[Warning: This story contains spoilers from season two of Netflix’s The Crown.]
Season one of Netflix’s royal drama The Crown ended with Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) acting out after her older sister, Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy), refused to let her marry the man she loved because he had been divorced. Season two of the critically acclaimed Netflix drama, which spans the mid-1950s to the mid-’60s, sees Margaret holding on to much of that anger as she tries to find her place in the world and find someone to spend her life with.
Underneath it all is a simmering rage, which star Kirby says was difficult to temper. “All the things that I heard when I first got the part and people that started talking to me about Princess Margaret, was, ‘Oh my God, she was so difficult, she was such a nightmare, she was such a dragon, she was quite cutting and mean and very icy,’” the actress tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I felt really privileged to play her in her young life because people aren’t born like that. I don’t think she was like that at 17 when we meet her in episode one of the first season, so how does somebody become that?”
After season one, Kirby realized that Margaret had a difficult reputation because she was hurt. “It suddenly became clear at the end of it, having played her for those episodes, how wounded this little girl is — such a bright flame, so brilliant, so much potential, so charismatic and vivid — and how somebody becomes hard,” she says. “This season was this amazing opportunity to explore the beginnings of somebody turning into that. I know when Margaret feels things, she feels things at 100 percent, so if she’s angry, she’s so deeply angry. I thought that if somebody’s that angry, that they’re also the most vulnerable and they feel very fragile and probably very young inside. Getting the balance right of the anger and the guardedness and resentment and hostility, with feeling very unsafe and very little inside, was a big thing for me.”
Season two of The Crown illustrates more of how Margaret’s anger manifests itself, even as she meets and eventually marries photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones (played by Matthew Goode of Downton Abbey fame). Here, Kirby talks with THR about season two.
Margaret isn’t alive. How complicated is it to play not only a real person, but a real person in the monarchy?
At the very beginning, before it all started, I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, could we get this just totally wrong?’ Luckily [showrunner] Peter Morgan has done it before in The Queen and The Audience. They’re such public figures and trying to get it right … it’s such an alien life for all of us. When I walked into the sets at the beginning and I looked at these incredible houses and the palaces and the inside of Buckingham Palace that they built at the studios and it felt like I was [walking onto the set of] a sci-fi movie. You’re walking into a natural habitat or an environment that is so strange and so different than anything I’ve experienced. It was very daunting to begin with definitely, but it helped that we were all in the same boat. I was like, ‘If we’re sinking, we’re sinking together.’
Something that becomes very clear while watching season two is that Margaret had a modernizing effect on the royal family. How did she make that happen?
It’s such an interesting psychological inner conflict really, because she was the grandest of all. She was the most royal, the one that demanded the most privileges, spent the most money. So it’s really interesting to see her experiencing that, and then really trying to change it and trying to escape from it and be with what this season actually says, ‘normal people.’ I think what her sister represents is, in her mind, a very old-fashioned establishment, a conservative image and set of values. In season one, remember the conversation with her and her sister saying, ‘The monarchy should shine, it should be alive, it should be modern, it should be relatable,’ and this season, even more, she finds that in Tony. She escapes out the palace walls and goes into such a different environment for her.
I think, in that sense, she feels that [the royal family] should be accessible, that they should be human beings, that the public should know who these humans are, as opposed to the austere, detached, remote feeling that I think an institution can represent. It could be also her way, her natural way of rebelling and her natural way of trying to be distant and trying to be unique and trying to be her own person and find her identity. I think this season, particularly, is very much Margaret attempting to find herself. She’s gone through something traumatic, and it’s about how she puts herself back together and how she tries to find the real her. I don’t know if she does that successfully or not, but I think she has a real try at it.
Do you think she really loves Tony, or she loves what he represents for her?
At the beginning [of the episode in which they meet, director Benjamin Caron and I] had long conversations and I was like, ‘Oh Ben, I just want them to be so in love. I’m so excited for Margaret and I just want her to find this beautiful man and it’s so passionate and brilliant and it’s everything that she’s wanted after Peter.’ He was like, ‘Mmmm.’ Then we slowly, as we worked on it, we were like, ‘This isn’t that.’ It’s not Romeo and Juliet. This is flawed and dangerous and electric and it’s infatuation, but it’s a mixture of lots of things. I always had to remember that this is somebody meeting someone in the middle of an intensely painful period in their life.
Actually, episode seven is much more of these people with pain coming together and how that plays out. I think she needs him. I think she finds a real rebellion in what she’s doing with him. He represents everything her family isn’t and I think what she’s most drawn to, she says in episode four: there’s a contempt in him — for me, for us, for everything we represent. She likes that a lot, because that’s what she’s been looking for and he’s a way out into that. Then obviously, in episode seven as well, she hears the news that Peter’s agreed to re-marry somebody else and I think that is so hard for her. She’s feeling the fact that she’s getting older and she’s this eligible princess that hasn’t married yet, her sister’s had this wedding and children and she’s waited for the person that then she wasn’t allowed to marry. I think there’s a lot grief within it, really.
There’s clearly chemistry between the two of them, especially in the darkroom scene.
We didn’t want to overplay the sexuality or the sensuality. We always wanted the viewer to come in with them and see these two meeting of minds. A huge thing about Tony for Margaret is the fact that he’s the first man that’s made her feel truly uncomfortable and truly like she’s much more of herself, and I think that’s incredibly sexy to her because most of the time she’s absolutely the most dominant one in a room. He’s the first person that’s made her feel like a fish out of water, and Matthew Goode was brilliant at that. We always thought that most of the time Margaret would eat everyone for breakfast, so to speak.
She and Tony have some racy sex. What were the politics like in choosing whether or not to show nudity?
We were totally open to it to begin with. … We didn’t have much screen time to show what they’re actually like together now that they’re together. It was really important that the sequence of them having sex, in whatever capacity, really represented what their relationship was like, and so we wanted to put all the different elements in with the playfulness and that they were matches for each other and the vulnerability with her feeling like, ‘Oh my God, my heart’s on the line and I think you’re amazing and I just want you to love me back as much as I love you,’ as well as the sexuality and sensuality. I read a lot about how matched they were as sexual partners and how intense that was at the beginning. The nudity, we then thought we don’t need to tell that story, in a way, and that maybe it would be better represented in me throwing my shoes at him in the face or him grabbing me or me slapping him and it became more about that. But we did have nipple covers. They were on high alert. They were on standby.
The Crown season two is now streaming on Netflix.