"Should I curtsy?" I ask Olivia Colman, as she stands before me, resplendent as Queen Elizabeth II on the set of Netflix royal drama The Crown season four. Does she expect me to? Should I be on bended knee for TV’s current incarnation of HRH? "Do, do!" she laughs, and immediately I obey. In truth, I feel that my curtsy is as much for Olivia the Queen as for Olivia herself – Oscar-winner, national treasure and all-round wonderful human being.
On set, we’re back in 1990, and the cast and crew are filming a Christmas scene at ‘Sandringham’, with Somerleyton Hall in Lowestoft standing in for the royal residence. It’s the last episode of season four – the final farewell before the cast resets for seasons five and six – and we’ve been granted exclusive access to one of the last scenes of the series. Here’s what we discovered...
Caught On Camera
"Everyone’s good at staying in character," says the show’s director, Jessica Hobbs. "I let the camera run for minutes at times because I know there are pieces that we can get and it’s just lovely hearing the conversation.They’re all very good at improvising. We don’t do it often, just in those mass gathering scenes, but I think it’s worth it. It brings things to life even more."
A Family Affair
"Shooting an ensemble cast is probably one of my favourite things to do," explains Jessica. "You get a lot of unexpected magic in there. The audience gets to see these lovely flows of interaction, because the show can be quite intense at times, but has its lovely little spiky moments of humour. With my viewer hat on, I relish just watching them go about their lives and imagining what it would be like to live at that level. So I’m trying to provide some of that fun for the audience."
The Dog Whisperer
As is befitting the royal household, there’s a pack of extremely well-behaved Corgis on set, and Olivia was very taken with the diminutive pooches. In between takes, I ask her which is her favourite. "Betty – she looks like a Furby and has half a tail," she says. "Olivia’s very good with the dogs", explains Jessica. "She loves Betty and Arthur, a black lab. Arthur follows her everywhere when she’s on set – because, of course, she’s got a sausage in her pocket. Olivia has a phenomenal dog whistle, too. She’s just so good with animals."
The attention to detail on the set is astonishing, especially in the living
and drawing rooms. Christmas cards dotted around the set have been written from various relatives, and the stamps on envelopes on a writing desk even have Olivia Colman’s face on them. "It’s the little details that make something like this so special," explains Major David Rankin-Hunt, who advises The Crown on royal protocol, having worked for the royal household for 33 years. "It’s quite satisfying to think all that useless information and that detail has actually been quite useful. That’s what helps the show to be authentic."
A New Arrival
Season four is the first to feature Princess Diana, played by newcomer Emma Corrin. What’s Diana's relationship with the family like? "The family are great, but quite insular, and Diana’s starting to feel slightly fractured," explains Jessica. "They’re less aware than she is of how deep the fracture is, and it’s coming to a head."
Dressed To Impress
Diana's wardrobe is 20% vintage and 80% specially made. Her outfits include an original Valentino dress and 1980s Givenchy suits. "In the Christmas scene, Diana is the only one in black," says Sid Roberts, head buyer and assistant costume designer. "She’s always the antithesis and we highlight that through her clothes."
Sid loves dressing Princess Anne (played by Erin Doherty) too. "I’m a big champion of hers," she says. "I love the outfits. Dressing her is a personal favourite of mine. I love her scarves and her tweed."
All episodes of season 4 of The Crown are available to stream on Netflix on 15 November.
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