Toward the end of 2015, Peter Morgan, the British dramatist and screenwriter, received a small brown envelope in the mail. It looked like a speeding ticket, or a letter from the Inland Revenue, and as he tore it open he felt the first throb of a mild bureaucratic headache. As it happened, the British state was singling him out for different purposes. Morgan had been named in Queen Elizabeth II’s annual New Year Honors list for his “services to drama.” Henceforth, he would be a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, or, Peter Morgan, C.B.E. His presence was requested at Buckingham Palace for the investiture ceremony.
Morgan had never visited Buckingham Palace, though he had set many scenes within its walls. As a storyteller, he likes to seize on epochal moments from the recent past and subject them to a kind of imaginative fission, working backward from sound bites and headlines to the raw contingencies that shape history. In “The Queen,” the 2006 movie based on Morgan’s script, it was the death of Princess Diana and the royal family’s ham-fisted efforts to manage the public’s hysterical outpouring of grief. Britain has a long and honorable tradition of treating its rulers with satirical contempt; it also has a less honorable tradition, especially where the monarchy is concerned, of fawning deference. Morgan’s audacity lay in his restraint: He wanted to see the Windsors steadily and to see them whole, as neither pampered half-wits nor infallible deities. “I live with bread like you,” says Shakespeare’s Richard II, disavowing his monarchic singularity. In “The Queen,” we see the sovereign and head of state (Helen Mirren, who won the Oscar for best actress) sitting in her curlers, watching television and preparing a dismal picnic in the Scottish highlands.
When he was invited to Buckingham Palace, Morgan was finishing Season 1 of “The Crown,” a hugely ambitious piece of durational television that seeks to tell the story of Elizabeth’s reign, in all its drudgery and dailiness, from the years before her coronation, in 1953, up to the turn of the third millennium. To date, the show is estimated to have cost Netflix upward of $150 million — about twice as much as the royal family costs British tax payers each year. It is nice to look at (much nicer, certainly, than the real Britain), but what puts Morgan’s saga in a class of its own is not the luster of its surfaces but the daring with which it lifts the curtain on the whole royal enterprise. “The Crown” doesn’t feed public fantasy — it pours cold water on it.
Throughout the production process for the first season, Morgan had playfully mocked one of the show’s directors, Stephen Daldry, for laying the pomp and circumstance on too thick. As he arrived at the palace, however, he found himself overwhelmed by the level of ostentation. Wherever he looked were men in boot spurs, breastplates, neck ruffs, feathered hats. If anything, he realized, looking about in wonderment, Daldry had gone light on the pageantry.
When the time came, Morgan was ushered into the ballroom, where Prince Charles, flanked by an equerry, was handing out the medals.
“So you’re a scriptwriter?” the heir apparent said as Morgan stepped forward and, as protocol dictates, bowed from the neck.
“Yes, sir,” Morgan replied.
“Scriptwriting isn’t so easy, is it?”
“I tend to think it’s not what you leave in but what you leave out that’s most important.”
Like so much of British life, like so much of “The Crown,” the moment was ripe with unsettling ambiguity. Had the future king just issued Morgan a coded reprimand? Or was this simply a palace platitude, thought up in the five-second lag between one honoree and the next? Morgan now suspects it was the latter, though, as with most things, he reserves the right to not make up his mind. “He’s one of those characters for whom you have sympathy and criticism in equal measure, a perhaps not-uncommon attitude toward the monarchy in general,” he said recently of Charles. “As an institution, it’s indefensible. Of course it is. And yet the whole thing’s so bloody ridiculous you can’t help feeling slightly sorry for them.”
What, exactly, is the point of the royal family? Why, in a time of boisterous populism and expanding social consciousness, do the British continue to tolerate this emblem of entitlement and reaction? No one seems to know the answer, least of all the royals themselves, and herein lies the fundamental irony of Morgan’s show, which returns Nov. 17 for a third season. Constitutionally, the role of the monarch is to keep his or her mouth shut, to abjure what Elizabeth, in “The Queen,” calls “the sheer joy of being partial.” This sphinxlike silence is, in turn, conducive to a second, more intangible function: to serve as a conduit for mass emotion, a projection screen for national yearning or catharsis. In other words, the royals are celebrities. For about a thousand years, they were the only celebrities. As that began to change, around the midpoint of the last century, the House of Windsor found itself fumbling for a fresh raison d’être.
When Elizabeth became queen in 1952, at age 25, the papers (channeling Winston Churchill’s rhetoric) proclaimed the dawn of a new Elizabethan Age, a period of national greatness to rival that of her 16th-century namesake. Quite a burden to shoulder, you’d imagine, and much of the drama of the show’s first two seasons revolved around Elizabeth’s painful transformation from young woman into ageless symbol of national rebirth. Claire Foy plays the part with subtlety and intelligence; her queen projects an authority she could never quite bring herself to believe in. “All hail, sage lady, whom a grateful isle hath blest,” says a photographer to Elizabeth at the end of Season 1, aptly quoting the patriotic doggerel of Wordsworth’s “Ecclesiastical Sonnets.” Foy stands alone, wearing the crown and a look of infinite blankness.
Except Britain isn’t a grateful isle anymore. Orthodoxy is becoming unfashionable, along with faith in the establishment. “You do know if that man wins today he’ll want us out,” Philip says, scowling at the news in the tone-setting opening minutes of Season 3. “That man” is Harold Wilson, and “today” is Oct. 15, 1964, when Wilson’s Labour Party narrowly defeated the Conservatives in a general election and returned to power for the first time in 13 years. Wilson was a socialist, a modernizer, a man of the people. “Half his cabinet will be made up of rabid anti-monarchists,” says Philip, a well-shaken cocktail of grievance and paranoia. “They’ll want our heads on spikes.”
Britain, then, has a new government, and “The Crown,” far more adaptable than the institution on which it’s based, has a new cast. Claire Foy and Matt Smith have been succeeded by the slightly older Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies. Long may they reign. Colman won last year’s best-actress Oscar for her portrayal of another British monarch in “The Favourite,” the eccentric and voluptuary Queen Anne, but Elizabeth, aloof to the point of refrigeration, is a different proposition altogether. Foy’s sovereign was tremulous and wavering, tossed from one crisis to the next. Colman’s, no less beset by troubles, has acquired a stately new resolve: the mask of authority has grown to fit the face. Philip, for his part, continues to smolder in her shadow, but Menzies, whose performance is every bit as humanizing and persuasive as Colman’s, somehow manages to make Elizabeth’s royal consort the most likable character on the show.
Their marriage, like that of many middle-aged couples with kids, has become a strained truce, but however low their passion burns, it never quite goes out. Philip’s deflationary wit, which has only sharpened with age, is part of his appeal. Over breakfast one morning, Elizabeth tells him that Margaret had called her late the previous night to say she had something important to discuss. “She’s run out of tonic?” Philip shoots back.
In the years between Wilson’s election and Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee, in 1977 (the period covered in the new season), Britain seemed to be cracking up. A ballooning deficit forced the government to devalue the pound; rolling strikes crippled the economy and led to the imposition of the three-day week, when for several months even Buckingham Palace was subject to regular power cuts; British repression in Northern Ireland precipitated a campaign of I.R.A. terrorism. And this is to say nothing of the country’s vastly diminished role on the global stage. Books with titles like “What Went Wrong?” “The Future That Doesn’t Work” and “Is Britain Dying?” caught the mood and sold it back to a public eager to understand their nation’s abrupt decline.
“It’s tempting to think we’re in a period of particularly violent disagreement or toxicity at the moment,” Morgan told me late last year. “It’s not the case. The country has been lurching from crisis to crisis for quite some time.” We were at Freemasons’ Hall, an imposing Art Deco building in Central London, which “The Crown” had requisitioned to shoot several scenes for an episode about one of the era’s lesser-known crises. In 1968, a group of right-wing conspirators led by Cecil King, the chairman of the Daily Mirror and a director of the Bank of England, approached Louis Mountbatten, a decorated war hero and uncle of Prince Philip’s, with a plan to overthrow Wilson’s government, which they believed was in cahoots with the Soviet Union. Mountbatten, a widely respected national figure who had recently been removed from his post as head of the armed forces, was just the man to lead an interim regime, King and his associates believed. In Morgan’s hands, the material becomes a story about a revanchist old guard unwilling to accept the egalitarian direction of the times — a story with plenty of echoes in today’s Britain, a country lately brought to its knees by a gaggle of imperial nostalgists.
It was lunchtime, and in a large, high-ceilinged room with fluted pilasters a long line of aging men in dark three-piece suits — actors playing veterans of the Burma campaign in World War II who have gathered to hear Mountbatten (Charles Dance) deliver a commemorative address — were lining up in front of a buffet. Most of them wore plastic bibs to prevent the food from spattering their costumes. “A sea of white men,” said Morgan, who is 56, taking in the scene from a table on the other side of the room. “Imagine the prostate issues in here.” It was a characteristic remark from a writer ever alert to the humanizing frailties of political heavyweights. Short and slight, with tired, pale blue eyes and a mischievous grin, Morgan is himself an unimposing figure. His face has a certain gallant plainness to it. As an undergraduate at the University of Leeds, he briefly tried acting; had he pursued a career in front of the camera, he might have found work playing a World War I Tommy or, later, a retired footballer. He wore a black coat over a polo-neck sweater into which he kept dipping his chin, like a turtle retreating into its shell. He rarely gives interviews. “I absolutely deplore being written about,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to know who I am. When I see writers going on too many TV shows, I think, You’ve got to be careful you don’t become part of an establishment. Becoming part of an establishment is the death of creativity.”
Morgan prefers to disappear into his work. When I asked Colman if she had any funny stories from her time collaborating with him, she paused to think. “Not really,” she said at last. “He isn’t a drinker, so he never does that sort of bumbling-twat thing at a party. If anything, I’ve been the one doing that.” Being a showrunner, Morgan told me, is like having multiple full-time jobs (writing, casting, editing, looking in on set), so he always feels he is neglecting one or more of his duties. While Season 3 was being filmed he was busy writing Season 4, which will cover the years of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. “His brain is in constant motion,” the actress Gillian Anderson, who will play Thatcher, told me. “We are all in awe and slightly afraid of it in equal measure.” She and Morgan have been dating since 2016. They first met when Anderson appeared in “The Last King of Scotland,” the 2006 film about the rise of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, for which Morgan co-wrote the script with Jeremy Brock. (He has five children with his first wife; the couple separated in 2014, after 17 years of marriage.)
Morgan rises early every day and sits down at his desk around 6 a.m. Hours will pass in fruitful silence. Unlike others in his line of work, however, he is not incorrigibly solitary. Once a week, a team of researchers, which doubles as a kind of writers’ room, comes over to his house in Central London for script meetings, based in part on documents they’ve dug up pertaining to whichever episode he happens to be working on. These could be anything from contemporary press clippings to transcripts of original interviews with those who witnessed, or participated in, the events he is in the process of imaginatively reconstructing. “He’s not precious about the material,” Annie Sulzberger, the show’s head of research (and the sister of The New York Times’ publisher, A.G. Sulzberger), told me. “As a researcher, you find a detail and you think, Wow, I hope this makes the cut. That doesn’t mean anything to him. If something doesn’t move the plot along, or reveal character, or tell us something relevant about Britain at the time, it doesn’t have a place.” Morgan isn’t precious about the scripts themselves either. “If something isn’t working in rehearsal he’ll say, ‘Can you hang on a minute? Just talk amongst yourselves,’ ” Colman told me. “Five minutes later it’ll be, ‘O.K., try that.’ And sure enough he’s just churned out a brilliant speech.”
After lunch, we descended to one of the building’s entrance lobbies, where Christian Schwochow, the director on the episode, was setting up a shot involving Dance and Rupert Vansittart, the actor who plays Cecil King. The men in three-piece suits, now without their plastic bibs, were milling around holding dimpled beer mugs and cigarettes. Morgan’s mind was elsewhere, however. A few days earlier, Schwochow had shot what was supposed to be the episode’s final scene, in which Mountbatten, having been dressed down by Elizabeth for even entertaining the thought of a coup, pays a visit to his ailing sister, Princess Alice. It’s a poignant, faintly surreal encounter, two superannuated grandees coming to terms with their own obsolescence, but Morgan felt it didn’t quite work as an ending. Instead, he suggested to Schwochow and Oona O’Beirn, a producer on Season 3, the narrative ought to return to Elizabeth, who has spent most of the episode abroad boning up on the latest developments in racehorse breeding, her principal passion in life, with Lord Porchester, an old friend for whom, it’s intimated, she once harbored romantic feelings.
“We want a scene with her and Philip after she’s returned home,” Morgan said. “A bit of sex, a bit of playfulness.”
“O.K.,” said O’Beirn, looking faintly concerned. “Not too much, though.”
“No,” said Morgan, “but we’ve earned it because the whole episode has been about constitutional debate.”
In the finished episode, Philip, standing before her desk with his hands in his pockets, asks Elizabeth a series of subtext-laden questions about her time away. “If you have something to say, say it now,” she responds crossly. “Otherwise, if you don’t mind, I’m busy.” It looks as if their marital froideur is set to continue — but then Philip, instead of stalking off, as he seems on the verge of doing, walks up to her and kisses her passionately on the mouth. For a British person, it is quite something to see the woman whose prim profile has been an inescapable fact of life since the dawning of consciousness (facing right on coins but left on postage stamps) snogging her husband. “I’ll be up in a minute,” Elizabeth says, smiling, a moment later. “Oh, will you?” Philip says. “Yes, I thought so,” she responds. The subtext has definitively shifted.
Morgan is the child of emigrants, of refugees from the 20th century. His father was a German Jew who fled the Nazis, his mother a Polish Catholic who fled the Soviets. They met in London in the mid-1950s; Morgan was born in the suburb of Wimbledon in 1963, and grew up speaking German at home. At the public school he attended the other boys called him Fritz — “because the English are so broad-minded about that kind of thing,” as he has said. The present absence of a community who didn’t make it — the friends and family his parents left behind in their respective homelands — shaped Morgan’s childhood. The pressure to make something of his own life was intense. It only grew stronger after his father, who never completed his education because of the war and spent his adult life working as an advertising contractor, died suddenly of a heart attack when Morgan was 9. “The day after he died, my mother moved me to his place at the table with grown-up cutlery,” Morgan said. “The message was obvious.”
After graduating from the University of Leeds, where he discovered his passion for theater, Morgan began to write and direct plays, sometimes in collaboration with his friend Mark Wadlow. One of these, “Gross,” based on Wadlow’s experience of working at a call center, caught the eye of a producer of corporate training videos who offered them a steady job. This not only paid the bills, it also led to other work within the film world. In the early 1990s, Morgan punched up the screenplay for the American comedy “King Ralph,” in which an oafish Vegas lounge singer, played by John Goodman, ascends to the British throne (his grandmother, a hotel waitress, had a fling with a duke) after the entire royal family is accidentally electrocuted while having their photo taken outside Buckingham Palace. Beyond this, however, there is little in Morgan’s early work (a handful of well-turned TV and film scripts) to suggest that he would become a skilled excavator of history and the inner lives of those who make it.
Morgan can pinpoint the moment this interest was awakened. One day in the fall of 2001, as he was waiting to board a plane at London’s Gatwick Airport, he spotted the front cover of a new book, James Naughtie’s “The Rivals,” an account of the relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Blair’s chancellor of the Exchequer who would later succeed him as prime minister. The cover bore a black-and-white photograph of the two men: one youthful and telegenic, a visionary sparkle playing about his eyes and mouth; the other solemn and aloof, dependable perhaps but distinctly uninspiring. “It completely changed my life,” Morgan said of the image. “I realized there was a kind of Cain and Abel story there, and I knew at once how to tell it.”
Brown and Blair became friends in 1983 when they were both elected to Parliament and briefly shared an office in Westminster. In “The Deal,” the subtle, propulsive script that Morgan wrote about their relationship, Brown, a committed socialist and intellectual, is clearly the senior partner, and as the decade wears on many in the Labour Party come to see him as a natural future leader. Blair, by contrast, is less ideological; he makes no secret of his admiration for Margaret Thatcher’s decisive executive style or his belief that in order to attract more voters the party needed to “modernize” — or, as he puts it, to expel “those dinosaurs.”
Above all, Blair intuits that in the changing media landscape of the early 1990s, substance and conviction matter far less than how things can be made to look. When John Smith, the Labour Party leader, dies of a heart attack in 1994, Blair outmaneuvers his old friend and lands the top job. Brown is outraged, but as another Labour M.P. points out, the party needed to go with the person “who will play best at the box office.” Clearly that was not the dour and brooding Scot. Morgan’s script, the basis for an acclaimed TV film directed by Stephen Frears, was hardly apolitical — it is, in part, a story about the death of old-style socialism and the emergence of market-friendly New Labour — but it was striking for the sensitivity and lack of overt moral judgment with which it rendered a pair of increasingly reviled public servants.
After “The Deal” came out in 2003, Morgan was everywhere in demand. The film’s producers wanted more of the same, and Morgan came through with “The Queen,” in which Blair (again played by Michael Sheen) once more proves himself a PR maestro, persuading Elizabeth, against her better judgment, to show a grieving Britain some emotion. Two thousand and six was something of an annus mirabilis for Morgan. In addition to “The Queen” and “The Last King of Scotland,” that year also saw the premiere of his play “Frost/Nixon” (later made into a film), which takes as its basis the heated 1977 interviews between disgraced former president Richard Nixon and the British talk-show host David Frost. Morgan, who conceived of the script as “ ‘Rocky’ with words,” shrewdly inverts the conventional dynamic of Brits looking down their noses at Americans. Nixon is a formidable opponent, a master of spin and deflection; for much of the play, his interlocutor, widely perceived as a journalistic lightweight, can barely lay a glove on him. But Frost, like Blair in “The Deal” and “The Queen,” understands what one of his researchers calls “the reductive power of the close-up.” When he surprises Nixon by reading from a never-before-seen transcript of a conversation between the former commander in chief and one of the Watergate conspirators, his adversary becomes flustered and blurts out the damning words: “When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Frost had landed the knockout blow: as he knew at the time, this was the only moment from the hours of interviews that anyone would remember.
Morgan told me he has never felt fully British, which may explain his lack of inhibition when it comes to writing about the country’s most powerful people. This is not to say he takes a cavalier approach to the historical record. His work is grounded in scrupulous research but is never subservient to it. When I raised the subject, he mentioned a BBC lecture by the historical novelist Hilary Mantel. “History is not the past — it is the method we have evolved of organizing our ignorance of the past,” Mantel told her audience. “It’s the record of what’s left on the record. … It is no more ‘the past’ than a birth certificate is a birth, or a script is a performance, or a map is a journey.” For both Mantel and Morgan, this partiality is a license not to rewrite history but to imagine their way into the blanks with which it is inevitably littered.
One such enticing blank was the private meeting, or audience, that has taken place at Buckingham Palace on a regular basis for nearly 70 years between Elizabeth and her prime minister. In his play “The Audience,” Morgan compiled an imaginative highlights reel of these briefing sessions that spanned the entire course of her reign, from Churchill to David Cameron. Because there are so many prime ministers to get through, those who do appear spend only a short time onstage, but after the play opened, in 2013, Morgan found he couldn’t stop thinking about the unlikely relationship between Elizabeth and Churchill, a sheltered young woman and a worldly old man who were drawn together, it seems, by feelings of reciprocal awe. He began to contemplate a film and then, as his research went deeper, a TV series.
“What you really want, as a writer, is a character like Tony Soprano who can go in any direction, be caring and compassionate and ultraviolent within the space of 10 seconds, and it’s all plausible,” Morgan told me. Elizabeth, a relatively unremarkable woman who has followed more or less the same routine for much of her life, may sound, by contrast, like a creative straitjacket. We often hear that, in order to be memorable, fictional characters need to surprise us, and yet, as Morgan demonstrates with such finesse, they also need to be predictable, to establish a background of consistency against which deviations from the norm will vividly stand out. So great is Elizabeth’s commitment to sober impartiality that when she does occasionally betray a hint of unconstitutional emotion, it arrives with the force of a well-timed right hook. “Lord Altrincham has been struck,” her private secretary informs her and her mother at one moment from Season 2, referring to an aristocrat who has lately made headlines by criticizing the monarch’s rigid public manner. “Dumb, I hope,” her mother drawls. “Better than that, ma’am,” the private secretary replies. “In the face.” Elizabeth lights up like a schoolgirl who has just been told the most popular boy in class has sprung to her defense.
Of course, like much of the show, the moment is pure supposition. A gentleman has been defined as a person who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally. Something similar could be said about Morgan’s attitude toward factual accuracy on “The Crown.” When the show takes liberties with the record — by, for example, having Wilson sack Mountbatten in 1967 rather than, as actually happened, in 1965 — it does so on purpose and for a particular reason (in this instance, for narrative compression). “I think there’s a covenant of trust with the audience,” he told me. “They understand a lot of it is conjecture. Sometimes there are unavoidable accuracy blips — an event might not have taken place where, or even when, I imagined it did. But I’m absolutely fastidious about there being an underlying truth.”
The new Elizabethan Age didn’t quite pan out. “This country was still great when I came to the throne, and now look,” Elizabeth tells her sister Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) late in the new season, shortly before her Silver Jubilee. “All that’s happened on my watch is the place has fallen apart.” Margaret, who in Morgan’s hands becomes a cross between a Shakespearean fool and Billy Wilder’s faded film star, Norma Desmond, is always on hand to administer an infusion of passive-aggressive home truth. “It’s only fallen apart if we say it has,” she tells Elizabeth from her bed, where she spends much of the season, resting up between one alcoholic spree and the next. “That’s the thing about the monarchy. We paper over the cracks, and if what we do is loud and grand and confident enough, no one will notice if all around us it’s fallen apart.” Elizabeth, she adds, with a glacial narrowing of the eyes, must not flinch: “Because if you show a single crack, we’ll see it isn’t a crack but a chasm, and we’ll all fall in.”
This, in Morgan’s unsentimental vision, is the real point of the monarchy, if it can be said to have one anymore. What he catches so well is the desperation behind the grandeur, the tragicomic spectacle of an institution, and a people, laboring to believe in itself. “The Crown” is not a show for Brexiteers. (“They’re like children who’ve had too little sleep and been tipped into hysteria,” Morgan said of the current Parliament.) It is a valediction, forbidding mourning, to British pre-eminence and self-regard.
Morgan is at pains to strike the right balance between the sublime and the ridiculous, and much of this work takes place in postproduction. A few days after my visit to Freemasons’ Hall, I joined him and a cohort of other “Crown” personnel in an editing suite a few blocks down the road. We sat on a deep leather sofa a few feet from an enormous screen flanked by man-high speakers as Morgan called out to an engineer at a mixing console behind us for various scenes to be played. One of them was from an episode centered on Charles (the remarkable Josh O’Connor) and the semester he spent studying at Aberystwyth University in preparation for his investiture as Prince of Wales. The tension between tight-lipped Elizabeth and her increasingly outspoken son and heir provides much of the drama of Season 3.
In his speech at the investiture ceremony, delivered in Welsh in a bid to appease those calling for the country’s independence from Britain, Charles draws a typically self-involved parallel between the Welsh people’s mistreatment by the English and what he considers his own mistreatment by his family. Elizabeth is not amused when she learns what he’s said. “I am not just a symbol,” Charles protests after she takes him to task for his unbecoming display of personality, something she has long ago forsworn. “Mummy,” he adds, pathetically, “I have a voice.” Colman, whose face is anything but cold and forbidding, summons a death-ray stare. “Let me let you into a secret,” she says, for once being very straightforward. “No one wants to hear it.”
Someone in the editing suite asked if Elizabeth was being needlessly cruel or if she was simply doing her job as queen — a distinction that becomes harder and harder to draw over the show’s three seasons. “I think she has to say this,” Morgan replied, “but she’s riddled with disappointment in him anyway. It’s a constitutional violation as far as she’s concerned, how much he wants to express himself — so he gets to express himself onstage.”
This was the cue to show a scene of Charles performing in a student play at Cambridge University, to which he returns after his stint in Aberystwyth. Naturally it is a production of “Richard II,” with the future king in the titular role. (Charles did act at Cambridge and the private boarding school he attended beforehand, though never in “Richard II.” Morgan believed the play’s thematic resonances justified the fabrication.) As Charles declaims the famous “hollow crown” monologue, his younger sister, Princess Anne (Erin Doherty), the family member most sympathetically inclined toward him, looks on from the audience. Morgan felt the scene erred on the side of portentousness. “It’s the wide shot that’s the problem,” he said. “It makes him look too much like an accomplished actor. He should look like Charles, like a boy, not an actor.” At his suggestion, the scene was recut to emphasize Anne’s reaction to her brother’s performance; through her pitying, protective gaze we see Charles’s essential meekness and vulnerability.
Morgan needed to get back to work on Season 4, among other pressing duties, but even showrunners need to eat, so before he ran off we had a lunch of takeout sushi in an empty conference room. The expectation, he told me, “is to deliver TV on an annual basis, but what we’re making now is feature-film-quality stuff, and no one ever expected you to make 10 feature films a year — because you’d die.” Morgan’s commitment to “The Crown” is unflagging — as unflagging, it is tempting to say, as that of Elizabeth herself — but when he steps back to consider the project, he also seems slightly baffled that he has ended up making a career out of guessing at the inner life of “a countryside woman of limited imagination” who would have preferred to spend her time looking after her dogs and breeding horses. That may sound derisive, but is in fact merely accurate. Elizabeth, it appears, never wanted to be queen, just as her father — forced onto the throne after the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII — never wanted to be king. She got on with it nevertheless.
It’s hard to think of a woman who divides her time between eight palaces as having made a sacrifice, but as Morgan shows us in his royal chronicle, decade on decade of self-abnegating duty exacts a human price. Elizabeth, he said, “represents an ideal of public service. I understand why people are furious, why they want the whole institution gone.” He raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “But I’m quite proud we haven’t kicked them out.”