The first season of The Crown, which aired in 2016, was the most expensive in history. But Season Four’s budget of over $118 million might just take the cake. The creators of the award-winning series purposely choose actors that capture the look and essence of their real royal counterparts. As most of us already know, the cast changes every couple of seasons to keep up with the progressing years. And what might be even more appealing than the actual series and plotline itself is seeing who is going to portray the characters in the royal bunch and how they compare to the real people.
Whether you’re just starting the addictive series or just finished and now find yourself searching the Internet for anything just to keep it alive for that much longer, this will be fun. We take a look at the characters of The Crown to see how they compare to their real-life equals.
Season One and Two: Claire Foy
Seasons Three and Four: Olivia Colman
Seasons Five and Six: Imelda Staunton
The similarities between the original Crown star Claire Foy and Queen Elizabeth II are uncanny, all the way down to her voice, costumes, and physical appearance. Fans fell in love with the actress, which made it a bit upsetting to see that there’s a whole new cast in Season Three.
But once we got used to seeing a new face for the Queen, played by Olivia Colman, we could see that she’s perfect for the role. Colman has brown eyes, unlike the Queen’s blue eyes. Blue contacts and/or CGI were considered for Colman, but they were ultimately nixed. But we can’t get too used to her since Seasons Five and Six will have Imelda Staunton wearing the crown when the timeline will be set in the 1990s.
Seasons One and Two: Matt Smith
Seasons Three and Four: Tobias Menzies
Seasons Five and Six: Jonathan Pryce
Matt Smith earned his first Emmy nomination for the role of Prince Philip, the Queen’s mystifying counterpart in the first two seasons. Seasons Three and Four saw Outlander‘s Tobias Menzies as the older version. You can see how much they resemble each other!
As for Seasons Five and Six, however, the honor will be given to Jonathan Pryce. The Two Popes actor will play the Queen’s husband – the man she called “strength and stay” – in the next two seasons. It’s a good thing he stayed by her side, considering 1992 was the year dubbed “annus horribilis” thanks to all the scandals of the royal family.
Seasons One and Two: Vanessa Kirby
Seasons Three and Four: Helena Bonham Carter
Seasons Five and Six: Lesley Manville
Vanessa Kirby wowed us with her edgy performance as the Queen’s lovelorn sister, who happened to be the more fun-loving and free-spirited royal. Her romance with her father’s aide, Group Captain Peter Townsend, was frowned upon by the family, and as much as we loved watching her antics, we had to say goodbye to Kirby and hello to Helena Bonham Carter in Season Three.
Bonham Carter proved just as good in the role, and just like Olivia Colman, her natural brown eyes are kept in The Crown, despite Princess Margaret’s blue eyes in real-life. It only makes sense since she’s played a royal before, as the Queen Mother in 2010’s Oscar Winner, The King’s Speech. Lesley Manville, however, will take over in Seasons Five and Six.
Season Two: Lyla Barrett-Rye
Seasons Three and Four: Erin Doherty
Lyla Barrett-Rye played the young Princess Anne (the daughter of the Queen and Prince Philip), who grew up to be one of the more philanthropic royals, from age seven through 13. Barrett-Rye was then replaced by actress Erin Doherty, as she got older in the series. You might recognize Doherty from Call the Midwife and the Les Misérables TV show.
Doherty told Netflix that she did tons of research into Princess Anne’s first marriage to Mark Phillips in order to prepare for Season Four. Doherty played the Queen’s second-eldest child and pulled off her indifferent attitude perfectly. Her physical appearance also matches Anne’s pretty closely. Since 1987, Anne has held the title of Princess Royal, given by a monarch to the eldest daughter.
Season Two: Matthew Goode
Seasons Three and Four: Ben Daniels
The dapper photographer who married Princess Margaret in 1960 was played by the handsome Matthew Goode in the second season. In Season Three, Ben Daniels took over. The actor is known for his roles in House of Cards, Fox’s The Exorcist, and the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
The real Antony Armstrong-Jones made history when he became the first commoner in four centuries to marry into the royal family. Margaret and Tony (who became the 1st Earl of Snowdon) raised their two kids while enduring the endless scandals regarding their infidelities (on both sides). Meanwhile, they tried their best to live within the most unconventional of settings.
Season One and Two: Victoria Hamilton
Seasons Three and Four: Marion Bailey
The first two seasons saw Victoria Hamilton as Queen Elizabeth’s mother – a royal woman who certainly shared her opinions regarding her daughter’s actions. During Season Three, Marion Bailey stepped into the Queen Mother role and continued to carry the same judgmental torch.
Bailey was in Allied, starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. Since the Queen Mother lived until 2002, she’s likely to be sticking around in the series. The Queen Mother – a woman Hitler himself called “the most dangerous woman in Europe” – lived to 101 before dying in her sleep, with her eldest daughter by her side.
Season Two: Julian Baring
Season Three and Four: Josh O’Connor
Julian Baring played the young actor behind Season Two’s Prince of Wales. Once he got older, the role went to the endearing and memorable actor Josh O’Connor, who blew fans away with his performance as the lonely prince. O’Connor’s tackles Charles’ romantic relationships, which will finally include the one everyone has been waiting for, with Princess Diana.
O’Connor revealed that he noticed Prince Charles constantly checks his cufflinks and pocket square when he gets out of a car before waving, which is something he incorporated into his scenes. He also mimicked the Prince in the way he speaks through his teeth. While other actors have already been confirmed for the next two seasons, some roles, including that of Prince Charles, are yet to be cemented. Rumors about Seasons Five and Six suggest The Affair‘s Dominic West is taking over the Prince’s role. But only time will tell.
Seasons Three and Four: Emerald Fennell
The actress from Call the Midwife, Emerald Fennell, was cast in the key role of Camilla, Prince Charles’ love interest in the ‘70s-set third season. The actress returns for some more drama in the fourth season, after showing us just how much she looks like the real-life royal figure.
Tension and drama are words that can describe the role of Camilla – a woman who has been described as the third person in Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s marriage. Camilla Shand (later Parker-Bowles) is now the wife of Prince Charles. Fennell was also the lead role in the second season of Killing Eve. Fennell explained why she was so drawn to playing Camilla: “I just think she’s a figure in our culture that I think is really sort of interesting, and we’ve never really heard her story actually.”
Season Four: Emma Corrin
Seasons Five and Six: Elizabeth Debicki
Princess Diana, the “Peoples’ Princess,” finally makes an appearance in Season Four, played by Emma Corrin. The actress truly resembles the teenage Lady Di, who was only 19 when they married. Corrin, 24, got it down pat, with the haircut, the accent, and overall resemblance. She played Esme Winikus in the series Pennyworth, but this is her biggest role to date.
The next two seasons will see The Great Gatsby actress Elizabeth Debicki, 30, as Princess Diana. Her role might be that much more challenging as the period covers Diana and Charles’s tumultuous divorce and the inclusion of the unwanted third wheel, Camilla.
Season One and Two: Ben Miles
A war hero and second-hand man to King George VI, Townsend went from straight arrow to scandalous figure in Britain after he fell in love with Princess Margaret. The English actor Ben Miles played Peter Townsend, who was an officer with the Royal Air Force.
For nearly 10 years, he was also an equerry (or “personal attendant”) for the royal family, serving under King George VI and the Queen Mother. As seen in Season One, Townsend divorced his first wife, proposed to Princess Margaret, and was then sent to serve as an Air Force officer in Brussels. In the second season, Townsend was moved on to marry a young Belgian woman, Marie-Luce Jamagne, with whom he has a daughter.
Season Four: Gillian Anderson
Margaret Thatcher isn’t a royal, but her role is an impactful one on The Crown in Season Four. The Prime Minister (who held the office from 1979 to 1990) goes head-to-head with Queen Elizabeth, so it’s a good thing Gillian Anderson was ready for the task. Anderson, 52, is known to us all as The X-Files alumni who used to play Agent Scully on the ‘90s TV show.
She completely transformed into the woman Europe dubbed the “Iron Lady.” Her heavy voice and look, including her famous bouffant hairstyle, was done to a tee. In real life, Thatcher earned her nickname for demonstrating her strong stance toward the world.
Season One: Jared Harris
Jared Harris captivated us in the first season as the King. Harris is best known for playing Lane Pryce on Mad Men and the lead role in the series Chernobyl. George VI’s reign began in 1936 when his brother Edward VIII abdicated the throne and married the American socialite Wallis Simpson.
The King famously had a stammer and a fear of public speaking, which was, of course, portrayed in the film The King’s Speech. In 1952, after the stresses of World War I and a battle with lung cancer, the king died in his sleep at the age of 56. Queen Elizabeth was on her royal tour of Australia and Kenya when she heard the news.
Seasons One and Two: John Lithgow
It seemed like an interesting choice to cast an American comedic actor to play Britain’s most memorable Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. But John Lithgow was so captivating in his performance of the British bulldog that we all forgot that minor fact.
Lithgow’s rendition of Churchill, the first prime minister under the rule of Queen Elizabeth II’s monarchy, was so perfect that it earned him a Golden Globe nomination in 2017. From his bow-tie collection to the way he carried himself during conversations with the Queen, Lithgow embodied the man who resigned in 1955, after suffering a stroke in his second term.
Seasons One and Two: Alex Jennings
This interesting role wasn’t Alex Jennings’ first time channeling the royal family. The English actor played Prince Charles in 2006’s The Queen, a film starring Dame Helen Mirren as the Queen. On The Crown, Jennings is excellent as David, the Duke of Windsor, who abdicated to marry his controversial lover. We all know that the British royal family doesn’t take kindly to twice-divorced American socialites.
The risky and scandalous move was worth it because The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were a union for 35 years, until his death in 1972. The couple was in exile in France, where they spent the rest of their lives.
Seasons One and Two: Lia Williams
“I thought [King Edward VIII] was ahead of his time. I thought he had pep. I thought he wanted to establish things that the world was not ready for,” the real-life Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, told the BBC in a 1970 interview.
32 years prior, her relationship with King Edward VIII changed the royal family forever. Together, they lived a life of leisure, hanging out with their many pugs and hosting dinner parties all over the world. Wallis died in 1986, about 14 years after the Duke of Windsor’s death.
The Crown was diligent in portraying their life of luxury, and the group of pugs was a major part of that. Disraeli, Davey Crockett, Black Diamond, Imp, Ginseng, and Trooper were among the furry grumble.
Season One and Two: Greg Wise
Seasons Three and Four: Charles Dance
Charles Dance, 74, who showed up in Season Three, is best known for playing Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones. Lord Mountbatten was played by Greg Wise, 54, in the first seasons. Wise played Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, which explains why he looks familiar. As we learned, Lord Mountbatten had a huge influence on both Prince Philip (he was his Uncle “Dickie”) and Prince Charles.
The tragic death of Lord Mountbatten in Season Four was one example of how The Crown stays true to real-life events. Lord Mountbatten was assassinated in 1979 by a bomb that was planted on board his fishing boat in Ireland.
Seasons One and Two: Jeremy Northam
Jeremy Northam has been in the movies Gosford Park, Amistad, and Emma, as well as the TV show The Tudors. Here, he played Prime Minister Anthony Eden, Winston Churchill’s foreign secretary turned successor. Northam nailed every detail of the character, from his facial hair to how he knew little to nothing about the Suez Crisis.
Eden wasn’t even prime minister for two years before resigning thanks to health concerns, as well as the fact that he was widely suspected of misleading the House of Commons over collusion with France and Israel. Eden is ranked among the least successful prime ministers of Britain in the 20th century.
Season Two: Alice Hewkin
On Season Two of The Crown, Alice Hewkin played Jacqui Chan, the actress, and dancer who went arm in arm with photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones for years. According to Anne de Courcy, Tony’s biographer, Jacqui was “Tony’s first real love.” She was even invited to the royal wedding.
In the scene “Matrimonium” in Episode Seven, Jacqui is getting ready for the wedding and staring at an old photograph of her and Tony. It is both chilling and emotional. Chan was born in Port of Spain, in Trinidad and Tobago. She moved to London when she was 16 and studied ballet at the Elmhurst Ballet School.
Season Two: Leonie Benesch
The German actress played Prince Philip’s older sister, who we learned is Princess Cecilie of Greece and Denmark. In the ninth episode of the second season, titled “Paterfamilias,” Cecilie, and her husband, along with their two sons and her mother-in-law, were tragically killed in a plane crash in 1937.
They set off from Germany to attend a family wedding in London. Sadly, Cecilie was eight months pregnant with her fourth child at the time of the crash in 1937. The plane crashed in flames after hitting a factory chimney in Belgium. A Belgian investigation concluded that she had actually given birth mid-flight. Thus, a landing attempt was made in bad weather.
Seasons One and Two: Lizzy McInnery
Margaret MacDonald, who went by the nickname Bobo, played a very important role in Queen Elizabeth II’s life up until she died in 1993. Her relationship with the Queen began when she was a nursemaid to baby Elizabeth. The two shared a bedroom until the future Queen was 11 years old.
Bobo and Elizabeth are such close friends that some say “bobo” was Queen Elizabeth’s first word. As the Queen grew up, Bobo became her dresser. In Bobo’s later years, when she no longer had any royal duties, she stayed in Buckingham Palace as simply the Queen’s personal friend.
Season Two: Paul Sparks
Paul Sparks plays the role of Billy Graham, the American evangelist who cited sermons that were widely broadcast on TV and radio in Britain. Eventually, his sermons caught the attention of Queen Elizabeth II. Sparks is a familiar face to those who watched HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. He played gangster Mickey Doyle in the series.
In 1997, Graham wrote in his memoirs that “No one in Britain has been more cordial toward us than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Almost every occasion I have been with her has been in a warm, informal setting, such as a luncheon or dinner, either alone or with a few family members or other close friends.”
We have seen how important and well done the casting of the series is, but what about the accuracy of the events depicted in the series? According to The Crown’s historical consultant, Robert Lacey, “There are two sorts of truth. There’s historical truth, and then there’s the larger truth about the past.”
The series is in some way a history lesson for many Americans who didn’t grow up learning about the Royal Family through the headlines. We didn’t necessarily know about the Aberfan mining disaster, where 116 children and 28 adults died, or of Princess Alice, Prince Philip’s mother, the chain-smoking Greek nun. In this way, the series has taught many of its viewers not only about the royal family but also about life and politics in the UK.
Showrunner Peter Morgan isn’t making a documentary, though. The Crown is, after all, a drama, even if it’s rooted in history. Morgan plays with timelines, creates characters, and even invents scenarios that couldn’t have taken place in real life. The show’s most iconic scenes usually highlight the pieces of history that weren’t documented.
As Lacey describes them, they are “all the lives and loves and experiences and tears and smiles.” We should remember that those moments are not really accurate since no one has access to the royal family’s most intimate moments and conversations. At the end of the day, we should know that the purpose of the incredibly addictive series isn’t to educate but to entertain.
Morgan starts with history and then creates something to go with it. For example, Princess Alice (Philip’s mother) never gave an interview to a journalist named John Armstrong of The Guardian. What that scene did, though, was allow the writers to delve further into her story, rather than give a historically accurate – perhaps less thrilling – chronology.
The show also made it seem like Princess Anne’s fling with Andrew Parker Bowles happened at the same time as Prince Charles’s courtship of Camilla. But in real life, according to Charles’s biographer Sally Bedell Smith, those two relationships didn’t overlap. A royal quadrangle, however, makes for good TV. It also helps portray Morgan’s perspective on the royals.
Speaking of perspectives, Season Four is clearly sympathetic to Prince Charles and his position in the royal family. The Crown is also pretty critical of the Queen, going so far as to suggest that she faked her grief when visiting the tragic site of Aberfan. Morgan is painting his own version of history, picking and choosing moments to highlight his point of view.
This also means that the events he chooses to leave out are just as telling as what he includes. For example, Princess Anne married her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips, in 1973, which fits neatly in the timeline of Season Three. In 1974, there was a near kidnapping of the Queen’s only daughter, which is one of the most dramatic royal events ever. Yet, neither events appeared on the screen.
According to Lacey, there just wasn’t enough time to include the attack on Princess Anne. “You give one whole episode to the tragedy of Aberfan, and the last two episodes are allotted to Charles and Camilla. There’s one episode allotted to Lord Mountbatten’s coup,” he said.
The series also ignores another major event: Bloody Sunday. The 1972 incident in Derry, Northern Ireland, where British soldiers shot Catholic protestors (14 people died), wasn’t included in the series. The series skips over Britain’s Cultural Revolution of the period. For instance, neither Beatlemania nor the Rolling Stones were ever mentioned. Not even the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” was given a nod.
In a behind-the-scenes look at the series, Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter, Erin Doherty, Josh O’Connor, and Charles Dance spoke with People about what it was like to shoot Season Four. “For us, it was really exciting to see Emma [Corrin] come in, and Gillian [Anderson],” Bonham Carter said.
Anderson, for one, couldn’t tell anyone that she was cast as Margaret Thatcher. Still, she had a blast playing the prime minister and showing her complex relationship with Queen Elizabeth. “We’re two characters, and the friction and the rhythm is so enjoyable to play,” Colman said of their dynamic. “It was just really fun to have those ‘horrible moments’ with brilliant Gillian.”
The fourth season saw one particularly memorable moment when they all gathered for a scene during which the royal family plays a game with Thatcher. According to Doherty, it “was so much fun” to let her hair down for a moment. “Just the tension that lies even in the idea on the page is so fantastic,” Anderson said.
Season Four was bittersweet for the cast as they had to bid farewell to each other and hand off their roles to their successors. “Having lived with her for two years, I felt tremendous sadness saying goodbye to her because she’s been great company,” Bonham Carter said of her role. “You spend so much time in these people’s shoes that actually you do tend to take on their traits,” Doherty, 28, revealed.
Everyone wants to know if the real Queen of England watches the show. According to Oprah Magazine, she most definitely does. Although the royal lady has never opened up about it publicly, we do know that she saw the first season. She reportedly enjoyed all 10 episodes, at least according to the Sunday Express.
A senior royal source said in 2017 that her son, Prince Edward, and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex, “love The Crown.” The two have been said to drive to Windsor on the weekends to join the Queen for dinner and watch TV or a film. Edward and Sophie urged the Queen to watch The Crown with them.
Apparently, Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t as big of a fan of the show’s second season. The Queen objected to how Prince Philip (Matt Smith) was portrayed. According to a senior source, she was upset by the way Prince Philip was depicted as an insensitive father. “She was particularly annoyed at a scene in which Philip has no sympathy for a plainly upset Charles while he is flying him home from Scotland.”
Let it be known that “That simply did not happen.” It goes to show that just because the monarch watches the show doesn’t mean she gives it her stamp of approval. Her communication secretary, Donal McCabe, sent a statement to The Guardian about the royal family’s views on The Crown, which were quoted as being a “fictionalized interpretation of historical events.”