Set against the backdrop of British history, Netflix highly addictive royal drama The Crown recreates the trials and tribulations of the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II. As with most period productions, the post-war British period perfect sets vie for attention with the lavish costumes and Golden Globe nominated performances and do not disappoint.
Creating a world of pomp and circumstance of Royal life fell to Oscar-winning production designer Martin Childs (Shakespeare in Love). The production was filmed in a myriad of stately homes, countrysides, and churches in exotic locales from southern England and Scotland to South Africa.
Ely Cathedral doubled as Westminster Abbey for Queen Elizabeth’s wedding to Prince Phillip. Childs details, "As a storyteller I was keen that houses and palaces should be easily distinguishable in order to obviate the need for any captions. The Crown, after all, is no documentary. So my objective was to use colour and light, scale and style, to keep signs and verbal information down to a minimum."
Designing period interiors requires not only historical accuracy but a distinct color palette. Child explains, “The story of The Crown begins in 1947 in a Britain emerging from a world war—brown, grey, austere, and bankrupt. 'Everything was being raised from the ashes,' Princess Margaret was to say. The colour of ash became our starting point. Not just a peeling, damp Downing Street, even Buckingham Palace betrayed austerity and trauma."
Childs finds that one of the primary challenges lies in “making something freshly built look as though it's been around for over a hundred years. It's not difficult to replicate the architecture as long as you know its rules. It's much harder to apply the decay and distress of many decades' use.” Shown above is Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) and wife Clemmie (Harriet Walker) at 10 Downing Street via Stage One of London’s Elstree Studios.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Alex Jennings and Lia Williams) post at the opulent Villa Windsor that was also shot at Elstree Studios.
“The visual material to draw from and to invent around went way beyond just stills and paintings. My intention was to turn this wealth of research into a consistent look, a style, so I held back wealth and colour for certain occasions, to be sparing in its use.”
Since shooting at Buckingham Palace was not an option, the filmmakers selected Lancaster House due to its size, scale and overall grandeur. “Lancaster House is great for scale, less great at portraying a home,” says the production designer. “The directors and I are always keen to step beyond it into something more intimate so that it becomes a part of Buckingham Palace rather than all of it. So we embrace its vastness then move on. It's better for passing through than spending time in, though its music room makes an excellent throne room."
The Queen’s coronation was a major moment of pomp and circumstance in the show’s production. Childs and his team pored through hours of archival footage in the painstaking recreation of the actual event. The young Queen prepares for the event with her sister Margaret (Vanessa Kirby).
“Fortunately there is a good number country houses close to London and houses within London that can provide rooms of sufficient scale and quality. Many have been robbed of their character and need the human touch restored. The best (and these tend to be privately owned) still retain a lived-in quality. The distinction is hard to define but hugely noticable. No single house has all the answers, which is why Buckingham Palace is made up of six locations and two built sets, an interior and an exterior,” notes Childs.
Located on Pall Malll in Central London, Lancaster House doubles as the State Rooms for Buckingham Palace. Shown here is the lavish Long Gallery which was chosen for its sumptuous interior architecture, scale and history.
Childs and his team recreated over 250 sets including the Barrogill Castle in Scotland purchased by Queen Mother (Victoria Hamilton).