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'The Crown' Creator Sees Britain's Royals As 'Just A Regular Family'

In his Netflix series, now in its third season, Peter Morgan explores the shame, regret and "misdemeanors of the past" that haunt the House of Windsor. Originally broadcast Jan. 16, 2018.


Other segments from the episode on January 16, 2019

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 15, 2019: Interview with Peter Morgan; Review of the television series The Crown; Review of the film Waves.


Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. On Sunday Netflix presents the new season of "The Crown," which tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II. In the first two seasons, the young woman who became queen was played wonderfully by Claire Foy. For this new third season, which covers the years 1964 to 1977, the queen is played by Olivia Colman, who takes over the role seamlessly and instantly - really, in seconds - and before even showing the front of her head.

Our critic-at-large John Powers will have a review of the new season of "The Crown," but first, let's revisit a conversation with the creator and writer of that miniseries, Peter Morgan. FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies spoke to him last year. Peter Morgan's other impressive works about powerful people include the movies "The Queen" and "The Last King Of Scotland" and the play and movie "Frost/Nixon."

Let's start with a clip from the first season of "The Crown." It takes place a few days after Elizabeth Windsor, then 25, had learned her father has died and that she is now queen. Elizabeth is played by Claire Foy. She's with her husband Philip, played by Matt Smith. We hear first from her private secretary, played by Harry Hadden-Patton.


HARRY HADDEN-PATTON: (As Martin Charteris) Though it would help if we could decide here and now on your name...

CLAIRE FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) My name?

HADDEN-PATTON: (As Martin Charteris) Yes, ma'am, your regal name. That is the name you'll take as queen. Your father took George. Obviously, his name is - was Albert. And before he abdicated, your uncle took Edward. Of course, his name was David.

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) What's wrong with my name?

HADDEN-PATTON: (As Martin Charteris) Nothing.

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Well then, let's not overcomplicate matters unnecessarily. My name is Elizabeth.

HADDEN-PATTON: (As Martin Charteris) Then long live Queen Elizabeth.


DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: And the first time Queen Elizabeth hears those words, from "The Crown," the Netflix series that is created by our guest Peter Morgan - Peter Morgan, welcome to FRESH AIR.

PETER MORGAN: Thank you.

DAVIES: It's remarkable to imagine a 25-year-old woman suddenly inheriting this responsibility. She says a few times in the series that she would have preferred to live a more anonymous life, and I saw a piece where you were quoted as calling her a countryside woman of limited intelligence. Was this taken accurately or in context?

MORGAN: No, it was - yeah, I've paid for that.


DAVIES: It was in the headline of the story I saw, of course. Yeah.

MORGAN: (Laughter) Just about anything, unfortunately, that I say about the show ends up in the headlines somewhere that I don't want it to end up, so I've ended up being quite private about this and about my responsibilities here. But yes, I do think she would have been more comfortable as a countrywoman. I do think she is naturally a modest - naturally a shy, retiring person. I think one can sense that. You know, one can sense when someone is hungry for the limelight and when someone would sooner avoid it. That, of course, is quite different from her sense of duty and - you know, which in itself is such an interesting thing to explore. You don't get a sense that people talk about duty very much anymore.

And so, you know, when I started sketching out episodes and thinking about what the show could possibly offer me as a writer or an audience - you know, what was the central dilemma at the heart of this psychologically, emotionally for the lead character - it would be, you know, that who she is as Elizabeth Windsor and who she is as Elizabeth Regina - you know, the queen - are two very different things. And the push and the pull between those two things - a bit like Russian Dolls, one within the other.

DAVIES: Right. And her mother tells her the queen - the Crown must always win. You know, it's fascinating. As I hear you talk about this - you know, she bore this responsibility of representing this institution properly. You kind of bear the responsibility of interpreting these lives to a lot of people who don't know very much about them. Does that feel like a weight on your head?

MORGAN: I hope that it's that weight and it's a responsibility of all dramatists would feel when tackling real-life figures. You know, there came a moment after the film that I wrote, "The Queen," had come out where Tony Blair was asked about his audience with the queen. And in his book - in his autobiography, which, of course, came many years after we made the film "The Queen," Tony Blair, when referring back to that critical period in the aftermath of Diana's death, used a number of expressions and quotations that seemed to me to be very familiar because they sounded like my dialogue.

And I remember thinking, well, hang on a minute. I couldn't have got it that right. I mean, I think we were all pretty confident we knew what Tony Blair represented. We knew what the queen thought. But surely he didn't say the very things that I'd written that he'd said. And I rang a couple of people, and I said, have you read the Blair biography - autobiography? Because it sounds very much like the scene that I wrote. And it seems that even Blair's memory had sort of become blurred with what we had done.

And it's both funny but also sobering because you suddenly realize that the predisposition people have towards sort of blurring - once you watch something on film, it becomes that thing. It becomes the way it was. And so much of what I write can't be exactly the way it was because I don't know. I'm just guessing. And then for Blair, in this particular instance, to have taken those imaginations or guesses and reconstruct them as the truth, it was confusing.

DAVIES: Yeah. In his own account, he's got...

MORGAN: In his own account...

DAVIES: Right.

MORGAN: He said, I then said that. I was like, well, you didn't. At least I don't think you did. Well, if you did, what a stroke of luck on my behalf. But I'm pretty sure you're actually just quoting what I wrote, which you've watched and which you've subsequently denied that you've watched but which you've clearly watched.


DAVIES: Well, we were talking about the very young Queen Elizabeth inheriting the throne at the age of 25 and adjusting to the demands of it. And one of the things that we see in here is the effect on her marriage with her husband Philip. And he finds it difficult - the constraints of living in a palace and all of the demands on her and being kind of second to her.

And I wanted to play a scene here. This is in the second season, where Philip has been away on a long trip representing the Crown in Australia and some other places. And he's back, and information has been surfacing in the press suggesting infidelity on his part, and this is not a complete surprise to Elizabeth. And this is a scene where they're, I believe, in a room on the yacht, and they're going to have a frank talk about their marriage in the context of the demands of being a royal couple. And I'm just going to mention one thing for our audience. You will hear Philip refer to the mustaches. He's referring to the functionaries and secretaries who set rules and enforce traditions around the palace.

So let's listen to this. This is Elizabeth and Philip. Philip is played by Matt Smith, and Elizabeth is played by Claire Foy. Let's listen.


FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Thought we might take this opportunity - without interruption, without distraction - to lay our cards on the table and talk frankly for once about what needs to change to make this marriage work.

MATT SMITH: (As Prince Philip) All right. Who goes first? Stupid question - if I've learned one thing by now, it's that I go second.

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) If I am to go first, that's where I'd start - your complaining.

SMITH: (As Prince Philip) My complaining?

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) It's incessant - whining and whinging like a child.

SMITH: (As Prince Philip) Are you surprised, the way those God-awful mustaches that run the palace continue to infantilize me?

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Perhaps if you weren't behaving like an infant...

SMITH: (As Prince Philip) Giving me lists, sending me instructions - do this. Don't do that. Wear this. Don't wear that. Say this. Don't say that. Can you imagine anything more humiliating?

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Yes. As a matter of fact, I can. I've learned more about humiliation in the past few weeks than I hoped I would in a lifetime. I've never felt more alone than I have in the past five months.

SMITH: (As Prince Philip) And why do you think that was?

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Because of your behavior.

SMITH: (As Prince Philip) Because you sent me away.

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Yes, and why do you think that was?

SMITH: (As Prince Philip) I don't know. You tell me.

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Because you're lost. You're lost in your role, and you're lost in yourself.

SMITH: (As Prince Philip) Christ.

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Look. I realize that this marriage has turned out to be something quite different to what we both imagined...

SMITH: (As Prince Philip) Understatement.

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) ...And that we both find ourselves in a...

SMITH: (As Prince Philip) Prison.

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) ...In a situation that is unique. Our marriage is different to any other in the country because the exit route which is open to everyone else...

SMITH: (As Prince Philip) Divorce.

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Yes, divorce - it's not an option for us ever.

DAVIES: And that is Claire Foy and Matt Smith playing Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Philip, in the Netflix series "The Crown," created by our guest Peter Morgan. It's a terrific scene. How do you find the voices for this young couple in this situation?

MORGAN: I suppose in some shape or form, it's like the high-wire walker who doesn't notice the distance beneath his wire, you know, or her wire. You know, I - the fact that I'm writing these two people doesn't seem, for some reason, to give me vertigo. It - I just write them, and therefore, you're then writing about a marriage, and that would be something any, you know, screenwriter would be expected to do. I just seem to be able to write them.

And, you know, we know they were holed up on the Royal Yacht Britannia for a good many hours before they emerged publicly. We know that they were in a storm. We know the dates that they were there, and we know what had transpired. We know that his best friend, Mike Parker, who had also been his private secretary, had just been divorced very publicly by his wife for infidelity.

And so, you know, as a dramatist, you see a series of dots, and what you hope is that through research, the dots are brought close enough together. We know where they were. We know roughly what their official function was. That much with these people is extraordinarily, you know, evident and minuted. We know where they - we pretty much know for every day of their lives where they were and what they were allegedly doing. What we don't know is what they were feeling, what they were thinking. And so it's my job to draw the line between those two points and to do so in the way that we were talking about earlier, in as responsible a way as possible.

DAVIES: You know, I - watching the series, one gets the impression that Prince Philip probably did play around, although it's not completely clear. And I gather the royal family has never acknowledged - there's been no clear proof of it. Do you - have you ever gotten any feedback from the royal family at all about your work in "The Crown" or...

MORGAN: Well, I mean, the royal family's not going to give me any feedback about Prince Philip and infidelity, but other people might. And the royal family - you know, I'm delighted to say that I've only met them on a couple of occasions, and on those occasions, I steer well clear of telling them who I am or what I'm responsible for and, if they know it, making sure that we're talking about something else. I'm thrilled to give them the distance to have total deniability, and in the same way, I want to have respectful distance from them to be allowed to get on with what I do and to take responsibility for what I do.

BIANCULLI: Peter Morgan speaking to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies last year; more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies and his 2018 interview with Peter Morgan, creator and writer of "The Crown" and writer of "The Queen," "The Last King Of Scotland" and "Frost/Nixon." The third season of "The Crown," starring Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II, begins Sunday on Netflix.


DAVIES: You know, Claire Foy is just terrific in this role, and I assume you were involved in the casting. You know, what were you looking for, and what did you see in her, this 31-year-old actress?

MORGAN: Well, the casting of Claire Foy, which is now sort of almost impossible to imagine, was - you know, she was overlooked. So this doesn't reflect well on me, but I will tell the story and live in shame. So what would happen is we'd be - I would be sent a list of people coming to the castings, and I would look down the list. And Wednesday's, as it were, casting session would involve the following five young actresses. And I looked down the list like, well, I know that one, that one, that one. Oh, yeah. They're all rather interesting. I'll come in at 11 to see that one, and I'll come in at 12 because I'm busy and important, and I'm far too - and whoever this Claire Foy person is, I'm absolutely not interested.

And I overlooked and snubbed Claire on no fewer than five occasions until there was one time where I simply couldn't avoid it because I was interested in the one before and the one after her. And so I then stayed to see her, and then I was like, well, why has no one showed me her?

DAVIES: (Laughter).

MORGAN: What's the matter with any of you? Why didn't you tell me to look at this one? They said, Peter, says she's been there on four or five occasions, and each time, you've studiously avoided her. And I said, but she's fantastic.

DAVIES: Yeah. What did you see? What did you see that captivated you?

MORGAN: Well, it's not an easy part. I mean, you have to be both - forgive me when I say it, but you have to be both plain and stunning, you know? She has to have both. And a number of the actors that came in were simply too beautiful, you know, too conventionally beautiful or too - their faces did not have the full range because Elizabeth Windsor is a beautiful - was - is arguably still a beautiful woman but not all the time and not from every angle. And her face lights up, you know, with a smile and can look quite grumpy, quite like a wet weekend when not smiling and be overlookable and quite plain.

And you need to believe she has intelligence and understand her intelligence 'cause the queen - contrary to what people think, I think, she has an intelligence and a very sharp mimicry and an intolerance of fools. But at the same time, she's not that intellectually curious. And so she has to be both quick and alert and yet at the same time capable of repose and being quite docile.

So it's not easy. And she has to be emotionally stable, and I don't think an actor can act that. I mean, of course they can, but it so helps if they are that. And Claire brought a lot of that into the part and then acted a lot of the stuff that she didn't have to perfection. And I saw it in an instant that she could do it.

DAVIES: Well, I want to talk about - we've talked a bit about "The Queen," which is this - the feature film that you did before you did the series "The Crown." This was directed by Stephen Frears, and we'll hear a scene here. This is about the moment in 1997 when Princess Diana has been killed in a car accident. And because she is divorced from the royal family, the queen sees her death as a private matter with no need for a public appearance or even a statement from her, the queen. And in fact, she takes her family and Diana's two boys, who are her grandchildren, to the royal estate in Scotland kind of to just get away while London is mourning.

And in this scene we're going to hear, she gets a call from the Prime Minister Tony Blair, played by Michael Sheen, who is concerned because the public and the press are seeing the royal family as heartless because it's expressed no grief at Diana's passing. So we hear the queen pick up the phone to speak to the prime minister.


HELEN MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Prime Minister?

MICHAEL SHEEN: (As Tony Blair) Good morning, Majesty. Sorry to disturb, but I was just wondering whether you'd seen any of today's papers.

MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) We've managed to look at one or two, yes.

SHEEN: (As Tony Blair) In which case, my next question would be whether you felt some kind of response might be necessary.

MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) No. I believe a few over-eager editors are doing their best to sell newspapers, and it would be a mistake to dance to their tune.

SHEEN: (As Tony Blair) Under normal circumstances I would agree. But, well, my advisers have been taking the temperature among people on the streets, and, well, the information I'm getting is that the mood is quite delicate.

MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) So what would you suggest, Prime Minister - some kind of a statement?

SHEEN: (As Tony Blair) No, ma'am. I believe the moment for statements has passed. I would suggest flying the flag at half-mast above Buckingham Palace and coming down to London at the earliest opportunity. It would be a great comfort to your people and would help them with their grief.

MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Their grief - if you imagine I'm going to drop everything and come down to London before I attend to my grandchildren who've just lost their mother, then you're mistaken. I doubt there is anyone who knows the British people more than I do, Mr. Blair, nor who has a greater faith in their wisdom and judgment. And it is my belief that they will, any moment, reject this mood which is being stirred up by the press in favor of a period of restrained grief and sober, private mourning. That's the way we do things in this country - quietly, with dignity. That's what the rest of the world has always admired us for.

DAVIES: And that is Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth in the film "The Queen," which was written by our guest, Peter Morgan. You know, it's interesting that in "The Crown," we see a very young Elizabeth, who is struggling to put duty above her personal interests and feelings so often. And in this episode, you know, many decades later, it would seem the queen puts her personal feelings about Diana and her failed marriage and her disappointment in Diana above her role and - you know, as a sovereign, kind of embodying the nation's grief. Does that make sense?



MORGAN: I think - no. I think that it was exactly the opposite. I think it was that she was doing exactly what she thinks the principle - the right thing to do was, which had nothing to do with her personal feelings.

BIANCULLI: Peter Morgan, creator and writer of "The Crown" and writer of "The Queen" and "Frost/Nixon," speaking to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies last year. The new season of "The Crown," with Olivia Colman inheriting the role of Queen Elizabeth II, begins Sunday on Netflix. After a break, we'll continue their conversation and have a review of the new season of "The Crown" from our critic-at-large John Powers. Also, our film critic Justin Chang will review the new film "Waves" about an African American family living in south Florida. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross. This Sunday Netflix unveils Season 3 of "The Crown," with Olivia Colman taking over the role of Queen Elizabeth II from Claire Foy. Today we're listening back to an interview from last year with the creator and writer of "The Crown," Peter Morgan. Morgan also wrote the screenplay for the movie "The Queen" starring Helen Mirren.

When we left off, Morgan and FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies were talking about the days after Princess Diana's death. The queen was initially reluctant about making a public appearance acknowledging the nation's grief because Diana had divorced from the royal family.


MORGAN: People interpreted it as a personal vendetta, but actually, there is strict protocol at the time when you have a - even if you're the mother of the future king, if you're divorced, you're no longer part of the royal family. At that point, you're no longer entitled to, you know, the titles. And as such, when you are second or third or fourth or fifth in line or whatever it is, there are quite clear precedents for what happens, and this is in a system which, you know, works entirely through precedent. You know, what are the rules for what happens when this happens?

And of course, when the rules are in conflict with what the natural emotional intelligence or response to a situation would be, that's when you get into trouble, and that's where the royal family has frequently come - you know, has run into trouble - is when their response appears to be emotionally out of step with the strict systems or rules or, you know - and if I went to my researchers, I'd be able to come back to you with six or 10 really interesting examples. I'm sitting in a radio station; I've got no access to that - but where there'd been really interesting examples where actually, you would want emotionally to respond in one way. But actually, it's really clear that in the case of, say, the Prince of Wales, you know, who's heir to the throne, the following rules apply.

And she, the queen, behaved perfectly correctly in that scene that you just heard, even though as a mother-in-law or former mother-in-law, it might appear cold and inappropriate. And that's why the response in the country was so animated. She was only doing what she thought the right thing to do was.

DAVIES: And she is eventually persuaded to come to London and join in a national mourning, give a televised...

MORGAN: Yeah. The queen, by the way, never attends funerals - almost never attends funerals. You know, so no matter how close she is to someone, you will find that the queen does not attend the funeral.


MORGAN: She will say...

DAVIES: It's protocol?

MORGAN: ...I - yes, because - I think, yeah, it is protocol, and it's like, the crown does not attend a funeral. It's - again, if you gave me a couple of hours to respond, I'd be able to respond with more information. And, you know, because, again, you know, my - I keep doing this. I keep refusing to swallow all this information myself because I - you know, my responsibility is to be a storyteller. These people interest me only insofar as they are a family and a vehicle with which I can analyze the second half of the 20th century or the dynamics of a family as a long-running saga.

Swallowing this royal porn, which is what we all call it - you know, sort of swallowing the minutiae of apparently completely crackpot protocol and so forth - it's not something I particularly delight in. You know, we have - I have 10 full-time researchers on this show, and they work around the clock. And they have certain areas divided up within them, and some of them are more focused on politicians, and some of them are more focused on royal matters.

DAVIES: You know, I saw "The Queen" when it was made. I think it was 2006. And then I've watched "The Crown" recently - all 20 episodes. And then I watched "The Queen" again, and it was so much fun to see the same characters that are in the series "The Crown" now, you know, decades later, much older, drawn by the same writer - you, Peter Morgan. You know, they're different actors in some cases, but we see these same people after they've matured and gone through all this life experience. And I'm sort of fitted - this is Peter Morgan's vision of these people now, later on, although you did them in the reverse order. You did the older one - the more recent one first.

MORGAN: That's true, yeah.

DAVIES: And I wonder, if you were doing "The Queen" now after this deep immersion into the Elizabeth of her 20s and 30s and 40s, do you think you would've done it or written it any differently?

MORGAN: That's such a good question. I don't - I really don't know. I couldn't tell you. I haven't re-watched "The Queen." I don't tend to watch anything - you know, by the time you've reached, you know, final cut on something, you're so sick of it. And, you know, by the time you've done promotion and so forth - listening to it just now, I - you know, I was - the only affection I had was not for my writing, but for the beautiful score by Alexandre Desplat, who I noticed has just done "The Shape Of Water" and won the Golden Globe the other night. It was a great pleasure to run into him again. He's a wonderful composer.

But I tend not to look back on it, but it's interesting that I wrote the older character, the older versions, and - let's see. You know, I - at the moment, I can't bear the idea of continuing to write these characters for much longer. But I'm surprised at how much I'm enjoying storylining Seasons 3 and Seasons 4 as they're coming up, which would be the - as it were, the middle-aged queen, which, you know, comes in between, of course, the queen that you saw in the movie played by Helen Mirren. And there's a whole generation, as it were, to be played by another actress. And we've asked Olivia Colman to do that and, happily, she said yes.

But actually, the cumulative depth of knowing that they - you know, knowing them as - having written them as younger and having invested in their marriage in the early years of their marriage, and now, as the marriage hits middle age and as they hit middle age and as they have midlife crises and as they, you know, go this way and that way as characters, maybe - and this is one of the joy of writing television and having the time to really, really stay with characters - maybe that will really pay dividends. And maybe I'll love it.

BIANCULLI: Peter Morgan speaking to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies last year; more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies and his 2018 interview with Peter Morgan, creator and writer of "The Crown" and writer of "The Queen," "The Last King Of Scotland" and "Frost/Nixon."


DAVIES: I want to briefly mention "Frost/Nixon," the film that you did in 2008, I think, directed by Ron Howard. It was - I know it was a play originally. You did it for stage. And this is based on the interviews that David Frost, who older folks will remember was a British celebrity journalist, did with Richard Nixon three years after he had resigned in disgrace. Let's just listen to a scene. This is from this series of interviews Frost did with Nixon. Many of the earlier interviews were relatively congenial, but this is the last of them, when Frost is really boring in on Nixon about Watergate. Nixon is played by Frank Langella, David Frost by Michael Sheen. Let's listen.


SHEEN: (As David Frost) And you've always maintained that you knew nothing about any of this until March 21, but in February, your personal lawyer came to Washington to start the raising of $219,000 of hush money to be paid to the burglars. Now, do you seriously expect us to believe that you had no knowledge of that?

FRANK LANGELLA: (As Richard Nixon) None. I believed the money was for humanitarian purposes to help disadvantaged people with their defenses.

SHEEN: (As David Frost) Well, it was being delivered on the tops of phone booths with aliases and in airports by people with gloves on. That's not normally the way lawyers' fees are delivered...

LANGELLA: (As Richard Nixon) Look. I have made statements to this effect before. All that was Haldeman and Ehrlichman's business. I knew nothing. OK, fine. Fine. You made a conclusion there. I stated my view. Now, let's move on. Let's get...

SHEEN: (As David Frost) No, hold on. No, hold on.

LANGELLA: (As Richard Nixon) No, I don't want to talk.

DAVIES: And on it goes. That's Frank Langella and David Frost...


DAVIES: Do - in the film Frost...

MORGAN: It's a blessing you faded it out. Thank you.

DAVIES: Yeah, well, it gets heated.


DAVIES: What interested you in this confrontation between these two men - wanted to put it on stage?

MORGAN: Well, it was a particular - you know, you do - not to sound pretentious, but you do look at it almost like a set of ingredients, and not every historical encounter which has huge significance and ramifications for the country or for the world has those ingredients. And for me, it's all about character, and it appealed to me particularly - I could never have written "Frost/Nixon" as a play or as a film had Frost not been British. Frost was my way in.

And so to me, it was a story about a guy out of his depth and a guy, you know, suddenly finding himself - you know, I went in through - I was not tortured in the same way as any American citizen would have been by the national trauma that was Watergate. And so Watergate was something I observed from the point of view of the U.K. I emotionally invested in - what must have it been like to have thought, oh, I better get these interviews with Richard Nixon because it's quite a prestigious get, only to suddenly feel the extraordinary weight of American - you know, the trauma on your shoulders and to realize if you do not deliver a conviction, that these interviews will effectively be offering somebody a rehabilitation? And so suddenly, he's in unbelievably deep water, and that really appealed to me. So I came in at it through Frost.

But, of course, in America the play and the film were interpreted completely differently. And they were interpreted as - will the beast get slain, you know? And one of the joys of "Frost/Nixon" as a project was traveling in between the United Kingdom and the United States and having this schizophrenic response to the play. In one country, it was a play about Richard Nixon. In one country, it was a play about David Frost.

DAVIES: And in England, they saw Frost as - what? - rehabilitating his own image or what?

MORGAN: No, Frost was sort of - you know, Frost was known in the U.K. as an opportunist. Although he was a very intelligent man, he was certainly not known for his intelligence. He was known more for his high lifestyle and his - you know, he was always with beautiful women. And he was at - you know, he was an opportunist. He was a golden opportunist, and this was one opportunity that he seemed to have misjudged.

And so the opportunist being out of his depth felt - you know, it was a story met with glee in the United Kingdom, where Frost was, you know, also the purveyor of some quite low-brow game shows or talk shows. And suddenly, the idea that he was in the ring with Richard Nixon and being forced to deliver something that no one else had delivered before - it turned out he did have both the mettle and the intelligence to do so, but one wouldn't have known it necessarily starting out.

DAVIES: Well, Peter Morgan, it's been fun. We will look forward to more of "The Crown." Thank you so much for speaking to us.

MORGAN: Pleasure.

BIANCULLI: Peter Morgan, creator and writer of "The Crown" and writer of "The Queen" and "Frost/Nixon," speaking to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies last year.


The new season of "The Crown," which tells the ongoing story of the royal family during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, is presented Sunday on Netflix. It features a new cast, including Oscar-winner Olivia Colman as Elizabeth. Our critic-at-large John Powers says that while the show has changed in many ways, what hasn't changed is that it's still so good.

JOHN POWERS, BYLINE: I was once visiting Cambridge, England, when I saw crowds pouring into the city center. Joining the throng, I arrived in time to see an immaculately besuited Prince Charles give a speech that celebrated, of all things, the opening of a new supermarket. Watching him feign enthusiasm, I remember thinking, the poor guy spends his whole life doing this stuff, and I walked away grateful that I wasn't a royal.

I suspect many feel the same gratitude watching "The Crown," the plush behind-the-palace-walls hit that may be the most delicious series on television. Created and largely scripted by Peter Morgan, the show's third season drops on Netflix this Sunday, carrying Queen Elizabeth's story into the mid-1960s and '70s. While the essential drama at Buckingham Palace stays the same - it's the tug of war between public rules and private selves - Season 3 has big changes that take a couple of episodes to warm up to.

It's not simply that we're watching once-youthful characters now congealed in cushy, but often disappointing, middle-aged malaise. We must also get used to a superb new cast, with Matt Smith's spiky Prince Philip giving way to Tobias Menzies' more textured annoyance - he's a reservoir of bad advice - and Vanessa Kirby's dazzling Princess Margaret turning into an unhappily married social butterfly, waspishly played by Helena Bonham Carter. Most important, Claire Foy's likeably hesitant Elizabeth has been replaced by a prematurely dowdy queen who, in Olivia Colman's layered performance, has warmed to her job.

Beneath her sometimes lacquered exterior, she's an odd mixture of decency and coldness, cluelessness and ultimate good sense. Making matters still trickier, the show is no longer set in the postwar afterglow dominated by Winston Churchill. Largely ignoring the giddiness of swinging London, Morgan focuses on troubled times. Even as politicians ask whether the monarchy is a waste of time and money, Britain is faced with a shrinking pound sterling, massive strikes, calamitous power cuts and even the threat of a right-wing coup involving national luminaries.

Here, on election day in 1964, Elizabeth watches the news while her husband fans absurd fears of what will happen should Labour's Harold Wilson become prime minister.


TOBIAS MENZIES: (As Prince Philip) You do know if that man wins today, they'll want us out.

OLIVIA COLMAN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Who?

MENZIES: (As Prince Philip) Wilson. Over half his cabinet would be made up of rabid anti-monarchists who want our heads on spikes. Vive la revolution, except I doubt they speak French in Halifax or Huddersfield - wherever he's from.

JASON WATKINS: (As Harold Wilson, unintelligible).

MENZIES: (As Prince Philip) I even heard a rumor that he's a KGB spy...

COLMAN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Mr. Wilson? That's ridiculous.

MENZIES: (As Prince Philip) ...That his predecessor, Hugh Gaitskell, was poisoned by the Russians so that their man might take over.

COLMAN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Who did you hear that from?

MENZIES: (As Prince Philip) A friend of mine at the lunch club. He had a whole theory about Wilson being turned while on a trade mission to Russia, said he even had a KGB codename - OLDING.

COLMAN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Well, if you know it and your chum knows it, obviously, MI5 will know it, and they must've come to the conclusion Mr. Wilson was fine or they would've done something about it.

MENZIES: (As Prince Philip) Well, unless they never expected him to get this far. No one did.

POWERS: As it happens, ideology proves irrelevant. Over a series of nifty scenes, Elizabeth comes to develop a close relationship with Wilson, slyly played by Jason Watkins, who talks to her forthrightly about governing. She vastly prefers him to his feckless Tory successor Edward Heath, who she finds about as appealing as a tree slug.

"The Crown" gets much of its oomph from filtering historical events through their often-tangential connection to the royal family. Thus, a mining disaster becomes the story of Elizabeth's trouble displaying public empathy, a preview of her PR disaster with Princess Di. Britain's need for an American loan leads to a drunken Princess Margaret spouting dirty limericks to a delighted Lyndon Johnson. And in a sneakily powerful episode, the fear of Welsh nationalism leads the family to uproot Prince Charles, played with great feeling by Josh O'Connor, and ship him to the University of Wales in Aberystwyth to prove the English care.

Along the way, Charles becomes this season's prime sacrificial victim, where his sister Princess Anne, played with star-making assurance by Erin Doherty, listens to David Bowie, enjoys casual flings and addresses the world with biting sarcasm. The touching Charles believes himself a kind of individualistic freethinker, but whether it's his schooling or his love life, he's bulldozed into doing what his chilly, stiff-upper-lip family decides is best for the Crown. His whole purpose in life is to become king when his mother dies. Now 71, he's still in that limbo, more a figure of mockery than sympathy.

"The Crown" is wonderfully entertaining, in part because we don't have to take it all that seriously. Because the throne has no real power, we can enjoy it as a historical soap opera without worrying that things are inaccurate or partisan as we would with a show about, say, the Kennedys or the Trumps. Indeed, one key to the monarchy's allure is that it offers a kind of larger-than-life pop mythology.

In its timeless pageantry and out-of-touch silliness, "The Crown" transcends the moment. It represents the idea of an enduring Britain, and it provides ordinary people with a useful distraction from the battles of political life. I never thought I'd say this, but these days, maybe America could use a royal family, too.

BIANCULLI: Critic-at-large John Powers reviewed the third season of "The Crown," available on Netflix this Sunday.


This is FRESH AIR. The 31-year-old writer-director Trey Edward Shults won great acclaim and the top prize of the 2015 South by Southwest film festival for his debut feature, "Krisha." His new movie, "Waves," is a family drama complicated by tragedy. It stars Kelvin Harrison Jr. as a Florida teenager and Taylor Russell as his younger sister. Film critic Justin Chang has this review.

JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: The emotionally turbulent drama "Waves" revolves around an African American family living in South Florida. And I mean revolves quite literally - in an early scene, the camera swivels a full 360 degrees around the inside of a car as a teenager named Tyler Williams and his girlfriend Alexis drive along the oceanfront. Tyler, played by a mesmerizing Kelvin Harrison Jr., is a high school wrestling star with a bright-looking future. And the camera, whether racing alongside him on a field or crashing down next to him on the wrestling mat, seems to draw on his youthful energy.

The writer-director Trey Edward Shults has a gift for turning dramatic ideas into visual ones. "Waves" is his grandest and most ambitious picture yet. But like his earlier features, "Krisha" and "It Comes At Night," it's about the fragility of the American family. Shults' style has some of the raw, ragged intimacy of John Cassavetes, but also the dreamy poetry of Terrence Malick, whom he worked with years ago. His camera is alive to the lush beauty and sweltering heat of his Florida setting, and it's magnetized by the intense physicality of his actors.

The camera begins to slow down when Tyler gets home and mumbles a half-hearted greeting to his family. Renee Elise Goldsberry plays his loving stepmother, Catharine, and Taylor Russell plays his sensitive younger sister, Emily. Tyler has the closest but also the most difficult relationship with his father, Ronald, a gruff authoritarian played with soulful gravity by Sterling K. Brown. Ronald is hard on his son, always correcting his behavior and pushing him to do better, whether they're lifting weights together in their home gym or having an argument about Tyler's work ethic.


STERLING K BROWN: (As Ronald Williams) I said it before. I'll say it again. The world don't give a [expletive] about you or me. We are not afforded the luxury of being average. Got to work 10 times as hard just to get anywhere. Listen, I don't push you because I want to. I push you because I have to. Do you hear what I'm saying, son? Do you hear what I'm saying?

KELVIN HARRISON JR: (As Tyler Williams) Yeah.

CHANG: This is one of just a few moments in which the movie directly addresses the subject of racism. There's a later one too when a stranger hurls an anti-black slur at Tyler. But for the most part, the tensions tearing at the Williams family come from within. This is a sad, sweeping story about the seemingly unbridgeable gap that can open up between parents and their children. It's also about the desperation that can set in when life doesn't go according to plan.

Tyler starts to experience a nagging soreness in his shoulder. A doctor's visit confirms that he has severe muscle damage, spelling the possible end of his wrestling career. Around the same time, his girlfriend Alexis informs him that she's pregnant and wants to keep the baby. This might sound contrived on paper, but I like the way that "Waves" doesn't shy away from melodrama. And Shults' filmmaking is so propulsive that you're carried along at every moment. He puts you inside Tyler's head, making palpable his confusion and anger as everything begins to spiral out of control.

I won't say anything more about the tragic turn that follows, partly because I don't want to spoil it and partly because Tyler's experience turns out to be only half the story. "Waves" understands that men tend to hog the spotlight in families, in relationships, in sports and in movies. And so it's both pointed and deeply moving when the plot suddenly ruptures and the perspective shifts to Emily, who tells her story in the movie's second half.

Emily is as shy and reserved as her brother was brash and reckless. And Taylor Russell acts with a quiet sensitivity that counterbalances Kelvin Harrison Jr.'s brooding fury. But before long, Emily catches the eye of a classmate named Luke, played with puppyish (ph) sweetness by Lucas Hedges, who charms her and coaxes her out of her shell. Their initial flirtation blossoms into a real relationship as they bond over burgers and hang out with friends. They also connect over their shared understanding of the pain that family can bring.

There's a wrenching scene in which Ronald confesses his failings as a father and reaffirms his love for Emily, whom he has too often ignored. He proceeds to recite a few words from the Book of Proverbs which beautifully encompass the movie and its emotional extremes - hatred stirs up strife, but love covers up all offenses.

Shults isn't peddling easy redemption. He's trying to show us what it looks like for a family to try to heal in the aftermath of tragedy. As a technical display, "Waves" is awfully impressive. As an emotional experience, it's simply enormous. It begins in exuberance before moving through rage and despair. But by the end, it has achieved what feels like a state of grace.

BIANCULLI: Justin Chang is a film critic for The LA Times. On Monday's show, our guest will be actor Robert Pattinson, who stars opposite Willem Dafoe in the gothic horror film "The Lighthouse." Pattinson became a teen heartthrob for his role as a vampire in the "Twilight" films. He's gone on to work with David Cronenberg and Werner Herzog. I hope you can join us.


BIANCULLI: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

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