The Crown’s creator and writer Peter Morgan defended the decision to take the award-winning drama to Netflix, rather than a UK broadcaster, at an RTS pre-Christmas event held in the House of Commons.
“We went to the BBC and ITV, and we desperately tried to create a partnership between the BBC and Netflix. But it just didn’t work out,” he said. “My conscience is completely clear.”
The writer added that the US streaming giant has shown “extraordinary confidence and trust – they really do not interfere whatsoever” in the making of The Crown. “It’s a completely different medium and the fact that I felt we were on the cutting edge of something,” he continued, “made me feel less that I was doing heritage telly.”
Philippa Lowthorpe, who has directed two episodes of series 2, added: “The creativity in shows like The Crown can only add to the general level of creativity in this country. People come [here] to make imaginative, amazing drama. It’s an amazingly exciting time for our industry.”
The RTS event was hosted by Damian Collins, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and Baroness Bonham-Carter, Lib Dem culture spokesperson in the Lords and a former TV producer, who discussed the show with Morgan, executive producer Suzanne Mackie and Lowthorpe.
Netflix released the second season of The Crown, which is made by UK indie Left Bank Pictures, in early December. Again blending private royal lives with public events, it begins with the Suez crisis of 1956 and ends with the Profumo affair in 1963.
The series also wrestles with Prince Philip’s rumoured infidelities, but the writer said: “I don’t think anything we’re saying is controversial. The marriage is clearly a triumph – they’ve been married for 70 years.”
In total, Peter Morgan is planning a six-season, 60-part series covering the life of Elizabeth II, but admitted that he doesn’t yet know where the story will end. He is unlikely to bring it up to date: “You do not want the drama to feel journalistic. I’ve always felt that you need at least a decade, because without separation of time and distance there’s no room for the metaphor. It’s just the reporting of something on one level.”
The full house at the RTS event was treated to a screening of episode 5 of series 2, “Marionettes”, directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, in which the Queen learns to adapt in order to thrive in a less deferential age. The Queen Mother, of course, is appalled that the “divine right” of kings is no longer recognised.
Morgan explained that it would be “irresponsible to not include” major events such as the death of JFK and the Profumo affair, but that there were also less well-known incidents which merited inclusion. In “Marionettes”, the now largely forgotten liberal Tory and journalist Lord Altrincham suggests reforms and innovations – including the Queen’s first televised Christmas Day message – that helped to modernise the monarchy.
Executive producer Suzanne Mackie added: “We knew that somehow [the story] represented a shift in the prevailing attitudes towards the Queen and the monarchy at that time. It was a brilliant way to say, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’.’”
Nit-pickers have obsessively fact-checked The Crown and the writer admitted that, on a strict historical basis, “of course, I get it wrong” sometimes. “But my view is that an audience is so sensitive and has such fine instincts that, if an audience rejects it, then it’s probably wrong. Even if you don’t know the facts, you can smell when something is bogus.
“We do our very, very best to get it right, but sometimes I have to conflate [incidents],” he continued. “You sometimes have to forsake accuracy, but you must never forsake truth.”
Peter Morgan is currently working on series three and four, which will feature a totally new cast, including Olivia Colman replacing Claire Foy as the Queen. He argued that trying to age the current actors “would be ridiculous – they’d start looking silly with chalk in their hair and prosthetics”.
“We’re going to cast the best people available as if we were doing it from scratch, rather than thinking we need someone to look like the previous incarnation.”
The RTS event, “The Crown”, was held at the House of Commons on 20 December and produced by Sue Robertson and Martin Stott.