“I fell in love with Mar­garet

From the wild world of Princess Mar­garet to the pri­vate ten­sions in­side the Queen’s mar­riage, Juliet Rieden goes be­hind the scenes on set to un­cover the se­crets of sea­son two of The Crown.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - NEWS -

It’s a chilly early Sun­day morn­ing on The Mall in the heart of Lon­don. The re­gal red road run­ning from im­pos­ing Ad­mi­ralty Arch at Trafal­gar Square to the heav­enly gilded Winged Vic­tory statue atop the Queen Vic­to­ria Me­mo­rial in front of Buck­ing­ham Palace has been closed off to cars for a few pre­cious hours and trans­formed into a scene from the 1950s. Morn­ing jog­gers are po­litely asked to take a de­tour as vin­tage cars – Tri­umphs and Rovers – are parked up and 22 ex­tras, picked for their retro hair­cuts and 1950s look, pa­rade in pe­riod cos­tume – nipped in waists, long pen­cil skirts; and men in hom­burgs, brogues, grey suits and trench coats. This is the only time the road can be closed, and di­rec­tor Ben Caron is work­ing against the clock.

The Australian Women’s Weekly has been in­vited on set to watch the film­ing of a cru­cial scene for episode seven of sea­son two of The Crown, the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar (the most ex­pen­sive TV series ever made), crit­i­cally ac­claimed, hit show that tells the in­side story of the life of Queen El­iz­a­beth II and that has the whole world glued to Net­flix.

As “ac­tion” calls for si­lence, a mo­tor­bike speeds past with ac­tor Vanessa Kirby in old-fash­ioned hel­met and gog­gles rid­ing pil­lion, her arms wrapped around the waist of her co-star Matthew Goode. I think I see her snug­gle into Matthew’s neck for a sneaky kiss as he grips onto the han­dle­bars. And when the scene is reshot four, five, six times more, I see I’m right.

The breath­tak­ingly el­e­gant

Vanessa Kirby is play­ing the Queen’s trou­bled sis­ter, Princess Mar­garet, who at the end of sea­son one we saw an­gry and bro­ken when her pro­posed mar­riage to the love of

her life, di­vorced Group Cap­tain Peter Townsend, was ve­toed by the Queen in a piece of what Mar­garet per­ceived to be sib­ling treach­ery. In this sea­son, Mar­garet is back in a re­la­tion­ship with an­other less than suit­able beau, so­ci­ety pho­tog­ra­pher Antony Arm­strong-Jones, and their sex, booze and rock and roll ’n’ roll romps, which brought a fris­son of mod­ern glam­our to the stuffy House of Wind­sor, are played out in racy de­tail.

The dar­ing sto­ry­line doesn’t pull punches as we see bored, en­ti­tled Mar­garet trans­formed, fall­ing in lust with the ex­cit­ing, arty and un­con­ven­tional demi-monde that her lover in­hab­its, a world away from her sis­ter’s tweedy courtiers, sep­a­rate bed mar­riage and prayers be­fore lights out.

At least that’s how writer Peter Mor­gan has por­trayed the two sis­ters. Peter is a mas­ter at cre­at­ing what feels like a very ac­cu­rate voice for not just the Queen, but all of the roy­als. Of course, he’s in­hab­ited Her Majesty be­fore, when Dame He­len Mir­ren took on the Monarch in his play The Au­di­ence and film The Queen. And so far, Mor­gan’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion has walked a very del­i­cate line be­tween re­spect­ful and rev­e­la­tory.

In sea­son two he in­ves­ti­gates the pri­vate worlds of the Queen and Princess Mar­garet, he ques­tions Prince Philip’s fidelity, air­ing the dirty laun­dry of past ac­cu­sa­tions of im­pro­pri­ety, while Prince Charles’ dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther and bru­tal time at school is drama­tised in de­tail. It’s go­ing to make de­cid­edly un­com­fort­able view­ing for the royal fam­ily, al­though the beat­ing heart of the show is not sala­cious gos­sip but a study of what it re­ally means on a pri­vate and per­sonal level to bear the bur­den of the monar­chy.

Ear­lier this year, a re­port re­vealed that the Queen had watched series one, but it’s not some­thing that sits com­fort­ably with Peter Mor­gan. “In my own heart of hearts I want to pre­tend that she hasn’t watched and I hope she never does,” the writer told a UK news­pa­per.

As I stand on The Mall, I can see the flag fly­ing high above Buck­ing­ham Palace, which means the Queen – that’s the real one – is in res­i­dence, prob­a­bly just wak­ing up, maybe even watch­ing out of the win­dow. Only a few days ago I was part of the Australian con­tin­gent in­vited onto the fore­court of Buck­ing­ham Palace to watch Her Majesty launch the Gold Coast 2018 Com­mon­wealth Games ba­ton re­lay, and a few days be­fore that at the Women of the World Festival cock­tail bash in­side the Palace. So it’s ironic that to­day I will be watch­ing and meet­ing the ac­tors who play a fic­tion­alised Queen and royal fam­ily.

It must be strange to be drama­tis­ing a real-life story while the Monarch, the star of the show, is to­day at least, just a few hun­dreds me­tres away. “Oh God, yeah,” says Vanessa Kirby when we sit down to chat later in the day. “In the first week I kept think­ing about it.

“As Mar­garet, I was tak­ing on some­body who is known, and it’s weird be­cause I don’t re­ally look like her. But then you just throw it all out of the win­dow and go, ac­tu­ally, it’s about the spirit or the essence of the per­son. I have got to be true to Peter’s ver­sion of Mar­garet and try to cre­ate some­body four di­men­sional, who has lots of lay­ers and com­plex­ity.”

Vanessa says she’s hav­ing a ball play­ing the play­girl Princess. As a 29-year-old, she didn’t grow up with a sense of Mar­garet’s past, so it’s been as much a his­tory les­son as it has been an act­ing role. “I re­ally didn’t know any­thing about her.

I had seen pic­tures and I thought of her as an old lady. I had heard a lit­tle bit about some drink­ing habits but that was all.

“I tried to read ev­ery­thing I could to find out who she was and how she ended up like that. I re­ally loved tak­ing on the jour­ney of some­body who was all set for one thing, and then your fa­ther dies and your life com­pletely changes, and how that af­fects ev­ery­thing, even down to the per­son you want to marry and have chil­dren with. Also, how it af­fects your in­ner self and de­fines you as a hu­man. And I fell in love with her.”

When we first see Mar­garet in sea­son two she is still dis­traught over her lost love, but then ev­ery­thing changes. “She’s not in a good place and then un­ex­pect­edly this man walks in and there is an in­stant elec­tric­ity that she has never felt be­fore and then may­hem en­sues,” ex­plains Vanessa with a wicked chor­tle. “I think they found their match in the en­ergy and the power both of them had. Mar­garet needed some­body to say no to her, ac­tu­ally, and some­body that in­tel­lec­tu­ally matched her. He showed this whole other side of life, un­der­ground bo­hemian

She’s not in a good place, then this man walks in.

Lon­don, jazz clubs, the art scene, the things that were al­ways es­sen­tially her, but she never had ac­cess to in­side th­ese walls. And the first sea­son pretty much showed that. You have got a girl that is des­per­ate to get out but doesn’t know how. Her whole iden­tity is royal princess. So then meet­ing some­body who throws that away is some­thing in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing, al­lur­ing, dangerous. To get on the mo­tor­bike, it’s dan­ger, it’s thrill-seek­ing and I think she goes head first into it.”

Matthew Goode was cast as Antony Arm­strong-Jones just be­fore the death of the real life Lord Snowdon (as he be­came af­ter his mar­riage to Princess Mar­garet). While he con­fesses it feels odd to be play­ing some­one so re­cently de­ceased, it did take the pres­sure off his por­trayal. “It sounds aw­ful, but it did. It’s like, I sup­pose he is not go­ing to see it so that’s okay,” he says.

Vanessa says the se­cret to the show’s suc­cess is the in­ti­mate de­tail re­vealed on screen and the search­ing char­ac­ter anal­y­sis.

“I think they are the last re­main­ing public per­sonas that you don’t have ac­cess to and you don’t re­ally know who they are be­hind the closed doors.”

But how ac­cu­rate is it? Af­ter The Mall shoot, we move to Lan­caster House, which dou­bles for Buck­ing­ham Palace in the show. The his­toric house that Net­flix rents from the cur­rent owner, the UK gov­ern­ment’s For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice, is next door to Clarence House, where Prince Charles and Camilla live, and a stone’s throw from Buck­ing­ham Palace. The crew can only use the place at week­ends and have to cover all the lav­ish car­pets and handrails in plas­tic cling wrap and sty­ro­foam to en­sure noth­ing is dam­aged.

Ma­jor David Rankin-Hunt used to work for the royal fam­ily and has come out of re­tire­ment to act as Royal Ad­viser on the series. When he was asked by Net­flix, he says he made sure the Palace ap­proved, so it’s rea­son­able to as­sume the royal house­hold isn’t seething about the series.

The Ma­jor is on set most days and ad­vises on ev­ery­thing from pro­to­col to the way peo­ple speak or how they are dressed. “The funny thing is that the crew and the cast have done so much de­tailed re­search, they are punc­til­ious in get­ting it right, which makes my life so much eas­ier. I mean, they re­ally are ex­tremely good at get­ting the de­tail right,” he says.

“There has been very, very lit­tle that isn’t very ac­cu­rate. Ob­vi­ously there is al­ways go­ing to be a lit­tle bit of artis­tic li­cence, that goes with the ter­ri­tory, but I don’t think there have been any oc­ca­sions that I can think of where they were way off the mark.”

As Mar­garet’s love life de­vel­ops in this sea­son, her sis­ter’s hits a few road­blocks and the Duke of Ed­in­burgh’s strug­gle with liv­ing in his wife’s shadow is an­a­lysed in de­tail. “I think that was very dif­fi­cult for him and so it’s been in­ter­est­ing to ex­plore the con­flicts of him,” ex­plains ac­tor Matt Smith, who says he ap­proaches the role firstly by mas­ter­ing his phys­i­cal gait.

“He is quite a rangy guy and he has a par­tic­u­lar gait, he dips in and out, it’s a phys­i­cal shape.” Sim­i­larly, Claire Foy says the key to her Queen is the voice ,which she ad­mits “is a lot of work”.

The ca­ma­raderie be­tween the ac­tors, and es­pe­cially Claire and Matt, is very ev­i­dent when I meet them on set. “I just love him,” says Claire. “He is a real friend and we re­ally got on from the start. I think we both don’t take our­selves very se­ri­ously, which re­ally helps. We both ap­proach things with a hu­mour and joy about how sort of ridicu­lous it is that we are play­ing th­ese parts.”

Matt Smith says he didn’t re­ally think about the roy­als as peo­ple be­fore this role came along, but now that’s all changed. “The roy­als are in­grained to your cul­tural sen­si­bil­ity, re­ally. I mean, I was aware of them but I didn’t re­ally pay that much at­ten­tion to them. They were just there. Buck­ing­ham Palace was just there.

But now I drive past it with a re­newed sense of in­ter­est. I sort of know what goes on in there and so I have be­come much more fond of them hav­ing made this show.”

I sus­pect the view­ers will agree with him.

You don’t know who they are be­hind doors.

The 10-episode sea­son two of The Crown is avail­able to stream on Net­flix from De­cem­ber 8.

Claire Foy rev­els in the “joy about how sort of ridicu­lous it is” to be play­ing the part of the Queen.

Vanessa and Matthew play royal rebels Princess Mar­garet and pho­tog­ra­pher beau Antony Arm­strong-Jones.

In sea­son two, the Queen also has to play Mum to the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

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