Claire Foy with co-star Matt Smith who plays Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

The Queen of Hearts

12th January 2018

Netflix’s lavish and budget-busting royal drama, The Crown, has garnered rave reviews and legions of devoted fans across the span of its two seasons. But no performance has drawn the eye more than that of new-found national treasure, Claire Foy. Jake Taylor finds out more…

In early 2016, rumours began to circulate of an upcoming Netflix series centred on the life and times of Elizabeth II, created by Peter Morgan, the man who gave the world Helen Mirren’s The Queen, and armed with a record-breaking £100million budget. This new drama, however, promised to show us a side of the Royals that even Mirren’s 2006 career-defining performance couldn’t.

And it would take an actress whose biggest claim to fame at that point was a stint as another, far more unfortunate monarch, Anne Boleyn, in the BBC’s Wolf Hall. Now with two seasons of The Crown – and a recent Golden Globe for Best Actress under her belt – Claire Foy is set for on-screen pastures new after her latest regal offering.
“Sometimes you forget when you’ve been so busy working on a series like I have the past two years what it’s like to be doing all those routine activities and just being home during the day,” the 33-year-old admits. “I was missing simple but very special moments like being able to sit by the fire and have a glass of wine or meeting up with friends. You feel like you have to do a lot of catching up with your life!”

Even as Foy hands over the royal reins to Elizabethan incumbent Olivia Coleman, who will carry The Crown through the third instalment of its planned six-season arc, the Stockport-born star is still filled with admiration for the real-life monarch she portrayed.

“You feel enormous respect for how she handles the responsibility that comes with her job,” Foy nods. “There’s the constant planning and the ceremonies and the shaking of thousands of hands. I admire her so much and I could never have imagined myself in that kind of position. She’s raised four children and also held a very difficult position with all the pressure that comes with that.”

Such humility is typical of Foy’s endearing charm. Few actresses, when given the opportunity to follow stars like Mirren or Kristen Scott Thomas into the pantheon of cinematic females who have portrayed Britain’s current Queen, would shy away from the spotlight. But for Foy, The Crown was, and is, about far more than just Elizabeth’s journey.

“The monarchy, in general, and the family and the show is bigger than one person,” she says. “You wouldn’t be telling the story if you decided to deliberately cut the story of someone’s life out. The amazing thing is that you see a marriage from both sides. You know Elizabeth more than Philip in the first series because he was an outsider. As you get into the second series, you see him and get into what has made him who he is and the women who have made him who he is.

“We see her world and family looked at in an entirely new way that is unique and fascinating and which adds much more to our understanding of her and her family.”
Thankfully for Foy, she was not alone when it came to bringing Peter Morgan’s vision of the Royals to the small screen. And just as the Queen has herself relied heavily on the support of her partner, Prince Philip, throughout her reign, so too did Foy have her own companion in the shape of dashing former Doctor Who, Matt Smith.

“Matt has this amazing thing where, from the back, there’s something about the way he carries his head and his posture, where he actually, genuinely, could be Philip,” she enthuses. “It’s something about his neck and the way he holds it. And then there’s the glare. All that stuff is confidence and a kind of masculinity, which I think for an actor of our generation – and I’m not being funny – is rare. It’s very difficult to find. But he has it.

“I loved shooting all the moments Elizabeth has with Philip. It was so romantic! He was a true Prince Charming. I think they genuinely loved each other and still do after all these years. They’ve been through a lot together but they’re soulmates. Any marriage that lasts so long, and with everything that has been thrown at them, is going to go through some tough times.”

Foy’s critically acclaimed turn in The Crown has sent her name into a host of Hollywood directors’ foremost casting thoughts. But with any show that charges head-on into the challenging realm of portraying real-life individuals in a dramatic setting, there’s always the lingering question of whether the Royals themselves have ever taken the time to cast their eye over Foy et al on the box.

“I would hope that they would be pleased with how we have approached everything in a respectful rather than in a sensationalist way,” she muses. “I think this series presents them as interesting people who are often required to deal with difficult situations in their personal lives and in their public duties. Now when I look at the Royals I compare their lives to mine and see that there are many shared basic human experiences.  They are human beings and not just an institution.

“But the truth is that I’d prefer whether the Queen watched or not to remain a secret. The idea scares me a little!”

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