The untold truth of Netflix's The Crown

Netflix's The Crown was announced in 2014, as reported by BBC News. The streaming giant revealed their plans for an ambitious TV series dramatizing the stunning transformation of Queen Elizabeth II. Written and produced by Peter Morgan (who also dramatized Her Majesty in the 2006 film The Queen), the big-budget show would chronicle the Queen's extraordinary reign after being thrust upon the throne at age 25.

Eventually, more news emerged. British actress Claire Foy was cast as Elizabeth, while Doctor Who star Matt Smith, who is one of many celebs who are unconventionally good looking, would portray her husband, Prince Philip. And John Lithgow was tapped to play Sir Winston Churchill. "Elizabeth II is a unique prism through which to look at the second half of the 20th century," Morgan told The Telegraph of his vision for the show. "She is a protagonist with a predicament that none of us can really imagine, and that is the side I've explored in this — to what degree does this enormous change in your life change all your relationships, the family power structures?"

This is the untold truth of Netflix's The Crown.

Is Netflix's The Crown really the most expensive series in TV history?

As The Crown went into production, reports emerged about the show's gargantuan budget, a testament to Netflix's commitment to getting every detail correct in what promised to be one of its marquee shows. As The Daily Beast reported, the show's alleged $130 million budget made it the most expensive television show in the history of the medium. But was it?

In a subsequent interview with Express, series creator Peter Morgan threw a little reality into the mix. Claims that Netflix's The Crown cost $130 million were not exactly on the money, he explained. "I mean, none of the rumors [were true] and it was sort of painful not being able to say it," he said.

"But for some reason, we got tagged," he added, explaining that much-reported number wasn't for one season, as Netflix had committed to 20 episodes spread over two seasons. "Because we did a deal for two seasons, people thought that's what we were getting per season," he said, noting that placed the show at about $63 million per season — a hefty sum, but certainly not the priciest of all time.

The most surprising thing Netflix's The Crown star Claire Foy learned about the Queen

When Claire Foy took on the leading role in Netflix's The Crown, she came to empathize with a young woman suddenly crushed under the weight of enormous responsibilities through a twist of fate. "On a human level, to lose her father when she was so young, and to have two young children, and all of a sudden she has this huge responsibility, the weight of the world on her shoulders. You could say her life was cut short in a way," Foy told the The Telegraph. She added, "I feel a lot of sympathy for her, and the longer I've worked on this the more my admiration for her has grown."

After two seasons as Elizabeth, Foy told Entertainment Weekly what she felt was the biggest fallacy about the Queen. "It's a misconception, I think, that the Queen is in a position of power," she said. "She has no power, she can't express power. She's a woman who is a mother and a wife and is seen as a leader, and she wears it all very lightly, as I think most women do."

The Queen and Prince Philip have strong opinions about Netflix's The Crown

So what do the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh think about Netflix's The Crown? Have they even watched it? Matt Smith recounted a rumor he had heard to The Telegraph, claiming a film industry luminary was chatting with the prince, who asked him, "What do you do? Are you involved in this Crown thing?" He responded, "Philip, I'm just wondering, because I have some friends who made The Crown, have you watched any?" According to what Smith had been told, Philip "stopped and glowered" and replied, "Don't. Be. Ridiculous."

The Queen, however, has reportedly watched The Crown. According to Express, her son, Prince Edward, and his wife, Sophie, encouraged her to check it out. "It has been a longstanding arrangement that they drive to Windsor at the weekend to join the Queen for an informal supper while watching TV or a film," a source explained. "They have a Netflix account and urged her to watch it with them. Happily, she really liked it, although obviously there were some depictions of events that she found too heavily dramatized."

Why Netflix's The Crown star Matt Smith came to see Prince Philip as a "cool cat"

Playing Prince Philip on Netflix's The Crown gave Matt Smith a renewed appreciation for the Duke of Edinburgh. "Rightly, as a society, we've celebrated Elizabeth as a wonderful example of a powerful, stylish, brilliant woman. But in many ways, what an example of a roguish, brilliant man. Why aren't we as men allowed to celebrate that, fictionally or not? And I just found a lot to celebrate in Philip," said Smith in a 2017 interview with The Guardian. Smith also noted, "When you investigate him, he's very bright, he's funny, he's hugely popular in the royal house. All the research I did with people who have worked there, he was the guy they all really loved."

Recalling Philip's rumored unpleasant reaction when asked if he'd watched The Crown, Smith told The Telegraph"Whether it's true or not, I don't know, but I just think he's a bit of a cool cat. And that's what I love about him: he's done what he wants, when he wants, how he wants, with whom he wants. He hasn't asked permission. And his wife's the Queen."

How the salaries of Netflix's The Crown stirred up scandal

Netflix's The Crown became caught up in Hollywood's gender-gap salary controversy when producers confirmed reports Claire Foy was paid less than Matt Smith. Explaining the disparity was due to Smith's Doctor Who fame, producer Suzanne Mackie promised that would change. "Going forward, no one gets paid more than the Queen," insisted Mackie in a report from Variety.

Foy addressed the controversy during a 2018 appearance, reported The Telegraph. "I certainly won't be naïve about those things. It's really opened my eyes about what I am allowed to have an opinion about, and what I'm allowed to stand up for myself about," she said. "And I think that's really changed my approach to myself and other women in this industry. It's been only a positive thing — even though, embarrassing." Smith also weighed in, telling The Hollywood Reporter, "Claire is one of my best friends, and I believe that we should be paid equally and fairly and there should be equality for all."

Tobias Menzies, who took over Smith's role in Season 3, confirmed that things had indeed changed, telling Harper's Bazaar, "My understanding is, that this time round, I'm paid less than [co-star] Olivia [Coleman]."

A whole new cast was recruited for Netflix's The Crown Season 3

Following the critically acclaimed second season of Netflix's The Crown — which saw star Claire Foy win the outstanding lead actress in a drama series award at the 2018 Emmys — series creator Peter Morgan revealed all the major roles would be recast with new actors as the storyline shifted to the mid-1960s through to the late 1970s.

In the role of the now-middle-aged monarch, Morgan cast Olivia Colman (who played a different British queen in The Favourite) as Queen Elizabeth II. Philip would be played by Tobias Menzies (Outlander), while Princess Margaret, a royal who was anything but traditional, would be portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter (who, interestingly enough, portrayed Margaret's mother in The King's Speech). Josh O'Connor and Erin Doherty were cast as Prince Charles and Princess Anne, respectively, who were children in the first two seasons. Ben Daniels took over the role of Lord Snowden from Matthew Goode. 

Other cast additions included Jane Lapotaire as Princess Alice (a.k.a. Philip's mother), Derek Jacobi as the exiled Duke of Windsor, and Geraldine Chaplin as Wallis SImpson. Charles Dance was cast as Lord Mountbatten, while Clancy Brown signed on as LBJ and Emerald Fennell took the part of Camilla Shand — better known these days as Prince Charles' wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, one half of one of the royal family's most scandalous romances.

Helena Bonham Carter hired a psychic to seek Princess Margaret's blessing before playing her in Netflix's The Crown

Before accepting the role of Princess Margaret in Netflix's The Crown, Helena Bonham Carter, who's known for being a part of many of Tim Burton's best and worst movies, decided to seek the blessing of Margaret herself. Given that the princess died in 2002, this required the services of a psychic to contact Margaret in the great beyond.

"She said, apparently, she was glad it was me. My main thing when you play someone who is real, you kind of want their blessing because you have a responsibility," Bonham Carter told The Guardian. "So I asked her: 'Are you OK with me playing you?' and she said: 'You're better than the other actress' ... that they were thinking of."

That quip from beyond the grave convinced Bonham Carter she actually was communicating with Princess Margaret. "That made me think maybe she is here, because that is a classic Margaret thing to say. She was really good at complimenting you and putting you down at the same time," Bonham Carter added. "Then she said: 'Get the smoking right. I smoked in a very particular way ... the cigarette holder was as much a weapon for expression as it was for smoking.'"

Olivia Colman was stressed out about taking over the role of the Queen in Netflix's The Crown

Olivia Colman is undoubtedly a formidable and highly respected actress, yet she admitted she was nervous about joining Netflix's The Crown. "The cast are all amazing," she told the Sunday Post of the show's original actors. "I went in full of fear because you don't want to be the one who screws it up!" 

Admitting she found it "slightly stressful" to join such a critically acclaimed series, Colman also revealed she'd once had a personal encounter with the monarch she would one day portray. "I met her once," she said of the Queen. "It wasn't really a meeting, more a row of people shaking hands and curtsying. I didn't know she was going to be there. We all suddenly ended up in a queue and I couldn't work out why." Coleman continued, "Then I looked around the corner and there's the Queen and Prince Philip. She's got hundreds of people to get through and so you are whooshed through. She has to stand up all of that time as well. I think she had 200 people to say, 'Hello, how do you do?' to."

Tobias Menzies had no interest in the royals before joining Netflix's The Crown

Before being cast, Tobias Menzies admits he wasn't particularly familiar with the royals. "The royal family were not very present ... in our lives. They weren't people I thought about very much," he told WBUR. "I hope my mum doesn't mind me saying, but she would actively not watch the Queen's speech on Christmas Day. So, yeah, I definitely am quite ill qualified for this ... But having worked on the show, and now found out quite a lot about them and thought about them a lot more, I've been impressed with them. And whatever you think of them politically, you can't question the level of duty and commitment to their positions."

Knowing what he now does about Philip, Menzies doesn't believe he's watched Netflix's The Crown. "If I had to bet money, I'd be very surprised if he had," he told The Scotsman. "I don't think Philip would watch it. It's a bit like an actor reading reviews — whether they're good or bad, they are kind of annoying because there's always something that puts you off. I imagine he'd find whatever inaccuracies we've committed to be irritating."

Animals aided the actors in Netflix's The Crown in an unexpected way

Animals played a key role in Netflix's The Crown, but not how one might imagine. In an interview with Savoir Flair, Josh O'Connor, who plays Prince Charles, revealed that movement coach Polly Bennett assigned each of the actors on the show an animal to help them develop the physical attributes of their respective characters. 

"Polly gave me a tortoise to help me figure out Prince Charles," he explained. "It's in the way [a tortoise] retracts its head or has a lowered gaze that helped me the most. Also, he always tucks his hands in his pockets, like he's not sure what to do with them."

For her portrayal of Princess Margaret, Helena Bonham Carter was presented with a very different creature. "I was given a bird of prey," she revealed. "The back of [Princess Margaret's] head is further back than normal, which gives her a wider perspective of the room. She was always very aware of what's going on around her. And if you think about it, attack is the best form of defense, so she was ready to strike when she needed to."

How Netflix's The Crown sparked a revival in a declining dog breed

Netflix's The Crown reportedly helped out a specific group of animals. As royal watchers are well aware, the Queen has an affinity for Corgis, a Welsh dog breed that has been in steep decline for the past number of years. In fact, The Telegraph reported that the U.K.'s Kennel Club placed Corgis on its "At Watch" list of British breeds in 2009. A breed is categorized as "At Watch" when numbers drop to "between 300 and 450 registrations per year."

However, the popularity of Corgis surged since The Crown debuted. "The Crown has certainly been important in the resurgence of the Corgi breed. It has increased interest in the breed," said the Kennel Club's David Robson to The Telegraph. "Following the transmission of the second series searches for the breed puppies on our website went up by 22 percent." Robson continued, "People used to have the impression that while Corgis were in the spotlight, because of the Queen, they could be seen by young people as an older person's dog," noting, "Now that's changed, partly because we are seeing the character of the younger Queen surrounded by them." 

How accurate is Netflix's The Crown?

Because Netflix's The Crown is dramatizing real events involving actual people, there's a temptation to believe that what's being presented onscreen is historically accurate. However, that's not necessarily the case. "There are two sorts of truth. There's historical truth and then there's the larger truth about the past," Robert Lacey, the show's historical consultant, explained to Town and Country

"[Series creator] Peter [Morgan] is very, very insistent, and so am I, that this is not a history documentary. We're not pretending this is a chronological record of those years. There are lots of documentaries that do that sort of thing. This is a drama which picks out particular objects," Lacey insisted, adding, "When history gets departed from, it's not done casually."

"We are creating a work of fiction, albeit based in some reality," added Prince Charles actor Josh O'Connor. "But ultimately, there's only so much research you can do. After a time, you just got to crack on and create something for yourself."

A pivotal scene in Netflix's Season 3 never happened in real life

While Netflix's The Crown has diverged from historical accuracy on numerous occasions, the third season fictionalized a pivotal scene involving Prince Philip's estranged mother, Princess Alice (Jane Lapotaire), who had spent much of her life in a psychiatric institution before becoming a nun and devoting herself to charity work. In The Crown, Alice is interviewed about her complicated life by Guardian journalist John Armstrong, resulting in a newspaper article that softened opinions of the royals in the wake of Armstrong's scathing review of a reviled BBC documentary. 

According to the Sunday Times, however, none of that happened. John Armstrong didn't exist, Alice was never interviewed, and reviews for the documentary were actually pretty good, with the Times noting the Guardian's actual review described the Queen as "a delightful surprise." 

Meanwhile, royal biographer Hugo Vickers insisted that the depiction of Alice in The Crown is completely wrong. "Jane Lapotaire is a good actress and most viewers warm to her portrayal of Princess Alice, but she was nothing like that," Vickers told The Express. "She was almost stone deaf and therefore somewhat remote, quite forthright and rather austere."

What to expect in Season 4 of Netflix's The Crown

The fourth season of Netflix's The Crown is expected to premiere in late 2020, and will see the storyline move to the 1980s, a decade that ushered in a notable new addition to the royal family: Princess Diana

According to The Hollywood Reporter, newcomer Emma Corrin was cast as Diana. "Emma is a brilliant talent who immediately captivated us when she came in for the part of Diana Spencer," said series creator Peter Morgan. "As well as having the innocence and beauty of a young Diana, she also has, in abundance, the range and complexity to portray an extraordinary woman who went from anonymous teenager to becoming the most iconic woman of her generation."

In addition, former X-Files star Gillian Anderson was chosen to portray British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. "I am so excited to be joining the cast and crew of The Crown and to have the opportunity to portray such a complicated and controversial woman," Anderson said in a statement. "Thatcher was undoubtedly formidable but I am relishing exploring beneath the surface and, dare I say, falling in love with the icon who, whether loved or despised, defined an era."