IF you haven’t already binged all four seasons of the Netflix series The Crown, you really should look at the choices you’re making. The historical drama portrays the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth ll from 1947. The first season was released in 2016 but only came to South African Netflix in 2020. (Side note: South Africa was an important filming location for The Crown – scenes in the Amazon, Tonga and Australia were all filmed here!) We’ve been obsessed ever since, particularly with the marvellous Claire Foy’s portrayal of the younger queen in the first two seasons. Through her masterful performance we’re given a glimpse of what it might have been like for the young Elizabeth trying to balance her roles as mother and sovereign leader of the Commonwealth.
‘I was never playing the queen; I was playing Elizabeth Mountbatten,’ Claire says, ‘and so, in the same way that everybody who watches the show now has a deeper understanding of them as human beings, it’s the same for me. I just see what they’ve been through in their lives and have respect for her.’
She embodies Queen Elizabeth with subtlety and sensitivity. She jokes that her role involved ‘a lot of sitting’, but Matt Smith, who plays Prince Philip, described her performance slightly differently: ‘She has this amazing capacity to be still and transformative and communicative all at the same time.’ Peter Morgan, the show’s creator, says it was this minimalist approach that got Claire the part. He talks about the extraordinary complexity she brings to the role of a remarkably straightforward, uncomplicated woman in a complicated predicament. ‘Claire manages to do what almost none of the other actors we saw in auditions could do: She dared to be still.’
Claire believes she learnt the art of subtlety early on in her career, playing the title role in the BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit. ‘Dearbhla [Walsh, the director] told me: “Everyone around you will be swinging off the chandeliers – that’s what Dickens requires. But you’re in the centre of it. Don’t do anything. Don’t try to act.”’
Of course, she is doing something, but it’s understated – the tightening of her jaw, her mouth turned everso-slightly downwards, a flicker in her large eyes. It’s how she’s able to bring a softness and humanity to a figure who’s always been perceived as rather unrelatable and restrained.
Claire’s performance garnered a cluster of awards, including an Emmy, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe.
Born in England to parentsDavid and Caroline (whodivorced when she waseight), Claire started acting by accident. She found school difficult and struggled to find her place. ‘Feeling stupid is not a nice thing,’ she says of her secondary school years. ‘I wasn’t really good at anything.’ She also had some pretty serious health issues – she was on crutches between the ages of 12 and 15 owing to juvenile arthritis, which was extremely painful. When she was 17, doctors discovered a tumour growing in her one eye. Luckily it turned out to be benign, so she didn’t need surgery.
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