EXCLUSIVE: The Crown’s Jonathan Pryce, who portrays Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in the show’s upcoming fifth season, has told Deadline he’s “bitterly disappointed” by those he termed “my fellow artists,” for publicly criticizing the drama and demanding it carry a disclaimer.
Pryce was referring to comments made by Judi Dench in The Times where she called the series “cruelly unfair to the individuals and damaging to the institution they represent.”
The grand Dame, no stranger to portraying royals, having won an Oscar for her portrait of Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Loveand a BAFTA for starring as Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown, asked that a disclaimer be played at the start of each episode stating that The Crown is a “fictionalized drama.”
Netflix subsequently added a disclaimer to the series description for the latest trailer but stopped short of adding the message to the trailer itself.
Oscar nominee Pryce argued that “the vast majority of people know it’s a drama. They’ve been watching it for four seasons.”
In a view shared by cast colleagues Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville, who respectively play Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret in Season 5, Pryce noted that the public outbursts attacking The Crown “came about because of an enhanced sensitivity because of the passing of the Queen.”
Manville agreed and said that the ongoing hostility towards the Netflix and Left Bank series was “certainly heightened” by the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8.
Manville told Deadline, “There is, and for my part as well, a great deal of compassion towards the Queen, and depths of feeling that she is no longer with us. That has certainly heightened it all.”
One important factor, Manville added, was the need to keep reminding viewers “that it’s a drama.”
Other prominent critics of Season 5 have included John Major, who was the UK Prime Minister ordered by Queen Elizabeth II to help broker Prince Charles’ and Princess Diana’s divorce in the mid-1990s.
Major took issue with a Season 5 storyline which suggests that Charles, played by Dominic West, had a private audience with Major where the idea that Queen Elizabeth II should abdicate was floated by her son.
Major thundered that no such conversation took place.
Many at Netflix were surprised at the interventions, not least because those shouting the loudest hadn’t seen advance previews of The Crown, and were relying on reports that were often misleading.
One executive involved with the series whispered aloud the thought that the outbursts from Dench and Major were coordinated by “friends” of King Charles III. If so, we’ll never know.
Pryce, during a Zoom conversation with Deadline, conceded that he understood Major “voicing his disquiet because he was there.” But he added: “I’m hugely disappointed by my fellow artists.”
Staunton went on to say about recent disquiet towards the series: “In a way, it is understandable. It is understandable people still feel a bit… like their nerve endings are still a little bit raw.”
She added, however, “we’re in it… so we don’t think it’s undignified. We think it’s honest and true and respectful. Peter Morgan’s been writing about the Queen since Helen Mirren [was in The Queen]. He obviously adores this family in many ways, and he’ll show both sides of the characters, for good or for worse. He’ll show them and make no judgment, he’ll leave that up to the audience.”
Manville defended the series just as vehemently. Asked if The Crown’s storylines in seasons 5 and 6 (the latter shooting now), which chronicle the deaths of Diana, Margaret and the Queen Mother, are in any way intrusive, she said, “No, I don’t think so.”
Manville stated, “I wouldn’t be involved with something that I felt was crossing the line. I don’t think the series does at all.”
Season 5 is dominated by the tangled dissolution of Charles and Diana’s (portrayed powerfully by Dominic West and Elizabeth Debicki) marriage; with their sons William and Harry caught in the spotlight, too. It also concerns itself with another marriage, albeit one that endured – that of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh.
There’s plenty of tension between them in season 5 with the Duke of Edinburgh being, at times, quite mean to the queen. “No more than anybody else’s husband,” Pryce shot back.
“I don’t think he was mean. I’d have to watch it again. I think what you see is this long relationship where Philip, maybe, has had an image that he is always prepared to move forward, and questioning, and questing,” the former Game Of Thrones actor told us. He added that while Philip clearly loved the queen, perhaps, he “would have liked her to be a bit more changeable, a bit more looking towards the future.”
Pryce was in no doubt though that Philip “has enormous admiration for her. But, as you know, in any long relationship, you’re going to have a quibble about things now and then.”
Staunton, however, felt that the monarch had been comfortable just as she was. “I’m discovering, with the research, how important her faith was to her, that that gave her courage and strength. And, I think it must have given her an ability not to be thrown by whatever was thrown at her; that she could remain constant and to be her own person. Here we were, celebrating, when she died, a woman with her own face; who let her hair go gray, and never had to change with the times and impress anyone: ‘I am just what you need me to be, which is – just here. Just being here. I’m doing my very best.’ That’s what I learned to love about her,” Staunton said.
Equally, Staunton said that we all know that the queen loved the Philip that was “irascible, slightly grumpy, putting his foot in it, all that; with a great sense of humor. She let him be his own person and she had to be her own person because she was the queen. She had a huge responsibility,” she said.
“I know, she wasn’t going to do soul-searching,Staunton said with a note of disdain in her voice.
The seeds of instances involving Pryce’s portrayal of Prince Philip were planted by Matt Smith when he played him in the first two seasons of The Crown. “His life was completely turned around when his wife did become queen, because not only was his past cut off but his future was cut off, in a way,” Pryce suggested.
That’s what led Peter Morgan, Pryce said, to explore “imagined frustrations that Philip had with his wife and his role within the family; the system, as he called it.”
Pryce told us that “part of the joy of Season 5 is that you see some of those (frustrations) even in his seventies, you see some of those frustrations being voiced.”
Manville said that the “party girl, wilder side” of Princess Margaret, as played by Vanessa Kirby and Helena Bonham-Carter during their stints, was “beginning to calm down” by the time Manville got to play her.
“I suppose I’m playing her at a time where she was a bit lonelier… She’s no longer married, she no longer has a partner. What I gathered from my reading and researching, was that she entered this part of her life and there was a real intention to serve her sister a bit more.”
The series, quite tenderly, depicts that loneliness. “If you put that alongside Vanessa and Helena, it highlights this woman who’s alone and a bit more contemplative; kind of wanting the diary to be a bit fuller than it is,” Manville told us during a separate conversation on Zoom. (Because the actors are shooting Season 6, Netflix didn’t want to risk cast members getting sick from Covid or flu by allowing in-person interviews.)
“We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors with the Royal family and that’s what the series explores,” Manville said. “Yes, there are some events depicted that we all know about, but it’s behind closed doors; what are they thinking, what are they feeling? Peter Morgan can only create and invent,” she added.
“What we’re able to do on The Crown is show what happens when the doors are closed and they’re in their pajamas as it were, metaphorically speaking, and just having a banter with each other. That’s what we can show, which of course, is made up because we don’t know about those intimate conversations so it has to be imagined what might have gone on,” Manville said, amplifying points made by Staunton and Pryce.
Manville stressed that The Crown is not a documentary. “We are not making a documentary because we are dealing with people whose lives are incredibly well documented. It would be boring to do that,” she noted. She also insisted that the show attracts “some of the greatest acting talent” because “we want to do drama… I want to play the character. I want to give my version of Princess Margaret, and the scripts allow me to do that.”
The actress, recipient of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, plus several other garlands celebrating her work on stage and screen, portrays Margaret through season 5, and in the sixth, and final, season. Season 5 streams on Netflix from November 9.
Season 6, to be shown in 2023, will likely stir an uproar because it will feature the deaths of Princess Diana, and those of Margaret and the Queen Mother. The Queen Mother and her daughter Margaret died within a few days of each other early in 2002.