When the first season of Netflix’s The Crown came out, the cast was already busy filming its second season. But now that season two of the critically acclaimed drama, about the reign of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, is set to premiere — and has won several Golden Globes and Emmys — the pressure is off.
“That was so scary. What if they all hate it, and they’re like, ‘she’s nothing like Margaret’ and I’m stuck being like, ‘I don’t know what else I’m going to do.’ I had such a lovely time on it and I felt so comfortable with these guys and they really were like my family that I tried not to overthink it,” star Vanessa Kirby, who plays a young Princess Margaret, told Rotten Tomatoes at a press event for the new season. “I was more scared on the first season, definitely. I felt more grateful, actually, that I had got to know her better and so I could kind of grow up with her a little bit. It was challenging to age with her throughout the 10 episodes, when obviously we’d started with them so young in the beginning.”
When the show returns, it’s 1956 and Prince Philip (Matt Smith) is off on a five-month trip to the British commonwealth, while Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) is about to deal with the Suez Canal Crisis. But the biggest challenge for the royal couple are the upcoming tests to their marriage.
“The opening scene that we start with is a very different conversation between Elizabeth and Philip. It’s sort of almost like a flash forward,” Smith said. “He’s been sent away for five months and he’s not into it, and then we enter onto that journey [of] the difficulties of their marriage and how they raise their children and his foray into foreign lands. And then into Margaret and the ’60s.”
While The Crown does not necessarily outright say that Philip was unfaithful, it certainly implies that he was tempted to stray. And throughout it all, the series shows how the couple continues to carry on their royal duties and raise their family while dealing with marital stress.
“I think, weirdly, Philip was the modernizer of the first season. But I think this season he clings on to tradition a bit more,” said Smith. “The difficulties of their marriage become really prevalent for him. What Peter [Morgan, creator] does so brilliantly is he makes the trivial seem very interesting. So a decision like where do you send your kids to school, you think it could be just an argument about well they should go to this school, they should go to this school. But Peter manages to unfurl all of this really rich emotional pain in it, and I think things like that just move the relationship forward. They have four children. By the end of it, I think you see he really loves her. Or he’s really desperate not to lose her, anyway.”
After Elizabeth forbid Margaret from marrying her love, a divorced man, season 2 sees the princess struggling not only in her personal life (and in finding someone to spend her life with), but also with the strained relationship with her sister.
“I think in the first season Margaret was really combative with her and then as Margaret looks elsewhere for reassurance and identity and for sense of self…I think she grows with confidence,” Kirby said. “We had this big scene in episode 10 of season 1 which was quite hard to negotiate just because of how bizarre it was for your big sister to say you essentially can’t marry the person that she promised you can, which would be so weird for a human being. But then to play them more grown up and Margaret empowered with suddenly having this [new] partner in crime, at least for the moment, it was a really hard choice to know whether to play it still defensive and still at odds with her sister or whether to be more at peace and open and vulnerable to her.”
Ultimately, while Elizabeth is stuck negotiating the many rules of the monarchy, Margaret will spend season 2 figuring out the intricacies of modern life.
Said Smith, “In many ways, Elizabeth is sort of left behind because…she can’t engage culturally with the world around her in quite the same way that Philip and Margaret do. They go and they live their lives a bit more.”
Season 2 will see the introduction of many important real-world historical figures, including JFK (played by Dexter star Michael C. Hall) and Jackie Kennedy (Jodi Balfour), and Margaret’s eventual husband, Tony Armstrong-Jones (played by The Good Wife‘s Matthew Goode).
“[Margaret’s] story is really interesting this season. She’s the one character that sort of embraces the ’60s. I think the rest of the royal family don’t know quite what to do. The perception of them changed so greatly,” Smith said. “Maggie gets on with it, doesn’t she, with Tony. It’s quite interesting. There’s sex in it. Just sayin’.”
Teased Kirby, “We had a big debate whether to show royal boob or not, and we decided maybe people don’t want to see royal boob, thank God.”
Added Smith, “I think that’s probably a good idea.”
There is a sex scene, Kirby revealed, but there’s no nudity.
“It wasn’t raunchy at all, in the end,” she said. “It was respectful.”
The Crown season 2 will be available to stream on Friday, December 8 on Netflix.