'The Crown' Creator Sees Britain's Royals As 'Just A Regular Family'
Peter Morgan, creator of the Netflix series The Crown, has an unusual take on Britain's royals. He says, "Let's just stop thinking about them as a royal family for just a second and think about them as just a regular family."
Like any family, Morgan says, the House of Windsor has its share of shame, regret and "misdemeanors of the past;" and, of course, "no family is complete without an embarrassing uncle." In the case of the Windsors, the uncle in question was King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne 1936, paving the way for Elizabeth to become queen in 1952.
Morgan's drama, The Crown (now in its second season), ventures inside Buckingham Palace during the early years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign, when the young queen was still adjusting to her new life as monarch.
On The Crown's central dilemma
I do think [Queen Elizabeth II] would've been more comfortable as a country woman. I do think she is naturally a modest and naturally a shy, retiring person. I think one can sense that. One can sense when someone is hungry for the limelight and when someone would sooner avoid it. That, of course, is very different than her sense of duty, which in itself is such an interesting thing to explore.
You don't get a sense that people talk about duty very much anymore. And so when I started sketching out episodes thinking about what the show could possibly offer me as a writer or as an audience, what was the central dilemma at the heart of this — psychologically, emotionally for the lead character — it would be that who she is as Elizabeth Windsor and who she is as Elizabeth Regina, the queen, are two very different things. And the push and the pull between those two things — a bit like Russian dolls, one within the other.
On how much contact Morgan has had with the royal family
I've only met them on a couple of occasions, and on those occasions I steer well clear of telling them who I am or what I'm responsible for, and, if they know it, making sure that we're talking about something else. I'm thrilled to give them the distance to have total deniability, and in the same way I want to have respectful distance from them to be allowed to get on with what I do and to take responsibility for what I do. ...
I have 10 wonderful researchers that work round the clock, but then even they don't have access to those circles. But, bit by bit, those doors have now opened to us and, you know, trust me, I'm not writing anything for which I don't feel like I could be answerable, if not in a court of law then in a court of critical judgment.
On casting Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II
It's not an easy part. You have to be both — forgive me when I say — you have to be both plain and stunning. She has to have both. A number of the actors that came in were simply too beautiful, too conventionally beautiful, or their faces did not have the full range.
Elizabeth Windsor was [and] is arguably still a beautiful woman — but not all the time and not from every angle. And her face lights up with a smile, and can look quite grumpy and quite like a wet weekend when not smiling, and be overlookable and quite plain. You need to believe she has intelligence and understand her intelligence, because the queen, contrary to what people think, I think, she has an intelligence and a very sharp mimicry and an intolerance of fools. But at the same time she's not that intellectually curious. And so she has to be both quick and alert, and yet at the same time capable of repose and being quite docile. So it's not easy.
On the similarities between his screenplay for The Queen (2006) and former Prime Minister Tony Blair's autobiography
I remember quite clearly when I read Tony Blair's autobiography — which, of course, came many years after we made the film The Queen -- that Tony Blair, when referring back to that critical period in the aftermath of [Princess] Diana's death, used a number of expressions and quotations that seemed to me to be very familiar because they sounded like my dialogue. ... It seemed that even Blair's memory had sort of become blurred with what we had done. And it's both funny but also sobering, because you suddenly realize the predisposition people have towards blurring.
Roberta Shorrock and Thea Chaloner produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.