Lifting the veil on the secret life of the Queen and Prince Philip
They've been portrayed on screen countless times before, but Netflix's much-hyped new drama The Crown promises to show a new side to the story. Its stars Matt Smith and Claire Foy talk to Gemma Dunn about exploring a more private side to the royals.
"When you're making a show about the royal family, it needs these great locations and it needs [hundreds of] extras turning up, because otherwise it doesn't bite in quite the same way."
"I heard there were 7,000 extras the other day, in the whole series. Isn't that insane?" chimes 32-year-old Foy, who has prior experience depicting a royal, having starred as Anne Boleyn in the BBC's prized adaptation of Wolf Hall.
Based in 1947, when the UK is still reeling from the devastation of the Second World War, The Crown tells the inside story of Queen Elizabeth II's early reign, after her simple life - and married bliss - is cut short when her father, King George VI, dies unexpectedly, and at the age of 25, she inherits the throne.
With a stellar cast, including Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret, John Lithgow as Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Jared Harris as King George VI, and Victoria Hamilton as the Queen Mother, the series provides a snapshot of the personal intrigues, romances and political rivalries behind the great events that shaped the second half of the 20th Century.
"The Crown brings with it a set of responsibilities, and fundamentally realigns the power structure in a way that can only be challenging," explains creator Peter Morgan, who knows the subject inside out, having penned Oscar-winning 2006 film The Queen starring Helen Mirren, and the critically acclaimed stage production of The Audience.
"What's made it so interesting to write is not this or that historical event," he continues. "It's that this is a family, and within that family is the Crown, and the Crown is a bomb that changes the structure of everything."
And it's an explosion that, behind closed doors, puts great strain on the Queen's marriage.
"You take it for granted," begins Foy. "And you think, 'There is a relationship there, they're figureheads, that's their role'.
"What I found so interesting, moving and exciting, was that they are two people trying to have a relationship, but at the centre of this mad vortex of the monarchy, the country and politics, and what they're told to be and what they want to be."
"What's amazing about this show [is you] glimpse behind the royal veil," adds 34-year-old Smith, who is best known for his role as the 11th Doctor in the BBC's seminal Doctor Who series. "You see them getting ready for bed and you see them bickering about life, but you see them sharing wonderful domestic moments [too], and I found that particularly endearing."
Beyond getting to know their character's, however, Smith and Foy had much to learn about the protocol and etiquette expected from a young royal pair. "There was a lovely guy called Major David, who gave us lessons in everything, really," Smith reveals. "But the great thing about Philip is that he gets to ignore all of that."
As for the aristocratic, cut-glass accents, Foy declares it was decided early on not to spend too much time on perfecting the twang, stating: "We essentially met somewhere between us and them".
"It locks you out a bit, because you need to invent as well," Northampton-born Smith agrees.
"You've got to find your own truth and your own sound."
"The thing is as well, the private them of that age, we didn't see anything of," Foy adds.
"So if we did what they did in public, when they were nervous and really trying to monitor the way they spoke, then it would be a very stilted programme."
Do they think the real royals will be tuning in to judge their efforts?
"I would watch if it was me, because I would think someone is reflecting my whole life back at me," Smith retorts first, with a smirk. "I'd be like, 'Come on, let's see what you got'.
"I think there's always a pressure playing people that are alive, but this isn't Spitting Image, we're not doing caricatures of these people," he adds.
"Ultimately, we've tried to be truthful, and with the amount of experience they have with people investing in their lives and picking things apart, I think this is probably small fry," concludes Stockport-born Foy.
Besides, she isn't too concerned about any comeback, pointing out: "You're not going to see them in the street, so it's not like they're going to come up to you and hit you round the head with a handbag."
Guaranteed to be tuning in, however, is Netflix's American audience, who reportedly have high hopes The Crown will fill the gaping void left by the end of ITV's period epic Downton Abbey.
"There's definitely an appetite for the royal family in America," Smith quips.
"But also, this is Peter Morgan's interpretation of that family, and it is our interpretation of these characters," he adds, keen to point out that the show doesn't have to be assessed in terms of how it compares to previous period pieces.
"It's a story that appeals," Foy chips in. "Any programme post-Downton, the amazing success that they had, will always be compared because it was such a British export. And I think that's brilliant, because that was the first moment when we suddenly - the UK television world - made a mark on America and had everybody watching it."
TV has also changed drastically in recent years, though, Foy reflects.
"I know it sounds silly, because we're still just making a TV programme, but the ethos behind it isn't the same as when I first started out. It's like making a film - a massive film.
"It feels like you're doing 10 films, because of the amount of detail and the amount of time and love and everything that's put into it," says Foy. "And the fact that Netflix is making original content, it is a different world."
- The Crown will be available on Netflix from Friday