With its 50m budget, army of experts and Oscar-winning Queen, The Crown is gearing up for another blockbuster season
Watching a days filming for the new season of The Crown, I had the dizzying impression that organising a shoot of Winston Churchills state funeral must have been only marginally less complex than organising Winston Churchills state funeral. On a sunny September day last year there was a cast of 300, many of them in full military costume, and a crew of 250. The congregation was issued with perfect facsimiles of the real order of service used on 30 January 1965. Dozens of people, their functions mysterious, busied themselves in the side aisles: everything was done with hushed precision and respect for instinctively understood hierarchies. Winchester Cathedral was playing St Pauls, and the director of photography, Adriano Goldman, was keeping his eye on its performance via the puffs of water vapour that were helping create what he called Gods light the gleaming shafts lancing down from the clerestory windows.
Over and over again, Olivia Colmans Queen walked down the aisle to her place next to Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) and Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies). For a few moments, but not much more, it seemed odd to see older actors in place of Claire Foy, Vanessa Kirby and Matt Smith, the much beloved principal cast of The Crowns first two seasons. As the Queen settled herself into her pew she took an uncertain, sidelong glance at Harold Wilson, channelled rather than played by the chameleon-like Jason Watkins, who has perfected Wilsons slight stoop of the shoulders and laryngeal voice. The illusion of a tremendously regal, solemn occasion was almost complete, if you overlooked the fact that Bonham Carter and Colman were wearing comfortable slippers rather than polished court shoes between takes.
The British sense of intimacy with the real Queen has largely been built through television ever since her coronation provoked a rush on TVs in 1953. The makers of The Crown, back when they were pitching it in late 2013 and early 2014, assumed it would end up as a BBC co-production. But it was the upstart streaming service Netflix that offered the writer Peter Morgan, director Stephen Daldry and Left Bank Films chief executive Andy Harries creative freedom and a commission for 20 episodes on the spot an act of confidence almost unheard of in the famously dilatory world of TV.