Soon after Prince Charles proposed to Lady Diana Spencer in February 1981, Diana was taken out for a girly lunch by one of Charles’s closest friends.
That woman was Camilla Parker Bowles, an old flame of the prince who Diana was highly suspicious of, and the restaurant she chose was called, rather uncannily given the way events would pan out, Ménage à Trois.
That lunch is just one of the fascinating real-life incidents Peter Morgan has re-created for series four of The Crown, which covers the period from 1979 to 1990 and is dominated by the fairytale royal romance and its subsequent unravelling.
And in a twist you couldn’t make up, it was the scene that, unbeknownst to her, would land unknown actress Emma Corrin the role of her life as Diana.
The cast of The Crown season 4 have revealed how they recreated the romance between Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Pictured: Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles and Emma Corrin as Diana
‘We’d made the decision early on to cast Emerald Fennell as Camilla,’ says Peter. ‘But at the time we were still auditioning other actresses, which I shouldn’t admit because it’s terrible.
‘The scene we used for the audition was that scene from an early episode of this new season, in which Camilla and Diana go to lunch. This really happened, Camilla took Diana to lunch in a restaurant called, of all names, Ménage à Trois, isn’t that weird?
‘So we had the scene in the restaurant all set up for the Camillas to audition, and we needed someone to read the part of Diana, so we asked this young girl in. I remember being in the room, thinking, “That’s Diana!”’
It’s well known that Diana came away from that lunch with her suspicions assuaged. ‘It was brilliant,’ she’s said to have told courtiers. ‘We all understand each other.’
And Josh O’Connor, returning as Prince Charles, thinks that at least in the beginning, Charles and Diana did find considerable happiness together.
‘But I don’t think they would have lasted, even without Camilla,’ he adds. ‘I think Camilla was a symptom rather than a causal thing.
‘There have already been so many narratives about these two, but what Emma and I – and of course Peter – have been interested in is the idea that it can’t be as simple as who was the good one and who was the bad one. More that it was a marriage doomed to failure.’
Not the most conventional of engagements, as Diana (Emma Corrin) is asked to choose from a box of rings proffered by the white-gloved Crown jeweller as the Queen (again played by Olivia Colman) and Charles (Josh O’Connor) look on proudly
Sadly, the problems did eventually arise and one of them was that in Diana, Charles had married someone whose appeal was more potent than his own. This fact was brought home to him when the couple took a trip to Australia two years after their wedding.
The older Charles gets the more gloomy he is
‘This is the guy who’s been waiting in the wings for his moment, and when it happens his moment is dampened,’ says Josh. ‘We had a lot of crowd scenes where you have lots of people cheering for Diana, shouting, “Diana, you’re great,” and just looking straight through Charles.
‘There’s one scene where Diana wasn’t there and the scripted line was, “Where’s Princess Diana?” and Charles says, “She’s working, I’m afraid. You’ll just have to put up with me.”
And at the last moment they added an extra line, which was, “But you’re rubbish!” I thought that was the perfect moment to show how Charles has to deal with the kind of impact Diana has.’
What it came down to, he says, was that both Charles and Diana were all-too-similarly damaged human beings.
HOW I PURR-FECTED MY PRINCESS
Emma Corrin reveals that she drew her inspiration for her portrayal of Diana from a surprising source.
‘I worked a lot with a movement coach called Polly Bennett, who asked me on the first day, “What animal do you think Diana is?” I thought that was really interesting, and the first thing I said was, “She’s like a deer caught in the headlights.”
Emma Corrin admits she drew inspiration for her role as Diana from a cat
And then I thought, “Actually no, there’s so much more to her than someone who’s just overwhelmed.”
‘At the time I’d just got a puppy, and I had this patio at my house where the cats would come and sit on the wall and look at my puppy, trying to work out what it was. They’d sit on the wall and tilt their heads to the side, and I remember watching them and thinking, “Oh my gosh, that’s it – Diana’s like a cat!”
‘Cats have this intense presence to them because they’re so mysterious and quiet and shy and intriguing and enticing. Like you feel they’re there, but you can never really know them at all. I thought that was the essence that Diana had too.’
Corrin said cats have an intense presence, much like Diana had
‘They are two individuals who crave the same thing – a parent figure. They’re isolated, and they have no real family relationships in the way you or I would have a relationship.
‘Every scene I did with Olivia [Colman, who plays the Queen], I was always thinking, “If this was my own mum, I’d probably run to her right now and give her a hug.” That’s totally not appropriate in this circumstance, and that makes them incredibly lonely figures.’
With Charles now in his 30s, worn down by the loss of both Camilla, who had married Andrew Parker Bowles, and his ‘honorary grandfather’, his beloved great-uncle Louis Mountbatten (played by Charles Dance), who is assassinated off the coast of Ireland at the beginning of the new run, Josh is playing a very different character from the idealistic youth of series three.
‘The older he gets the more gloomy he gets. He’s beginning to emulate Prince Philip more and more – no matter how much he resists that, it does manifest itself.
‘He’s also turning into more of a bachelor, which someone told me recently he really is. Even with Camilla he has his life and his structure, and if someone wants to fit in with that, they really have to fit in. Last season we gave a sympathetic account of him, and the feedback I had was that I’d done him some favours. This time might be different…’
Not, he adds quickly, that he finds Charles to be an unsympathetic character. ‘Peter’s writing is so balanced that at no point is there an actual villain.
‘Everything is backed up with a sense of empathy, and I think – I hope – that if the real Prince Charles watches, he will see that we’re giving an account of a lost boy rather than the future King of England.’
He says he has no idea whether Charles really does watch the show. ‘And if I ever met him I don’t know what I’d say to him about it. I feel there’s a very clear difference in my head between the character we’ve created and the real Prince Charles, so as far as I’m concerned, I’ve separated the two.’
Well, mostly. ‘When we were filming at Lancaster House, which is in St James’s, I went into the garden and I was looking up at the windows of Clarence House, where Charles lives, and I saw that the flag was up. Someone said, “You know that means he’s in.”
‘I was spooked out! It would have been awful if he’d seen us – I’d have been terrified!’
Viewers may well be spooked out when they see Emma Corrin’s portrayal of the young Diana in all her blushing virginal charm.
‘I’ve been told I look like her all my life,’ says the actress, 24, who was just a baby when Diana died in 1997. ‘My mum looks like her too, and did even more so when she was younger, to the extent that the day Diana died Mum got on the Tube and people fainted because they thought it was her!
‘I remember after my official audition a friend asked how it went and I said, “You know what? Even if I don’t get the part, that was probably the best hour of my life.”
‘There was a ridiculous moment where Peter said, “I want to put in a scene with her singing from Phantom Of The Opera,” and without thinking I said, “Oh my gosh, I love that musical!” and I ended up doing a karaoke version of All I Ask Of You.
‘When I left the room I thought, “Oh my God, what just happened?” The whole thing was surreal, but when I got the part, well, talk about a fairytale.’
Olivia Colman returns as the Queen, with Josh O’Connor as Charles, in season four of The Crown
In series five, in which Diana will be played by The Night Manager’s Elizabeth Debicki, we’ll see the tragic end to the fairytale. But for much of the fourth season Diana is still young, hopeful, and in love with her prince.
‘We all know what happens at the end,’ says Emma. ‘But we’ve been very much aware of not playing the ending, and it’s been interesting to find the moments of happiness between these two.’
A particularly happy moment is a scene when Diana and Charles dance together. ‘That was a challenge for me because any of my friends will tell you that I’m not good at it,’ laughs Emma.
I take offence at the idea that the Queen’s cold-hearted
‘I have many limbs and they don’t normally do what they’re meant to. But I think for Diana, dance was how she got out all the emotions that she couldn’t articulate. So yes, Josh and I did have a dance together and it was brilliant fun.’
She also got to wear that wedding dress. ‘Trying on the dress for the first time was one of the most insane moments of my life, because the Emanuels had given us the original designs. When I finally wore the dress, it took about ten or 15 people to get me into it.
Diana fixes her gaze on the prince in a scene set in Australia as filming commenced for the latest season of The Crown
‘We were filming at Lancaster House, where there were three rooms divided by oak doors – the crew were setting up the cameras at one end and I was getting dressed at the other, and then we opened the doors and I was there in the dress and… everyone was just silent. There was this huge feeling of respect and of how much it meant for me to be wearing this. It was an incredible moment.’
We also see Diana’s bulimia portrayed unflinchingly, and the episodes that show it begin with a warning to anyone suffering from an eating disorder to seek help.
‘I did a lot of research, and learned to explore feeling either very empty or very full – of love as much as of food,’ says Emma. ‘We realised that a lot of the bulimia Diana experienced was in direct correlation to how her life was going. It became her way of taking control.’
THE REAL MENAGE A TROIS
Ménage à Trois in Knightsbridge, where Camilla and Diana dined together, was the ultimate place for ‘ladies who lunch’ in the early 80s.
It was designed specifically as ‘a restaurant for women’ by its creator Antony Worrall Thompson, and the menu was made up entirely of starters and puddings – spawning the catchphrase ‘no intercourse’.
The lunch between Diana and Camilla in The Crown
‘I’d taken a lot of women out to dinner and I noticed they always wanted two starters,’ said Worrall Thompson of his first restaurant, which opened in 1981.
Diana later described the lunch with Camilla as ‘very tricky indeed’. She recalled to Andrew Morton that Camilla asked if she was going to hunt.
‘I said, “On what?” She said, “Horse. You are not going to hunt when you go and live at Highgrove, are you?” I said, “No.” She said, “I just wanted to know.”’
The real Diana at the restaurant a few years later
She’s quick to add that her physical resemblance to Diana is not all that there is to her performance. ‘Although my neck is beginning to be really lopsided on one side,’ she jokes, referring to the princess’s trademark head tilt.
‘But that head tilt is not done just to replicate how Diana held her head. It comes from understanding that she held her head that way for a reason, and it’s very interesting to go into the psychology. “What’s that about? Why does she do it? Is it through shyness? Is it because she wants to entice you? Is she trying to work something out?”’
Firmly in Charles’s corner throughout, as always, is his redoubtable sister Princess Anne, played once again by Erin Doherty.
‘Me and Josh decided we wanted these two to have that kind of camaraderie,’ she says, adding that in real life the level of closeness between the siblings is unknown.
‘But it feels human for them to be close, and it also feels like there’s really a need for it. Because they have such difficult relationships with their parents in terms of what they can communicate to them, so they become each other’s sounding boards and shoulders to lean on.’
Series four finds Anne often offering her older brother advice. ‘She’s there for him as a sister, but she also feels the pressure from her family to say, “Look, this is happening, suck it up.” And the funny thing is that although she’s his younger sister, she acts like the older one. I think he needs her to act that way for him.’
She says that while Anne’s relationship with her mother remains complicated in the new episodes, it is nevertheless maturing.
‘I think something happens as you grow as a woman. You start to understand your mother a bit more, and that flows into a lot of questions about why her own mother was the way she was with her.
‘There’s stuff that begins to get unearthed that is really great to explore.’
She also shares many scenes with Tobias Menzies, who plays her father Prince Philip.
‘By now I feel that I do have a kind of father figure in Tobias. Anne and Philip are very similar in the sense that, like him, she doesn’t quite understand how to deal with emotions and so will run away from them.
‘Peter writes that dynamic beautifully, because along with the similarities, their bond is sort of explosive – we’re either completely in synch or we’re butting heads.’
Tobias Menzies agrees that in the show, as reportedly in life, Anne and Philip share a close bond.
‘I think it’s pretty well documented that of all the children Philip is closest to Anne. It’s certainly a theme that Peter has come back to in this series, about Sweetie – as he calls her – being his favourite.
‘They just get along. Charles seems much more sensitive and I think that really irritates Philip.’
The Queen and Philip present a united front in this series, though prince Philip is set to take more or a backseat role than previously
The lack of closeness between the two men is illustrated poignantly in the first episode of the new run, in which they’re both confronted with the loss of Philip’s uncle, Louis Mountbatten.
JOSH’S REAL TEARS FOR MOUNTBATTEN
In the series, Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and his closest confidant Lord Mountbatten (Charles Dance, pictured) have had an argument over the telephone – shortly before Mountbatten’s assassination by the IRA – after which Mountbatten writes Charles a letter that he only receives on the plane home from a fishing trip for the funeral.
‘I found filming the death of Mountbatten incredibly hard,’ says Josh.
Josh O’Connor said he found it difficult to film the death of Lord Mountbatten, played by Charles Dance (pictured)
‘Charles Dance is a really lovely guy who had become a great friend to me, so when I got that letter in the show I found it so haunting.
In the scene where I’m sitting on the plane reading the letter, I really did cry – I just sobbed. I really wasn’t expecting to react the way I did but it just hit me unawares.’
In a scene that is both touching and heart-wrenching, Charles blurts out to Philip – who is after all his real father – that he had regarded Mountbatten as being like a ‘father’ to him.
‘That is a big one,’ admits Tobias. ‘Mountbatten was a father figure for Philip, and then he was a father figure for Charles.
So there’s an interesting complication when he dies about both Philip and Charles losing a father figure, except that Charles has still got a father. But Mountbatten in some ways was more of a dad than Philip has ever been able to be.’
Tobias says that this time we see Philip taking more of a background role in the story. ‘He’s a bit older – I’m doing a lot of scenes where I’m in my 60s and I guess he’s maybe mellowing a bit. He and the Queen are getting along well – they’re unified in trying to deal with other problems.
‘Many of the strong narratives are about Thatcher, which is a relationship the Queen seems to struggle with, and Philip’s a sounding board. The other problems are about the kids – in this series they take over the asylum a bit!’
The main problem with the children is of course Charles’s relationship with Diana.
‘He’s been coerced into the marriage, but you also have to relate to how the family needs to find some sort of structure and certainty for him now that he’s in his 30s. He’s difficult – and then Diana comes in and she initially seems like the solution to those problems.
‘Philip takes an instant liking to her, and he also thinks she’s beautiful – he’s certainly not immune to her charms. She’s a natural, she understands what the dynamic is and how to charm everybody.
‘But then, of course, it turns out to be not quite as clear cut as that. It’s going to be tough to watch because as soon as Diana arrives we know she will have a tragic end.’
Meanwhile, adds Peter Morgan, there are the two younger royal sons. In one of the new episodes, Elizabeth has private lunches with both Prince Edward (played by Angus Imrie), at the time a pompous head boy at Gordonstoun, and Prince Andrew (Thomas Byrne), a dashing young naval officer who cannot help but make her laugh despite hints of his roguery.
Peter discovered that while Andrew was enjoying a wave of popularity at that time, Edward was going through a tough patch of being bullied at school. ‘I’ve got to say, I fell in love with both of the actors who played Andrew and Edward – in fact, they were both so brilliant in those first scenes that I then had to find other scenes to put them in.’
It’s widely believed that, as the Queen’s family grew, she found herself much closer to her younger two children than to her elder two.
Some of the scenes filmed for the new series show Charles as an unpopular figure in Spain
‘She had the first two when she was very new to being Queen,’ says Peter. ‘The business of learning the ropes of Queencraft, as it were, kept her very busy and meant she did a lot of travelling, so when Charles and Anne were young she would be away for five, six months at a time.
ANDY THE PIN-UP PRINCE
After Prince Andrew was forced to withdraw from public duties following last year’s disastrous Newsnight interview about his links to Jeffrey Epstein, the new series of The Crown will serve as a reminder of just how high his stock once was.
‘It’s hard to believe, given recent events, that Andrew [played by Tom Byrne, left] was the absolute pin-up of the Royal Family at the time of the new series,’ says creator Peter Morgan.
Peter Morgan said it was hard to get across how popular Prince Andrew had been in his early years
‘He was a rock star prince who then went to fight in the Falklands War.
‘He was by far the most popular one and everyone at the time thought, “Can’t we just remove Charles and give his title to Andrew?”
It was quite tricky to write his scenes because we couldn’t show we knew everything that would happen to Andrew, but we still had to sow seeds so that you know that one day it could all go a little bit naughty.’
‘Then, later, she wanted more children so she could be more of a mother with the second lot.’
He adds that it is much speculated about the Queen – and is something that Philip teases her about in the show – that just as Anne is his favourite child, so Andrew is hers.
‘I think it was known that Philip didn’t want more children but she did, and therefore when Andrew arrived he had a special meaning for her. That might have changed due to recent events… or it might not!’
Olivia Colman, once again stepping into the Queen’s shoes and herself a mother of three, says the idea of having a favourite is unthinkable.
‘I think it’s astounding,’ she says. ‘It’s something I don’t understand. It’s brought up a lot of conversations with friends, and some say, “Yes, I’ve got a favourite.” Really! They wouldn’t say who, but I think it’s shocking. It’s made me look at my own children and think, “No, I genuinely could not pick a favourite.”’
She says that as the Queen grows older and watches her brood settle into adulthood, like any mother she starts to ask herself how well she has prepared them for the world.
‘But I don’t think she’s cold- hearted,’ she adds. ‘She’s been told she has to be the rock, the one everyone relies on. If she crumbles she’s not doing her job.
‘I take offence at the idea that she’s cold-hearted. As her children have grown she’s starting to wonder what she’s been like as a mother.
‘She’s thinking, “Did I do that right? Did I hope this for them, did I wish that for them? How have they turned out?”’
It’s all as addictive as the previous three series which, as Peter Morgan happily acknowledges, have now become something of a TV institution. ‘It’s the sort of show people are watching with their aunts and uncles and grandparents,’ he says.
‘It reminds me of the time I went to spend Boxing Day with the family of a friend of mine. They had people coming in from other countries and cultures, there were three generations and it was a group of people that didn’t have much to say to one another.
‘But then they turned on the TV and Crocodile Dundee was on, and they all connected with that. Not that The Crown is anything like Crocodile Dundee, but I like to think it has the same effect.’
Iddle-Dibble, Mrs T’s in trouble
The Queen and Margaret Thatcher, who was just six months her senior, were both 53 years old when Mrs T became Prime Minister in 1979 – an interesting age for women, as Thatcher’s husband Denis (played by Stephen Boxer) points out in the show. ‘Two menopausal women,’ he chuckles, ‘that’ll be a smooth ride.’
Show creator Peter Morgan, who’s been with Gillian Anderson – who plays Mrs Thatcher – for the past four years, agrees.
‘It had never occurred to me at first that when we were talking about these two women we were talking about women who were both in the midst of hormonal and chemical turmoil.
Stephen Boxer and Gillian Anderson as the Thatchers standing outside of Number 10 Downing Street
‘But there was a moment when I was writing about these two extraordinary icons, who at times had a very challenging relationship, when I suddenly thought, “Oh, gosh!”’
Gillian Anderson, resplendent in immovably lacquered wig and icily regal demeanour as the feared Iron Lady (pictured right), says the two women, menopausal or not, were cut from very different cloth.
‘They were both hard workers – the Queen has been shaking hands and showing up for a very long time, and Mrs Thatcher was a grafter too, so that was a big similarity between them. But they also had completely different ways of dealing with things.
‘Thatcher would confront things head on, while the very nature of the Queen’s job is to be a neutral party. So just the nature of that single thing would make it complex.’
Gillian Anderson’s Mrs Thatcher on the gangplank of the Royal Yacht Britannia
The differences between them are sharply flagged up in an early episode of the series when the Thatchers are invited to Balmoral… with disastrous results.
‘I think Mrs Thatcher assumed they were going to be more sophisticated than they were,’ says Gillian.
‘She was a real monarchist and had been admiring the Royal Family for so long that she thought there would be a lot more seriousness, a lot more cultural and political conversation than there was ever going to be. That was a real shock to her.
‘That and the amount of time they spent playing after-dinner parlour games while the country was in real trouble.’
Matters reach a low point during an after-dinner game called The Ibble-Dibble Game, a raucous mixture of tongue-twisting, clapping and counting that involves daubing the face with a burnt cork when someone gets their turn wrong.
Mrs T, to the undisguised horror of the delightedly smudge-faced royals, performs her turn perfectly without cracking a smile. ‘Oh, well done,’ murmurs someone uneasily into the deathly hush that follows.
‘She understood the rules,’ says Peter. ‘But she didn’t understand the temper or the amusement. She just killed it.’
Anderson’s Thatcher faces the Press in the latest season of The Crown
Season four of The Crown arrives on Netflix on 15 November.