Two distinguished Brits bring their queen to the screen.
When he tackled the subject of the British royals for a series about the young Queen Elizabeth II, Peter Morgan was actually thinking about another insular family.
“The TV show I admire most is The Sopranos,” says Morgan, creator–executive producer of The Crown, debuting November 4 on Netflix. “They are both stories about a family within a specific and unique anthropology. Tony Soprano’s constant battle was, ‘Which family am I most loyal to?’ and for Elizabeth Windsor, it’s, ‘Which Elizabeth am I most loyal to?’”
“And the psychiatrist here,” quips executive producer–director Stephen Daldry, “is the prime minister.”
The Crown stars Claire Foy as the queen and Matt Smith as her husband, Philip Mountbatten, and opens shortly before the death of King George VI (Jared Harris), Elizabeth’s father. He’s preparing Elizabeth for an eventual ascension to the throne, but he’s also hiding his lung cancer. His death from a blood clot in 1952 thrusts her into her reign at 26.
Keeping things historically accurate was important, says Morgan, who has five full-time researchers on staff, but he admits that small, intimate moments — Elizabeth writing an affectionate letter to her father the night he dies — are invented.
“When you haven’t got all the details, you draw the dots based on behavior from other occasions,” he says. “You just have to ask: is it responsible and truthful to suggest something like that might have happened?”
Both Morgan and Daldry are experienced in stories of the royals. Morgan was Oscar-nominated for his 2007 script, The Queen, starring Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II; his recent Broadway play, The Audience, also starring Mirren as the queen, was directed by Daldry.
The play, which is the basis for The Crown, focused on Elizabeth’s meetings with a succession of British prime ministers, but both Morgan and Daldry say The Crown differs in scope and tone from The Audience.
“It’s about an extraordinary family, a family that has dysfunction, but just happens to be a royal family at the center of British history and world history,” says Daldry, who directed three of the 10 episodes in season one (a second season has been ordered).
Nonetheless, Morgan, who was also Oscar-nominated for writing Frost/Nixon, expresses surprise at his involvement in the project.
“I never imagined I’d be writing about Elizabeth again after The Queen,” he says. “I’m both astonished and embarrassed that I’m still writing about these people.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 8, 2016