Tag Archives: Stephen Daldry

Reign ends but royalty remains

Reign dramatises the life of Mary, Queen of ScotsOn Wednesday, The CW announced that the fourth season of Reign, which debuts on February 10, will be the last. The news is no real surprise given that the show’s ratings have been pretty modest since launch. Season three averaged 970,000 per episode, which puts it at the lower end of the channel’s typical ratings. An IMDB score of 7.6 also suggests it won’t be massively missed.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Reign is a period drama that chronicles the rise of Mary, Queen of Scots in 16th century Europe. It is not overly concerned with historical accuracy and is generally viewed as a guilty pleasure. It is significant, however, in that it is part of a broad array of TV shows that have placed royalty at the heart of their stories. So this week, to mark the end of Reign, we’re looking at this sub-genre.

thecrownThe Crown Netflix is reckoned to have ploughed US$100m into this exploration of Queen Elizabeth II’s early life. Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, the show has received pretty much universal acclaim and is currently sitting pretty with an IMDb score of 9.
A second season has been commissioned and the intention is that the series will run for five or six seasons (though Morgan has not yet committed to such a lengthy run).

victoriaVictoria Vying with The Crown as the best royal series of the year is ITV’s Victoria. Written by Daisy Goodwin, the show has a similar blueprint to The Crown. Starting with the early life of the famous 19th British monarch, the show is intended to follow her through her life, with season two already commissioned.
The show did well in the UK ratings, with an average audience of seven to eight million on Sunday evenings. It has also sold well internationally, although it’s too early to tell how the global market is responding to the show. It will premiere on PBS in the US on January 15. Its IMDb score is 8.3.

tudorsThe Tudors Michael Hirst’s epic series for Showtime helped kick-start the global trade in lavish, semi-fictionalised TV series about monarchy, power, aristocracy and the like. Aired for four seasons between 2007 and 2010, episodes of the show typically attracted an audience of around 700,000-900,000 for the US cable network.
The series starts during Henry VIII’s reign but doesn’t always stick to the facts. Explaining why, Hirst said: “Showtime commissioned me to write an entertainment, a soap opera, and not history. And we wanted people to watch it.” On balance, he argued: “Any confusion created by the changes is outweighed by the interest the series may inspire in the period and its figures.”
US cable channel Ovation recently acquired all four seasons of The Tudors to accompany its investment in Versailles (below). Note: other series to have explored the Tudor period include the BBC’s excellent Wolf Hall and ITV’s 2003 miniseries Henry VIII. The Tudors achieved an IMDb score of 8.1, Wolf Hall 8.2.

versaillesVersailles Set during the reign of Louis XIV of France, this Canal+ drama rated well at home and has sold widely around the world. A second season is on its way and a third has already been commissioned, with production due to start in April 2017.
The first season rated pretty well on BBC2 in the UK and has been renewed. In the US, it aired on arts channel Ovation – which scored its highest ever ratings when it aired the first two episodes back to back (a combined total audience of 557,000).
Dubbed by one critic as the music video version of French history, the show hasn’t achieved the same critical acclaim as The Crown or Victoria, but it is praised for its high production values.

magnificent-century-kosem-10Magnificent Century Timur Savci’s sumptuous period drama was a big hit at home and also been sold into more than 40 territories. It did, however, receive some criticism from conservative elements within Turkey, who called it “disrespectful and hedonistic.”
The show, which ran for 139 episodes between 2011 and 2014, is based on the life of Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. It was followed by Magnificent Century: Kosem, which jumps forward four decades to tell the story of a female ruler who began her life as a slave girl. This show, also produced by Savci, has sold well internationally. Season one of Kosem aired on Star and season two on Fox.

theroyalsThe Royals E! Entertainment’s The Royals is currently into its third season with an audience in the 600,000 range. This after the show averaged one million-plus for season one and around 750,000 for season two.
The show is a novel take on the notion of royalty, since it is based around a fictional British royal family. Elizabeth Hurley plays Queen Helena, a matriarchal figure attempting to maintain the family’s public image while dealing with a range of domestic problems. One of the key plot lines sees her son, Prince Liam, unexpectedly become first in line to the throne after his older brother dies. IMDb gives the show a 7.4 rating.

mary-princessMary: The Making of a Princess The Brits aren’t the only ones with a royal family, of course. In 2015, Network Ten in Australia ran a TV movie about Mary Donaldson, a young Australian woman who married into the Danish royal family after a chance meeting at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The show, produced by FremantleMedia, got a meagre 6.1 rating on IMDb and mixed reviews, but actually rated well with around a million viewers.
Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne: Historical royal dramas are popular for a few reasons. One is that they are less politically sensitive than stories about current royals. Another is that it is easier to fictionalise a dead royal’s life than a living one’s. And not to be overlooked is the fact that there are more royal families to work with, since a few of them have ceased to exist.
In this lavish production, for example, the focus is on the love story between the son of Frederick III and the daughter of the Duke Of Burgundy in the 1400s. Budgeted at around €16m (US$17m), it is a coproduction between MR Film, Beta Film, ORF and ZDF.

the-queens-sisterThe Queen’s Sister As Mark Lawson observed in an article in UK newspaper The Guardian last year, TV producers tend to take a slightly deferential look at recent royals, saving the controversy for long-dead monarchs (notably Henry VIII). One slight exception to this rule is the Queen’s late sister Margaret, who is generally portrayed in the media as something of a hedonist.
In 2006, Channel 4 told her story in a biopic entitled The Queen’s Sister, with Lucy Cohu as Margaret. Critics were divided over the show, some calling it satirical, others tawdry. It secured a number of Bafta nomination and aired on BBC America. See Lawson’s article here.

powerandpassionCharles II: The Power and The Passion A good example of how historic royals are fair game, this BBC production looks at the feckless and lazy side of this 17th century British monarch, restored to the throne after the death of his father’s nemesis Oliver Cromwell.
Written by Adrian Hodges and starring Rufus Sewell, the show does make an attempt to be historically accurate, relying to some extent on Antonia Fraser’s book Charles II. The show aired in the US and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy. IMDb gives it a rating of 7.6.

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A royally good show

Television’s most expensive ever series dramatises the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II. DQ hears from the creative team behind The Crown.

At a rumoured £100m (US$124m), Netflix has paid a princely sum for its latest original series.

No expense was spared for The Crown, the US streaming service’s first original British drama that was given a 20-episode, two season order. Season one launches today.

The series tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s early reign, revealing her personal intrigues and romances as well as the political rivalries that shaped the second half of the 20th century.

Peter Morgan
Peter Morgan

Opening in 1947, it begins as Britain is still reeling from the devastation of the Second World War. Food supplies are still rationed and the government is running out of money. But against this backdrop, the nation is mesmerised by the marriage of young princess Elizabeth to the dashing Philip Mountbatten.

Expecting many years of married bliss before ascending to the throne, Elizabeth’s simple life is cut short when her father, King George VI, dies unexpectedly and she inherits the crown at the age of 25 –along with the unimaginable burden it brings.

The Crown sees creator Peter Morgan (The Queen) reunite with director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours) and executive producer Andy Harries (The Queen), a trio that previously worked on the Tony Award-winning play The Audience, which recalled Elizabeth II’s weekly meetings with her prime ministers across 60 years of her reign.

Suzanne Mackie executive produces, with Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, Inception) composing the music, making The Crown his first ever television project. It is produced by Left Bank Pictures.

Claire Foy (Wolf Hall) and Matt Smith (Doctor Who) star as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, with Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret and John Lithgow as Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The cast also includes Jared Harris, Victoria Hamilton, Dame Eileen Atkins, Alex Jennings and Lia Williams.

Netflix has commissioned two seasons of the drama at a cost of £100m, with filming taking place across southern England, featuring stately homes, churches, airfields, streetscapes, town halls and schools. Lancaster House, on Pall Mall in central London, doubles for the state rooms inside Buckingham Palace, while other sets were recreated at Elstree Studios in north London, including the private chambers of Elizabeth and Philip, the Buckingham Palace offices and 10 Downing Street offices, as well as back lots with the gates of Buckingham Palace and the world-famous 10 Downing Street front door.

Location filming also included trips to Scotland and South Africa, which is the setting for Elizabeth and Philip’s trip to Kenya early in the first season.

Daldry says: “We were thrilled to make this. I have to say it’s been one of the most enjoyable professional experiences of my life. It’s been an extraordinary journey. We’re in the middle of shooting season two. In the end, we’re expecting to do six seasons, maybe seven.”

Here, DQ hears more from the director as well as Morgan and Mackie as they discuss the origins of the project, working with Netflix and why they see Claire Foy as the leading actress of her generation.

The Crown
Filming on season two of The Crown is already underway

The Crown’s origins come from Peter Morgan’s enjoyment in writing scenes between the Queen and her prime ministers…

Morgan: A few years ago I wrote [2003 film] The Deal, the story about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. [Left Bank Pictures CEO and The Crown executive producer] Andy Harries then said, “Why don’t you do the same again but with the murder of [Princess] Diana?” So I tried to write that and it was preposterous. I said I wanted to put Tony Blair in and they said, “Don’t put Tony Blair in.” Then I did and we made The Queen with Helen Mirren, and I so enjoyed writing the bits between the prime minister and the Queen. I don’t really like writing about The Queen on her own, I like writing about her in conjunction with prime ministers, because it’s sort of about how we’re made up and what we’re about. Then I thought I’d quite like to write some more prime ministers so I wrote the play [The Audience]. The scene I most enjoyed writing was the one between Winston Churchill and her. So that’s where it came from. I then wrote a film version but then thought it might work better for television.
I thought I was just writing two episodes. Then we went to America to see if anybody wanted to coproduce and Netflix said they’d like two seasons, which took us aback a bit. Then I started writing. We’re now filming season two.

Daldry: Peter and I have always been trying to work together. Then we did the play and decided we wanted to continue working together. It’s been lovely and we’ve had a fantastic working relationship on the play and we continued to work on this. I’m assuming we’ll carry on; the story carries on. I want to because I find it endlessly fascinating. It’s not just the story of the royal family, it’s the story of who we are, why we’re here and what we dream of, in a way. That’s where I find it amazingly interesting. It’s the story of our nation.

A writer wouldn’t choose royalty as their protagonist, they’d choose Tony Soprano…

Morgan: As a dramatist you wouldn’t necessarily choose her as a centrepiece – you’d choose Tony Soprano, because he has violence and mood swings and he is decisive and you can pretty much take him in any direction and it feels plausible. The Queen is not necessarily who I would choose as a protagonist but because of the predicament she finds herself in, the more I dug into it, the more writing about her became interesting to me – writing about a woman who becomes two women and the effect that this extraordinary burden has on her. Whichever point of the second half of the 20th century you dip into, either [the royal family] are making a complete mess of things or the politicians are making a complete mess of things. They’re pulling themselves in and out of pitfalls and there’s something so spectacularly illogical about the British constitution that it becomes quite romantic.

Matt Smith
Former Doctor Who star Matt Smith plays Prince Philip

(Almost) everything you see on screen really happened

Daldry: We do have the most amazing research team in the world. It works as a team effort so every circumstance that you can possibly imagine that we dramatise – even the things you think are created by the director – they are documented moments. They actually happened. It’s endlessly fascinating to us. Of course, it is an interpretation of those events, it’s bound to be. We’re not trying to make a documentary, we’re artists interpreting it, but the facts themselves are phenomenally interesting. A good example [of artistic licence] would be at the very end of episode two. The Queen goes to Sandringham and sees the body of her father. I know she didn’t [in real life], it’s documented she did not see the body of her father. But I think it would be more dramatically interesting if she went into the bedroom and saw her father. Everything is a moment of discussion about where we part from absolute reality and where we want to heighten the drama. Emotionally I felt she wanted to see it, even if it’s not literally true.

Morgan: It’s commonplace on a show like this to have a writers room. But we don’t really have a writers room; we have a researchers room. We have seven or eight people working full time doing research so what will happen is I will ask them to do this and that or find this and that as I’m writing it and I will map out at the same time what an approximate structure is for the episode or for the season or the story or whatever it is. So they are constantly feeding back at me while I’m writing.

Everyone working on The Crown was in awe of Claire Foy’s performance…

Daldry: We’d always appreciated Claire Foy in all the shows that she’d done but now it suddenly seems she has become the leading actress of her generation. Suddenly she’s gone into this extraordinary realm. We are all in awe of Claire. It’s an extraordinary performance of being the most visible/invisible woman in the world but also a woman you never quite get to grips with. All the times I’ve spent time with the Queen, you know her and you don’t know her. You think you’re getting somewhere and there’s this other world you have no access to. Claire does this extraordinary tightrope walk between giving you access and not giving you access. It’s an extraordinary performance.

Mackie: She was pregnant when she auditioned so by the time we got to principle photography, it was a very inauspicious start. We started at Elstree and we realised we needed bigger rooms and scale and depth and corridors. Starting in Scotland was very necessary. Claire had just given birth and although we started in the summer, it was horrendously windy, the weather was awful and, poor thing, she was just trying desperately to adapt to this sudden shock of being on set in a very beautiful but challenging location with a newborn baby and playing a princess. She was stoical, brilliant and professional. And we’re gifted with a cast who are not only very, very good but also incredibly nice. We’ve not had tantrums or difficulties. Claire carries so much of this and she’s a delight.

the-crown-s1-ep5-3
Claire Foy is earning rave reviews for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II

“It’s an expensive show, but it’s not that expensive…”

Morgan: No writer has ever been told the truth about money, ever. But when I read [the cost of the show], I think, ‘That doesn’t describe the experience we were having.’ Whatever sums of money we did get, you have to halve it because we have two seasons.

Daldry: It’s an expensive show, but it’s not that expensive. At the moment we’re discussing a scene in season two where Jackie Kennedy comes to see the Queen. We think it’s quite important to show the expanse and scale of Air Force One in comparison to the British Comet. So Peter and I are quite vigorously hanging onto the idea we have to build Air Force One.

Writing for Netflix made a period drama feel modern and progressive…

Morgan: There’s something about Netflix that made it feel modern and progressive, and that galvanised me and my storytelling and made me excited to go back to this material because I felt I was doing it at the same time as I was moving forwards. I felt somehow that even though I was writing about something in the past, I was at some level at the cutting edge of where we were going. Even if I do continue with this, I imagine the way in which we’ll be watching seasons further down the road will be very different to how we’re watching now. I’m too unimaginative to be able to project where we’ll be with watching television in five or 10 years.

Daldry: One of the great things about Netflix is I said: “How do you feel about the show? Are you happy with the show?” They said: “The best thing about this show is we said yes and got out of the way.” It’s such an unusual experience. They were so enthusiastic and so easy to work with. It’s great [not to have anyone] telling you what to do – just saying, “Keep going and we’re loving what you’re doing.”

John Lithgow
US actor John Lithgow as Winston Churchill

The royal family weren’t involved in the production…

Morgan: I want to keep my distance. I’ve ducked the opportunity to meet [the Queen] a couple of times, not because I don’t want to but I’d be in shock. I just think it’s better for her, better for us to have complete independence. I want to be free to write how and what I want. I want the work to speak for itself and I don’t want to feel that I’m endorsed or supported or that I owe anyone. Equally, I want them to have total deniability and to [be able to] say I got it all wrong. Both sides being able to give one another that respect and independence is important.

Writing season two while filming the first was tough…

Morgan: I was polishing certain episodes that were being shot, I was looking at rushes of certain episodes being shot, there were other episodes to be shot and I was still having to write season two. I got pretty low during that – but I didn’t have time to get low, I was just sunken eyed. It was tough.

There will be a new queen in future seasons…

Daldry: At the moment we’re casting for the difficulty Prince Charles had at [his school] Gordonstoun. We’re casting Jackie Kennedy, JFK – the casting process never stops. And it’s a fantastic ensemble of actors. We are trying, and we are achieving at the moment, to [bring together] a wonderful group of people. It’s not only the best of our British acting talent but people with the right spirit and the right grace. John Lithgow was an unusual piece of casting. He said: “Why on Earth do you think of me as Churchill?” I said: “You’re American, you’ll be fine.”

Morgan: We did it [cast an American actor] for The Queen with James Cromwell [who played Prince Philip] and I thought when certain parts are so iconic and you feel like you’ve seen the turn being done before, somehow Lithgow brings an iconic, leftfield aspect.

Daldry: We are going to have to cast another queen. Claire Foy will do a second season and then we’re recasting for the queen in middle age.

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