Only Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, Imelda Staunton, and Verity Russell can say they played Queen Elizabeth in The Crown. We look at their performances.

Playing Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown is a prestigious part that only four actresses can boast about, and the Emmy-winning Netflix series has tapped some of England’s finest thespians to play the reigning monarch. Created by Peter Morgan, The Crown dramatizes the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth and the Royal House of Windsor throughout the 20th century. One of Netflix’s signature series, The Crown season 5 is currently in production and Morgan plans on ending the show with season 6.

The Crown’s grand plan was certainly ambitious: every two seasons, the entire cast changes to reflect how the Queen and the Royal Family have aged throughout the decades. Claire Foy and Matt Smith played Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in The Crown seasons 1-2. They stepped aside so that Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies could take over the roles for The Crown seasons 3-4. Finally, Imelda Staunton will become Queen Elizabeth, alongside Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip, for The Crown seasons 5 and 6. In addition, Vanessa Kirby, Helena Bonham Carter, and soon, Lesley Manville were cast in the pivotal role of Princess Margaret, Elizabeth’s younger sister. Starting in The Crown season 3, Josh O’Connor played Prince Charles and he was joined by Emma Corrin as Diana, Princess of Wales, in The Crown season 4. Dominic West and Elizabeth Debicki will take over as Charles and Diana in The Crown season 5.

The Crown intimately dramatizes the private lives and very public trials of the Windsors, centering on the Queen herself, who is often torn by how her personal desires and opinions must always yield to the demands of the Crown. When The Crown is over, only four actresses can ever say they played Queen Elizabeth in Peter Morgan’s critically-acclaimed drama, which is an even more exclusive club than the actors who played James Bond. Queen Elizabeth is also a very challenging role since not only are Foy, Colman, and Staunton portraying a real-life person who is still alive and is their actual head of state but passivity and inaction become the monarch’s signature demeanor, especially in the later seasons of The Crown when Royals like Charles and Diana generate drama and controversies that eclipse the problems Elizabeth and Philip had when they were younger. Here are the four actresses who play Princess/Queen Elizabeth in The Crown and how their portrayals differed while still evoking the continuous reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

Claire Foy As Queen Elizabeth In The Crown Seasons 1 & 2

The Crown: All 4 Queen Elizabeth Actresses Explained
The Crown: All 4 Queen Elizabeth Actresses Explained

Claire Foy originated the role of Queen Elizabeth in The Crown and she is still the standard by which her successors are judged, especially considering Foy on the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for The Crown season 2. In her two seasons, Foy played Elizabeth from age 21 in 1947 to age 38 in 1964. Her stint began with Princess Elizabeth marrying Philip Mountbatten before she ascended upon the death of her father, King George VI (Jared Harris). Foy also returned to cameo as Elizabeth giving her famous 1947 speech in South Africa in The Crown season 4, for which Foy was again nominated for an Emmy. After Foy left The Crown, she appeared in First Man opposite Ryan Gosling before Foy starred as Lisbeth Salander in Thee Girl in the Spider’s Web.

During Foy’s seasons, The Crown covered the Great Smog of London in 1952, Elizabeth’s 1953 coronation (the first televised), the 1956 Suez Crisis, the tenures of Churchill, Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam), and Harold MacMillan (Anton Lesser) as Prime Minister, the Queen’s visit to Ghana in 1961, and Buckingham Palace welcoming the Kennedys in 1962 before John F. Kennedy’s (Michael C. Hall) 1963 assassination, and Princess Margaret’s scandalous relationship with Group Captain Peter Townsend (Ben Miles) and her marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode). Elizabeth and Philip also had marital difficulties in The Crown seasons 1 and 2 centering around rumors of his infidelity and his displeasure at the Royal House taking her surname Windsor instead of his, Mountbatten.

Verity Russell As Princess Elizabeth In The Crown Seasons 1 & 3

The Crown: All 4 Queen Elizabeth Actresses Explained
The Crown: All 4 Queen Elizabeth Actresses Explained

Verity Russell portrayed Princess Elizabeth in The Crown’s flashbacks to her childhood when she was heir presumptive to the throne. Russell appears as the young Elizabeth in four prologues of The Crown season 1 alongside the young Princess Margaret (Beau Gadsdon). Verity played Princess Elizabeth at 12 years old in The Crown season 1 and she returned in season 3 to play Elizabeth aged 17 in “Margaretology”, where Tommy Lascelles (Pip Torrens) scolded both princesses for daring to propose Margaret become Queen instead of Elizabeth. The Crown is Russell’s only acting role but her portrayal of the young future Queen seamlessly lines up with Claire Foy and Olivia Colman’s.

Olivia Colman As Queen Elizabeth In The Crown Seasons 3 & 4

The Crown: All 4 Queen Elizabeth Actresses Explained
The Crown: All 4 Queen Elizabeth Actresses Explained

Olivia Colman successfully inherited the role of Queen Elizabeth from Claire Foy and her performance as Her Royal Highness is lauded in her own right. Starting in The Crown season 3, Colman played the Queen from age 38 in 1964 to age 64 in 1990 when The Crown season 4 ended. As the middle-aged Queen, Colman played Elizabeth as cooler and more distant, which factored into how the monarch was beginning to be perceived as out of touch by the public. Colman was already Emmy nominated for her roles in The Night Manager and Fleabag, and she has also garnered Emmy nods for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for both of her seasons of The Crown. Of course, Colman was no stranger to playing English Queens and she won the Academy Award-winner for her portrayal of Queen Anne in The Favourite.

The Crown seasons 3 tackled such major historical events as the Profumo scandal in 1964, the 1966 mining disaster in Aberfan, Wales, the moon landing in 1969, and Princess Margaret’s affair with Roddy Llewellyn (Harry Treadaway) that led to her divorce from Lord Snowdon (Ben Daniels). The Crown season 4 brought Princess Diana and her ill-fated marriage to Prince Charles into the story, which spanned the 1980s and included Michael Fagan breaking into the Queen’s bedroom in Buckingham Palace. But while Charles and Diana threatened to overshadow the Queen, Colman’s battle of wills with Gillian Anderson’s Margaret Thatcher and her riveting scenes with Emma Corrin’s Diana pulled the focus back to the Queen in The Crown season 4.

Imelda Staunton As Queen Elizabeth In The Crown Season 5

The Crown: All 4 Queen Elizabeth Actresses Explained
The Crown: All 4 Queen Elizabeth Actresses Explained

Imelda Staunton will take over the role of Queen Elizabeth from Olivia Colman for The Crown seasons 5 and 6. Staunton will play the monarch from age 64 presumably into her late 70s since The Crown season 5 is presumed to end at some point in the 2000s. Audiences are most likely to recognize Staunton for her role as Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and for playing Lady Maud Bagshaw in the Downton Abbey movie, but Imelda was also Oscar-nominated and won the BAFTA for playing the title role in Vera Drake.

The Crown season 5 will pick up in the early 1990s so it will likely depict Queen Elizabeth’s “annus horribilis” of 1992 when three of her children’s marriages ended and a fire severely damaged Windsor Castle. The Crown season 5 will also likely cover the 1995 interview Diana gave to Martin Bashir and her 1996 divorce from Prince Charles. Although Diana’s death in 1997 was the subject of Peter Morgan’s film The Queen, The Crown season 5 will inevitably depict the tragedy as well. Staunton’s tenure as Queen Elizabeth II will continue into The Crown season 6, which will likely cover the deaths of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother in 2002. No doubt, Imelda Staunton will distinguish herself as a worthy successor to Claire Foy and Olivia Colman and her reign will be equally lauded as The Crown ends its run on Netflix.

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