“It’s the Darth Vader of The Crown.”
That’s how Matt Smith describes season two of the hit Netflix series and he isn’t wrong. As we reacquaint ourselves with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip we are confronted with far darker storylines concerning the monarchy from 1956 to 1963.
Show creator Peter Morgan’s storylines are based in both fact and rumour as the Queen deals with the Suez Crisis, her husband’s alleged extramarital affairs, Princess Margaret’s post-Peter Townsend relationships, and a continually evolving world in which she must keep up with. But possibly one of the most contentious narrative arcs is that which focuses on the Queen’s uncle the Duke of Windsor – played by Alex Jennings – and his relationship with Adolf Hitler.
King Edward – who abdicated the throne to marry the twice-divorced American socialite Wallace Simpson – was well known to be on friendly terms with the Führer and there are many public photos of his visit to Germany in 1937. However, the period drama goes into far more detail about the claims of a sinister relationship between the former British ruler and the Nazi leader, which Claire Foy was intrigued by.
“I thought what was fascinating, what Peter did with the writing with Edward, that he was able to say to her: ‘who is the villain though?'” the actress tells Yahoo Movies. “You know we were given the opportunity as British people, before the war, to be [Hitler’s] ally.
“There was no indication at all, at that point, that he was going to go on to commit the atrocities that he did. Who is the villain there? And I think that’s a really brave and fascinating thing to say – that we all have to take responsibility – and what [Edward] was doing is laying it at the British people, the monarchy and the British government’s door, saying you did have an opportunity to reach out and you didn’t.”
Of course, the actress says King Edward was wrong for his support of Hitler, but enjoyed the opportunity to present a different perspective of the story.
“Ultimately he’s wrong, but why not have that conversation?” Foy says. “I think that’s the most important thing, it’s being able to have that dialogue and that conversation where you’re able to see the whole picture and not just victimise Edward for that reason.”
The question is: if the Windsor Files did exist, and the allegations of collusion between the Duke of Windsor and Hitler were actually true, shouldn’t the Queen have had her uncle arrested for treason?
Foy, who plays Elizabeth, thinks it’s harder to decide than that. “I think the treason aspect of it is much more complicated because he wasn’t living in the country at the time,” she says. “He had sort of been excommunicated and he was an ex-King, so that’s a very tricky thing to decide that someone has committed treason.”
For Matt, this second season of The Crown allowed him to explore the more flawed aspects of Prince Philip’s character. “I think it’s really good that Peter shows the ugly side of these characters,” he tells Yahoo Movies. “We glimpse them as actual human beings and that’s what they are.
“They are fallible, they make mistakes and I think what’s important to remember is that their marriage has endured and they have got through it and they still make each other laugh. Hopefully by the end of the series you see that there is a sort of unison between them that is actually quite strong and romantic.”
“That’s what we both liked,” Claire continues. “I think if [Peter] had done a picture perfect version of these people, who always did the right thing, that’s just not the truth. Nobody does the right thing the majority of the time.
“As much as Philip does things that you think are, or reported to have done things that are unhelpful, at the same time he is an incredibly supportive husband There are scenes where he sits there with Elizabeth and listens and offers advice and admires her.”
Claire adds: “He’s incredibly loyal, and that’s the whole point. He says, “I am here for you and I’ve never gone anyway.” Elizabeth is incredibly emotionally distant, doesn’t talk about anything. It’s the yin and yang of their characters.”
The Crown season two will be available to stream on Netflix from December 8