Buckingham Palace has rats in the kitchen.
This revelation comes to us from The Crown, a new Netflix drama that chronicles the first decade of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.
The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it visual in the debut episode — a rodent traipsing across the counter as kitchen servants prepare King George VI’s meal — speaks volumes about Britain’s royal family.
Same goes for shots of posh palace living quarters in which the wallpaper is peeling.
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These people might enjoy rarified lives of wealth and privilege, but fundamentally, they have some of the same problems as everybody else.
“What has made it so interesting to write is not this or that historical event,” executive producer Peter Morgan says. “It’s that this is a family. And within that family is the Crown.
“And the Crown is a bomb that changes the structure of everything.”
The Crown, with a 10-episode first season, is available for streaming beginning Friday.
Morgan, who created the series, knows a thing or two about the life and times of Queen Elizabeth. He wrote the screenplay for The Queen, a 2006 film for which Helen Mirren netted an Academy Award. He subsequently wrote The Audience, a 2013 play that also starred Mirren and won Olivier and Tony awards.
While The Queen centered on reaction to the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and The Audience covered decades of weekly meetings between the queen and her prime ministers, The Crown tells a larger story, beginning with the 1947 wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh.
The series dramatizes the challenges that Elizabeth and those around her faced in their public and private lives because of their royal status.
“The crown brings with it a set of responsibilities and fundamentally realigns the power structure in a way that can only be challenging,” Morgan says.
Netflix already has committed to two seasons of the ambitious series. With a two-season budget of 100 million pounds (or about $120 million), the plan is for The Crown to run six seasons, with each 10-episode season spanning a decade of Elizabeth’s reign, until we reach contemporary times.
Claire Foy — formerly of Upstairs Downstairs (2010-12) and Wolf Hall (2015) — stars as Elizabeth in her 20s. We meet her as a young bride unprepared to rule the Commonwealth of Nations.
“Peter Morgan’s Elizabeth is a quite sheltered person,” Foy says. “She has been brought up very well, to respect people and do the right thing. She’s very strong, sturdy and grounded. But she’s also completely naive to the way the world works and people’s agendas.”
She will have to grow up fast after her father, the chain-smoking, cancer-stricken king (Jared Harris), dies and leaves her to make decisions that often will have a global impact.
To Foy’s way of thinking, the first season is “about a family who suffered a terrible loss and doesn’t know how to deal with it.”
The actress delivers such a nuanced performance as the queen that Morgan says she “makes me a much better writer than I am.”
The cast also includes Matt Smith (Doctor Who) as Philip, a proud Naval officer who suddenly feels emasculated having to live in his wife’s shadow after her coronation, and John Lithgow (3rd Rock From the Sun) as Sir Winston Churchill, England’s crusty prime minister.
The Crown hits all of the tent-pole moments in Elizabeth’s public story, all of them well-documented by decades of news coverage and history books, but Morgan had to use his imagination and make educated guesses when it came to filling in the blanks.
If he erred in scenes that take place behind closed doors, it wasn’t because of lack of effort or attention to detail. A team of researchers spent 2 1/2 years fact-checking his scripts.
“You’ve got to think long and hard about what you’re going to say [when putting words in these people’s mouths],” Morgan says. “You’ve got to be responsible.”
- Available for streaming Friday