So, you may have noticed that, here at the Savvy Reader, we can’t stop talking about The Crown. The new season has meant that we have royals on the brain 24/7, and to be perfectly honest, we’re kind of okay with that. It’s no secret that we have a soft spot for magnificent historical fiction, and with great new books about Queen Elizabeth and her family like The Gown and The Other Windsor Girl, we will not be running out of royal material any time soon! To celebrate the release of The Crown season 3 (and the inevitable binging that ensued), we put together this Q&A with the incomparable Jennifer Robson, veritable expert on the monarchy and author of some of our absolute favourite historical fiction titles of all-time. Grab your cups and saucers, because Ms Robson is about to spill the tea!
SR: First off, how do you feel about the casting for the new season?
JR: I LOVE the casting — choosing Helena Bonham-Carter as Princess Margaret was an act of genius. (Although I do miss Matthew Goode as Anthony…)
SR: In your book The Gown, the story is centred on the women who created Elizabeth’s dresses, inspired by real people. Could The Crown benefit from having a few more characters from normal life to add some more perspective to the show?
JR: I absolutely think it could benefit from more glimpses of the ordinary people who do so much behind the scenes to make the royals’ lives easier. Maybe they’ll decide to include Angela Kelly when the show moves into the 1990s? (If anyone out there hasn’t yet picked up a copy of The Other Side of the Coin, do so NOW. It is catnip to the power of ten for royal watchers!)
SR: Do you have a favourite outfit of Queen Elizabeth’s, either from the show or her actual appearances (or both)?
JR: I really love her off-duty “uniform” of a tweed skirt, woolly cardigan and a classic Hermès scarf. I guarantee that’s what she wears 99 percent of the time when she is off-duty.
SR: What are you looking forward to most this season?
JR: What else but the introduction of Lady Diana Spencer??!!
SR: What do you think keeps us fascinated with royal families, throughout history and in the present, despite their decline from great political power to figurehead?
JR: I think the combination of people with recognizable human foibles who are also expected to live blameless lives, all the while being exposed to constant public scrutiny, is incredibly potent — but it also comes at a terrible cost to them personally. To those who say that the royals live in luxury and deserve what they get, I would answer: no amount of money or privilege is worth that kind of misery.
SR: Is The Crown too sensationalist in the angles it takes concerning the private lives of the royals?
JR: Speaking from the perspective of a historian, I do think the series has tended to dwell too much on the more lurid headlines from over the years, and often does so without much attention to accuracy. At the same time, I can also respect the show for what it is: a really well-made and well-acted work of entertainment.
SR: Can The Crown offer any insights as to the divisive opinions about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex today?
JR: Here I have to say that I am fully Team Harry and Meghan, and in that regard I am totally disgusted with the intrusions into their lives by the British tabloid press. I am not exaggerating when I say that much of the negative press coverage by the tabloid newspapers is fueled by racism and xenophobia. To people who say that Prince Harry lives a privileged life and should just grit his teeth and get on with it is ignoring the central issue: the relentless bullying of his wife by people who are profiting from her resulting distress. There are many privileged and wealthy people in our world, but how many of them do as much for others as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex?
SR: What do you think of Olivia Colman’s comment that Queen Elizabeth II is the “ultimate feminist”?
JR: I don’t think the queen would characterize herself as a feminist — she’s from a generation that tends to shy away from such labels — but she is the most recognizable woman in the world, and she is known for occupying a position of power and influence, and doing so very capably, for more than sixty years. In that sense I think she has helped the cause of women’s rights in a very significant way.
SR: Prince Philip has been called a “victim” of the show, with a lot of people coming away thinking he’s kind of a jerk after the first two seasons. Is The Crown too hard on Prince Phillip and his fixed patriarchal ideals?
JR: I do think the show has failed to capture what a complicated man he is, not only because of his upbringing — he may have been a prince but he was nearly penniless, and had no real home of his own, until his marriage — but also because of the almost unique role he has occupied for more than seventy years. To know that you are forever destined to be the lesser person in your marriage, no matter what you may achieve in your own sphere of work and influence, has got to be difficult — and doing it in the eyes of the world has made it even more so. This is not to say that he is an easy man to live with, or that his patriarchial attitudes are at all acceptable, but rather that he is a far more interesting and complex man than the show lets on.
SR: What are your thoughts on the meeting of two such influential women from such different worlds, Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher, that we will see in this season?
JR: To be quite honest, I’m looking forward to the queen making mincemeat of Thatcher!!
SR: What do you hope to see in future seasons of The Crown?
JR: I’d like to see them acknowledge how much the world has changed since 1952, how the queen has had to adapt with the times, and most of all how lonely she must have been at times. Now that her mother and sister are gone, as well as most of her contemporary friends, there are very few people with whom she can truly be at ease.
SR: Do you see yourself writing about the royal family again in the future?
JR: Perhaps one day! Right now I’m focused on Italy during the Second World War — my work in progress includes precisely zero cups of tea being consumed at difficult moments. A first for my books!
SR: Why is your book The Gown perfect for fans of The Crown?
JR: We touched upon this earlier, but in The Gown we go behind the scenes at the queen’s wedding in 1947: not only do we see how her iconic gown was made, but we also get to sneak inside Buckingham Palace on the day of the wedding and visit with the bride as she was preparing to leave for Westminster Abbey.
With such thoughtful responses, it’s no surprise that Jennifer Robson is so knowledgeable about the royal family, or that she is able to craft stories as meaningful and poignant as The Gown. (Also, a new book in World War II Italy? Count. Us. In!) If you love The Crown, and enjoyed this Q&A as much as we did, we can’t recommend Jennifer Robson’s books enough!
Tell us, Savvy Readers: What’s your favourite Jennifer Robson book so far? Did you love the new season of The Crown? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @SavvyReader!
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