How 'The Crown' and Star Matt Smith Tackle Philip's Alleged Infidelity in Season 2

The actor discusses discord in the royal marriage, Prince Philip's early life and living in the pre-smartphone age.
Courtesy of Netflix

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from season two of Netflix's The Crown.]

If season one of Netflix's The Crown followed Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) as she stepped into the role of monarch, season two is about her husband, Prince Philip (Matt Smith) settling into his role as consort of the royal leader. And while Philip knew when he married that one day that his wife would be queen, he didn’t know that she would ascend to the crown at such a young age.

“He didn't know that he was going to have give up his name and that his kids wouldn't get his name. All the different protocols that come with it weren't laid out, and a lot of it was news to him,” Smith tells The Hollywood Reporter about his character’s mindset in season two of the royal drama. “In that time and that day and age, I defy any man of then to go along with a lot of the things that Philip went along with and be okay about it.”

The second season features Philip expressing more dismay with his lack of power in his family — and how that manifests itself in potential infidelity. “It's more about the intricacies of their marriage,” Smith says. “I guess it depends which position you come in at. I'm sort of on his side, so I don't see him as a [complainer].”

Here, Smith talks with THR about his character’s struggle for power, addressing royal marriage problems and Philip’s young life. 

How much did you know about the inner workings of Elizabeth and Philip’s marriage?

Not as much as you know now. That's one of the great virtues of the show, really, is that it acts in part as a sort of history lesson as well. I feel like I know the family in much greater depth now and much greater detail. I understand them emotionally far more than I did. I suppose I have a greater appreciation of them.

What did you know about Philip, specifically? He seems like more of a mysterious figure.

I think he is to a lot of people, especially in America. In England it's slightly different, as we've grown up with him and he's somewhat more present in our lives, I suppose. One of the really interesting things that I've found about Philip is he is a bit of an enigma. We think we know him, but actually we really don't. I think he's got much richer tones emotionally than people give him credit for. There's a lot of misconceptions about him. The more I came to understand about him, the more I researched him, the fonder of him I grew, absolutely.

The show never confirms that Philip cheated, but it's hinted at very strongly. What can you say about portraying that aspect of their relationship?

If you look anywhere on the internet and you Google the things that we explore in this particular season, you'll see that they're easy to find. Drama [can help] shine a light on the rumors that we know to be out there, and this show explores the difficulties that they face in their marriage. I think that was certainly one of the difficult things that they went through. It's your duty as an actor to sort of make a choice about that, and then you let the audience make a choice about it afterward.

One thing about watching Philip this season is realizing that he would have totally been screwed in an age of smartphones and today's technology.

I think everyone's screwed in the age of smartphones and today's technology. What the royal family has done very cleverly is that they've managed to endure and retain a sense of celebrity that is missing among modern people nowadays because there's this propensity to over-communicate as a celebrity almost all the time. However many followers you have on Twitter or on Instagram, you just constantly upload yourself. I don't think Philip would have got involved because I just don't think he's that sort of person. But who knows what would have happened in terms of things that were then rumors? Because people do that awful thing where they film other people and then they sell it and then they make money out of them. I'm sure someone would have tried to have done that to him. The truth is, I'm sure someone did.

Peter Morgan maintains that Princess Margaret got hounded by the paparazzi more than Princess Diana. Which is remarkable when you think to the extent — I mean, they killed her. The paparazzi killed her. They chased her. In his day it was just as bad but it was a different time — but, frankly, a happier time. It's an awful culture nowadays when we film and then we sell people out for what, for some money? I don't know, it's a brutal, horrible world in that instance. 

Do you think that maybe Philip would have been happier if he just could have had a modest boat to captain?

It's kind of a Sliding Doors situation, isn't it? Who knows? I think there's probably a version of his life that, and for her as well, I think she may have been happier going and living in the country and having horses and just having a nice life as a member of the royal family. But instead, when you are the head of the royal family, it's a very different position and it's not easy.

What is it like to tackle such a sensitive area in this couple's history while they're both still alive and, not only that, but still married 70 years later?

You raise a very pertinent point. They're still married. Whatever they went through, they got through. If you look at the pictures. I don't know if you saw the pictures of them on their 70th wedding anniversary in England, but you can see there's still a sense of humor between them. They make each other laugh, and that's really important in any relationship. For whatever stuff they've been through, Philip has been incredibly loyal to the queen and he's been a great servant to her, and a great counselor and a great friend. Like any great marriage that lasts that long, it's going to go through difficult times. Now, I'm not excusing people's behavior one way or the other, but I think that they've gotten through it. Definitely, as an actor, it's tricky playing people when they're alive, but it's your responsibility as an artist to be unflinching about the truth of a situation, and that's what we've tried to do.

There’s an episode toward the end of the season that delves into young Philip's life. What did you know about his past?

A lot of it was news to me. Prince Philip has gone through a great deal of tragedy in his life, and he got through it. He's been very strong, and it wasn't as easy as a lot of people think it was for him. It was a nice episode for me because obviously I got to know quite a lot about this man that I've been studying for a couple of years.

You’ve played an iconic fictional British character on Doctor Who, and now you've played an iconic real-life British figure, Prince Philip. What's next for you?

I have absolutely no idea. But that is the glory of being an actor. We'll see! Hopefully something that feels uncomfortable and surprising for me, which will then feel uncomfortable and surprising for everybody who watches it. Who knows? We'll go from there, really.

The Crown season two is now streaming on Netflix.