An ex­clu­sive be­hind-the-scenes peek at the new block­buster drama about the life of El­iz­a­beth II

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THERE’S high drama ev­ery­where I look. Over there, the Queen is board­ing a BOAC flight. Here’s Win­ston Churchill pre­sid­ing over a cab­i­net meet­ing. And look: the Duke of Ed­in­burgh is wan­der­ing around in his py­ja­mas. In a muddy field, I see per­fect repli­cas of the frontages of Buck­ing­ham Palace and No. 10 Down­ing Street — al­though on closer in­spec­tion, they do look a lit­tle frayed.

Then the Queen swings her hand­bag at a courtier, and lets out a belly laugh.

It’s as if I’ve been sent back in a time ma­chine to view — first hand — the early years of Her Majesty’s reign. But, in re­al­ity, the scenes un­fold­ing be­fore my eyes are part of the film­ing of the first se­ries of The Crown — the most am­bi­tious tele­vi­sion pro­gramme ever made about El­iz­a­beth II, and this au­tumn’s must-see drama.

‘It’s the story of this ex­tra­or­di­nary fam­ily un­der ex­tra­or­di­nary pres­sure try­ing to sur­vive,’ said Stephen Daldry, one of The Crown’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers and di­rec­tors.

All ten hour-long episodes will be streamed, in all Net­flix ter­ri­to­ries, from Novem­ber 4 this year.

View­ers will be able to ob­serve ac­tress Claire Foy’s portrait of El­iz­a­beth from her wed­ding to dash­ing naval officer Philip Mount­bat­ten (played by Matt Smith) in 1947, to the de­ba­cle that was Suez in 1956.

Peo­ple for­get that in the early years of her reign, the Queen looked like a movie star.

‘She was glam­orous and she was beau­ti­ful — but she had this ex­tra­or­di­nary sense of duty as well,’ Daldry added.

His am­bi­tion, and that of his col­lab­o­ra­tors — writer Peter Mor­gan (who worked on the play The Au­di­ence with Daldry and also wrote the film The Queen, both star­ring He­len Mir­ren), Philip Martin (who di­rects four episodes) and pro­duc­ers Andy Har­ries, Matthew Byam-Shaw, An­drew Ea­ton, Faye Ward and Robert Fox — is to shoot ten episodes for each decade of Her Majesty’s 63-year reign.

The sec­ond se­ries, cov­er­ing the Six­ties, starts film­ing next month.

Each show deals with a cri­sis: whether it’s po­lit­i­cal (Suez) or do­mes­tic, such as Princess Mar­garet’s de­sire to marry Group Cap­tain Peter Townsend, her father’s equerry.

ONE con­cerns the place­ment of the Duke and Duchess of Wind­sor at the funeral of King Ge­orge VI. An­other ex­plores the dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences Philip and Charles had at Gor­don­stoun school. ‘Why was it so pow­er­ful for Philip? And so hor­rid for Charles?’ Daldry won­dered.

An­other episode ex­am­ines the ex­plo­sive de­bate around the cab­i­net ta­ble — and in the Com­mons — over whether the Queen’s Coronation should be tele­vised.

Philip Martin di­rected the Coronation episode. He said the ar­gu­ment about the per­ils of ‘let­ting day­light in on the magic’ (as 19th­cen­tury es­say­ist Wal­ter Bage­hot put it), and of ‘whether it was wrong for peo­ple to be able to sit at home and have a cup of tea and watch the Queen be­ing crowned’ — in his words — was fierce.

A high­light is the se­quence con­cern­ing the Act of Con­se­cra­tion.

In 1953, the anoint­ing of the Queen was blacked out, so view­ers never saw it. But Daldry was adamant The Crown should show El­iz­a­beth be­ing daubed on the palms of her hands, her breast and fore­head with spe­cial con­se­crated oils — and the scene with Foy (who played Anne Bo­leyn, in Wolf Hall) is solemn but spec­tac­u­lar.

‘It ex­plains so much about her, and how she sees her du­ties,’ Daldry said, as we walked to one of sev­eral sound-stages be­ing used at El­stree, in Hert­ford­shire, for the show.

He stressed that The Crown is not a his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­tary (al­though he said an in­cred­i­ble amount of re­search had been done).

‘We’re not mak­ing up a lot. But ob­vi­ously it’s not a docu-drama.

‘The Queen has main­tained a mys­tique: the most vis­i­ble, in­vis­i­ble woman in the world.

‘The dra­mas of her fam­ily af­fect our lives, as when Mar­garet wanted to marry “the staff” — and a di­vorced mem­ber of the staff, at that. A lot of what’s in The Crown is in the pub­lic do­main, but it has never been put to­gether like this be­fore.

‘We’re check­ing our­selves to make sure we’re not step­ping over the line.’

And what, ex­actly, would be ‘step­ping over the line’?

‘Get­ting into ar­eas that aren’t war­ranted, or in bad taste,’ Daldry said ‘I wouldn’t be in­ter­ested in see­ing them in in­ti­mate cir­cum­stances.’

I men­tioned that when I was be­ing shown around, a se­nior mem­ber of the crew ex­plained one set was Prince Philip’s pri­vate rooms.

There was a cor­ri­dor lead­ing to an­other bed­room.

‘That’s the tun­nel of love,’ the

per­son said, adding that it lead to the Queen’s pri­vate cham­bers.

Daldry con­firmed ‘the tun­nel of love’, but in­sisted: ‘We’re not por­tray­ing any­thing that hasn’t been said in bi­ogra­phies.

‘You do see Philip in py­ja­mas, and there is a bare royal bot­tom. They were a very pas­sion­ate cou­ple. One doesn’t want to be lurid or in­dis­creet in any way, but you also want to get a sense of how much in love with each other they were.’

Matt smith was even more cir­cum­spect, and said he wasn’t sure if the royal bot­tom would sur­vive edit­ing.

‘I think what will come through is that they are real soul mates,’ said smith, who will also por­tray the Duke of ed­in­burgh in sea­son two.

But, smith told me, his Philip is not the prince of gaffes, as we some­times see him to­day.

‘There’s more to him than that,’ he said. ‘I think he’s quite a com­plex man re­ally. His mother was es­tranged, his sis­ter died in a plane crash and his father was busy in Monaco. Then his ca­reer in the Navy was taken away when el­iz­a­beth’s father died and she be­came Queen.

‘It’s very odd when you start walk­ing two steps be­hind your wife.’

smith said he would not de­scribe him­self as a roy­al­ist (‘I like how bizarre and in­ter­est­ing they are’) but ad­mit­ted that since work­ing on The Crown he has found him­self feel­ing ‘more af­fec­tion­ate to­wards them’.

sev­eral mem­bers of the cast and creative team had sim­i­lar sto­ries of dis­cov­er­ing new lev­els of ad­mi­ra­tion for the Queen and Philip since em­bark­ing on the dra­mas, which were shot here and in south Africa.

ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer An­drew ea­ton said he found him­self cry­ing when watch­ing Foy in the Coronation scenes. ‘I thought: “What do I find that’s so emo­tional?” And I think it’s mostly about this coun­try, and what’s great about it.’

He re­mem­bered watch­ing the Queen the week af­ter the July 7 bomb­ings in Lon­don. ‘she stood un­der the arch­way in Horse guards with her hand­bag, and I got this sense from her of: “This is our coun­try. Don’t f*** with me.”

‘That’s our Queen. she’s al­ways had our back.’

His­toric meet­ing: Claire Foy as the Queen with Prime Min­is­ter Win­sto Churchill (John Lith­gow). Right: The Queen and Prince Philip (Matt Sm

JUDI DENCH has got her man! Ali Fazal joins the Os­car­win­ner in Stephen Frears’s next film, Vic­to­ria And Ab­dul. Fazal, who was in Fu­ri­ous 7, will por­tray Ab­dul Karim, a clerk who trav­els to Eng­land to help with Queen Vic­to­ria’s Golden Ju­bilee and be­comes one of her clos­est con­fi­dants. Dench will play the Queen. The film, based on Shra­bani Basu’s book, was adapted by Lee Hall and de­vel­oped by Bee­ban Kidron. Frears will be­gin film­ing next month.

Pri­vate mo­ment: Foy is anointed at the Coronation, part of the cer­e­mony never seen by the pub­lic. Left: With Jared Har­ris as Ge­orge VI at her wed­ding

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