible at some London locations such as Buckingham Palace or Westminster Abbey, but the team did make the most of shooting at others (about 75 per cent of season one is shot on location, with about 25 per cent at Elstree Studios).
Lancaster House was the main location to double for Buckingham Palace with other scenes shot at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire and Wilton House near Salisbury. A set of private quarters was built at Elstree and the exterior of 10 Downing Street was recreated on Elstree’s backlot, as was a set of the cabinet room. Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire stood in for Westminster Abbey.
Stephen Daldry, whose credits include Billy Elliot, came on board as the director of episodes one and two. Other directors for season one are Philip Martin (Birdsong), Julian Jarrold (A Royal Night Out) and Benjamin Caron (Sherlock). “Over the 10 hours it’s fun to have adjustments and shifts,” says Eaton of the different directors. But there is also the continuity of the “common thread of the performances”.
Casting was crucial, of course. Claire Foy was tapped to play Elizabeth in these first two seasons (if the potential four further seasons are greenlit, there will be two more actresses to play the Queen at older ages).
“This character is vulnerable but sympathetic and Claire has those qualities as a person,” Eaton says. “She’s also trying to bring something of her own to it. Some other people who auditioned tried to do more of an impression of the Queen.”
There was palpable chemistry between Foy and Matt Smith (Doctor Who), who plays Prince Philip. “They just gelled from the get-go, there was a lot of laughter on the set.”
CREDIT: STUART HENDRY/NETFLIX
Other key cast in the first series includes John Lithgow as Winston Churchill, Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret and Jared Harris as George VI.
“The biggest challenge was the schedule,” says Eaton of the 152-day shoot. “It was a marathon.”
There were 293 speaking parts and some scenes involved up to 600 extras. About 500 production crew were employed across the UK and South Africa (the latter doubling for Kenya, where Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited in 1952).
The project isn’t just intended for British audiences, of course. Having Netflix’s reach opens the story up globally. “It’s a family drama at its heart,” Eaton says. “There is lots of stuff people will connect with. It’s a love story. Elizabeth fought very hard to get a man some people didn’t want her to marry.”
The Crown | Speaker Series
The award-winning filmmakers of the The Crown’s production team will be talking about their roles as part of an exclusive Speaker Series at the Coca Cola London Eye. These include producers Andrew Eaton (8 November), Suzanne Mackie (10 November) and Andy Harries (17 November), locations manager Pat Karam (15 November), make-up and hair designer Ivana Primorac (22 November) and costume designer Michele Clapton (24 November).