The Crown has established itself as one of television’s most ambitious productions over the course of its first three seasons. The series, which begins in the early days of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, takes on the difficult job of recreating a narrative of history through the eyes of the British monarchy. Peter Morgan and both generations of cast members who have depicted “The Firm” have received critical praise, building on his earlier royal plays, The Queen (2006) and The Audience (2013). Despite being no stranger to historical scrutiny, the Netflix drama aimed even higher in its fourth season with the inclusion of two of the United Kingdom’s most adored and contentious public personalities, Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, respectively (Gillian Anderson). The Crown did not miss the target, as shown by its shattering of its own viewership records and a staggering 24 Emmy nominations. Morgan discussed the show’s “magic ingredient” and the complex familial dynamics at play in its current season in a recent interview with THR.
Season four begins with the debut of the future Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher, which has been much awaited. When creating and casting these characters, what factors did you consider?
It’s a bit of a high-wire act to create intriguing, complicated characters like Thatcher and Diana Spencer. People, particularly in the United Kingdom, have extremely strong feelings towards them. And I’d never be able to please everyone. That didn’t make it any less thrilling, however.
You and the actors have both mentioned how much study goes into creating The Crown. What’s the best way to achieve the appropriate mix between historical truth and artistic licence?
There are a dozen brilliant researchers, script editors, and historians — headed by two women, Annie Sulzberger and Oona O’Beirn — who are solely responsible for allowing me to perform my work and keeping the writing portion of the programme together. They are the research and script teams who push and encourage me. They keep me on my toes by keeping me on my toes. They keep me in check. They force me to be truthful. They owe me everything.
Were there any historical events that had to be removed from the planned chronology since Season 4 covers nearly a decade’s worth of history in only ten episodes?
Working out what to leave out and what to include is the portion of the writing process that takes the longest for me. That, I believe, is the secret element that distinguishes The Crown. Before we begin writing any season, we spend at least nine months planning and outlining. So many diamonds go into a black hole when history, especially recent history, is so simplistic. No one would applaud us if we churned out the decade’s “best hits.” We must go deep to unearth the unexpected, such as palace break-ins, and juxtapose them with famous events such as moon landings, marriages, elections, and assassinations.
This season, unlike the previous three, Margaret Thatcher is the sole prime minister. What new difficulties or possibilities arose as a result of the change?
It was really a joy to be able to provide Mrs. T. with the time and space she so well deserves. With such distinct speech patterns and an obvious point of view, she has such a strong and unique taste. In addition, there’s an identifiable silhouette. She appeared to have added significance to our performance since she is such a close contemporary of the queen herself.
This season has a variety of perplexing scenes, ranging from the royal tour of Australia to the huge crowds Princess Diana draws on her visit to New York. Is there a moment that stands out as especially memorable or challenging to film?
I’d have to say the moment that director Julian Jarrold filmed to begin the “Commonwealth” episode — in which we see people in all of the Commonwealth nations listening to Princess Elizabeth [Claire Foy] of South Africa give a radio address — is one of the most amazing sequences of all four seasons. And I’m still baffled as to how our production crew managed to pull it off.
Prince Charles moved from being one of the family’s most empathetic members to one of its “most punchable” members as a result of his bad relationship with Diana. How did his background in Season 3 prepare him for his fourth-season adventure?
The play shows a lot of compassion for Prince Charles’ situation as a kid, a university student, an heir, and a spouse. Not just for him, but also for Diana Parker-Bowles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. Their situation seemed like a Rubik’s Cube that wouldn’t fit together in a manner that made any of them happy. It was all of their fault and none of their fault at the same time. However, that is very true in reality. Their disadvantage was that their private sorrows were broadcast to the world — the most beautiful and dismal fairy tale of the twentieth century.
This season, there’s a lot of emphasis on motherhood, with Margaret Thatcher, the queen, and Princess Diana all struggling with their parental responsibilities. What does this have to do with the show’s overall themes?
In the end, the show is about family. The challenges of managing a family, living within a family, and balancing parenting and leadership duties.
How much attention have you paid to current events surrounding the royal family since you started working on The Crown?
I attempt to keep my attention on the past rather than the present. I prefer to make sure that the events I’m writing about are at least a generation apart from what’s going on in the world.
Season 5 will be the second time that The Crown will have an entirely new cast, with Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II heading a new group. What did you learn from the most recent recasting, and how do you keep up with a new generation of actors?
It’s both the most difficult and the most gratifying aspect of the job. It once again demonstrates the tremendous breadth of performing skills in the United Kingdom. Our great casting director, Robert Sterne, managed to locate at least six world-class artists for each role who could perform it in such a variety of ways. I simply sat there dumbfounded and forever thankful as I watched.