Key moments in history including Britain’s first female prime minister, our introduction to Lady Diana Spencer and the Falklands War are covered in series four of The Crown.
It has been months since we were first teased with gripping trailers showing Emma Corrin, 24, as Diana in her wedding dress, and Gillian Anderson, 52, portraying former PM Margaret Thatcher.
And one thing’s for sure, fans of the royal drama won’t be disappointed with the 10 new episodes, which see Olivia Colman play the Queen and are set between 1979 and 1990.
Here, we chat to four of the show’s leading ladies about their roles in the most anticipated Netflix series of the year.
After plenty of ups and downs in their marriage, expect to see a “much more settled Queen and Philip [played by Tobias Menzies], with a switch of focus on to the cracks appearing in the now grown-up children’s relationships”, says Colman, 46.
“This leads the Queen to have some self-doubt about her mothering skills when they were younger,” adds the Norwich-born star, who has now said goodbye to The Crown, with Imelda Staunton taking over as the monarch for series five and six.
Then there’s the Queen’s relationship with Thatcher, which is far from the beautiful friendship she hoped for, as the pair clash over the appropriate governance of the country.
It leads to some memorable displays of acting prowess; some of the standout scenes of the series are the exchanges between the two women while in the Audience room.
“They were VERY heavy lines weeks,” recalls Oscar-winner Colman (she nabbed best actress for The Favourite). “While in one location we have to film all of those scenes, one after another.
“Gillian is incredible to work with; every now and then I got a proper chill, she was so like the real thing, but yet so able to grin and be silly the moment we cut.”
Here’s the big question: how does the Queen take to Diana?
“The Queen is very aware of Diana’s youth and inexperience,” notes Colman. “She is unlike any creature Elizabeth has come into contact with before.
“There are ways of doing things, head down, don’t complain, come to an agreement etc. Diana doesn’t play by the same rules and it makes things very difficult.”
Anderson – known for The X-Files, Sex Education and The Fall – addresses how The Crown opens the doors to the private life of the divisive Thatcher.
“There’s one episode that deals with Thatcher as a mother – an episode that delves into her state of mind when her son Mark was missing for a few days while racing in the Paris-Dakar car rally and how her feelings for Mark seem to differ from her feelings for her daughter Carol,” says the star, who was born in Chicago.
“We also see her making shepherd’s pie for cabinet ministers in the flat and her wonderfully close and supportive relationship with her husband Dennis.”
Work-wise, the series starts with Thatcher being elected and then, in episode 10, we see her leave office, after being ousted by her own cabinet.
For Anderson, her time working on The Crown has been “extraordinary”.
“It’s such a grown-up experience all around. More like a film set than a TV show.
“There is deep respect on set for the work, which is surprisingly not a given in the industry. The cast notoriously gets along very well and it feels very much like a home of sorts. I already miss it.”
HELENA BONHAM CARTER
This series shows freshly divorced Princess Margaret – played by Helena Bonham Carter – going through a particularly difficult period in her life; lonely, suffering from ill-health and perennially underemployed.
We also see her becoming an unlikely source of sympathy for Charles and Diana as she realises how mismatched they were as a couple.
“Just as they interfered with Margaret’s marriage and affairs of the heart, they are going to do the same with Charles and Diana and I think she is frustrated that the family haven’t mended their ways,” muses Bonham Carter, who has starred in films such as Fight Club, The King’s Speech and Alice In Wonderland.
For the final two series of The Crown, she will be handing over the role to Lesley Manville, which the star feels “tremendous sadness” about.
“Margaret has taught me a lot and I do think as an actor we are privileged because we get to know these people,” she continues.
“I feel like you still carry them around and they leave their little imprint on your personality, and sometimes your behaviour. Sometimes Margaret has popped out when I’m not on camera and I go, ‘Oh god!’.
“The reception has been, ‘God we love Margaret’, and you’re like, ‘Why didn’t you say that when she was alive?’
“Most people loved to dislike her when she was alive and I think she’s enjoyed a popularity now, through the series, that she didn’t when she was alive, which is ironic and sad.”
In the first episode, the royal family are trying to find an appropriate bride for Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) who is still unmarried at 30. But then enters a young Diana – culminating in the wedding of the century in 1981.
Corrin, from Royal Tunbridge Wells, reflects on Diana’s “incredible arc” across the series; going from an impressionable 16-year-old, up until she’s 29, when it’s clear her “fairytale marriage” to Charles – as portrayed in the media – isn’t quite what it seems.
The Cambridge University graduate – who has only previously had a few small TV roles – notes how, on set, “there were intense days – especially with Diana, it’s so dark so much of the time”.
There was a scene in which Diana goes through something hugely emotional, which she nearly couldn’t do, she elaborates.
“The ADs/director were like, ‘We get it, this is huge, take all the time you need’. Feeling that support of everyone around is so great.”
Corrin realised how important it was to switch off from the role, and says the cast would play games together, breaking out into rock, paper, scissors.
Meanwhile, her favourite part of filming was working with the costume team.
The wedding dress was “a huge, huge thing”, involving fittings that went on for hours.
“It was one thing to try it on without my wig but when I put my wig on, it was almost quite terrifying because the significance of that image for people is massive,” she confides.
“No-one had seen me and then these doors open and everyone fell silent because I think everyone felt, out of respect, you shouldn’t speak.”
Series four of The Crown launches on Netflix on Sunday November 15.
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