Creator of Netflix's 'The Crown' Explains How Brexit Impacts the Royal Drama

"Brexit was a great box office for her," Peter Morgan says of Queen Elizabeth II.
Alex Bailey/Netflix
'The Crown'

Britain's decision to leave the European Union could change the lens through which viewers watch Netflix's upcoming royal drama The Crown

Brexit has caused people to "interpret what it is to be British and what Britain means and what we expect for our leaders," said series creator Peter Morgan during Netflix's session at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour. He went on to explain that "in a moment like that, it causes people to think about the role of Queen Elizabeth and "it does make you look at someone who has given up their life and accepted the responsibility of their duty in a slightly different way. Brexit was great box office for her. It's been a desperate box office for democracy and for the democratic process." 

The Crown, which debuts Nov. 4 on Netflix, explores the early life of Queen Elizabeth II, starting with her marriage to Philip Mountbatten. The 10-episode series is inspired by Morgan's play, The Audience, but he says that he chose to start the story before Elizabeth became queen so that he could place a focus on how her reign affected her relationships.

"The Windsors have a tradition of sitting for a long time, and she could have quite reasonably expected 20 — maybe 30 — years as a young woman married to a young naval officer and for him to have a career and for them to live somewhat out of the public eye," Morgan explained. "The story of the crown landing in her lap, or on her head, way sooner than she imagined is essentially the central narrative of the first season... We all imagine it's a fairy tale but it's anything but." 

One of the challenges for Morgan and the actors who play Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and Philip (Matt Smith) was to embody not just the version of these people that the public sees, but also who they are behind the scenes. Foy and Smith said the show's research department provided them with extensive materials about their characters. But Foy acknowledged that she had to think of the role as separate from the person, explaining that "immersing myself in Peter Morgan's queen and the real queen are two separate things."

John Lithgow, who plays Winston Churchill, also sought out video and audio of the former Prime Minister and was especially struck by a video of him eating with soldiers during the war where "all you see is his physical behavior." He explained that he approached the role like any other, "there's me and there's the real life character. It's a Venn diagram, an amalgam of the two of us. The entire challenge is, in my own mind, forgetting the real Churchill at a certain point and making viewers forget the real Churchill and making him as authentic as I can."  

The royal family's reaction to the series also weighs over its upcoming premiere. Morgan noted that "they are very, very aware of it," adding that "there's a sense that they're both very nervous and very excited."

He continued: "I think they don't like not having control, but I think they also understand that dealing with this subject matter with some degree of respect and even objective scrutiny is a rare thing. These are people used to slander, cartoon, satire. These are not people who are used to being taken seriously. Whilst that might be a terrifying prospect, it's also the only worthwhile way of looking at our recent history." 

The Crown will use the royal family as a backdrop to the events that shaped the 20th Century, including World War II. But while the first season will not reach present day events or touch on issues like Brexit, Morgan speculated a little about how Queen Elizabeth handled that news. "With her, you've got to filter it now through a European thing but through a Commonwealth thing," he said. "Privately, if she would have voted I bet you she would have voted Brexit. But probably to her eternal agony or to her eternal pleasure, she's never voted in her life." 

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