How the actors from The Crown compare to the real-life British royals

How the actors from The Crown compare to the real-life British royals

The Crown tells the dramatic tale of the rise of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II from a little girl born a relatively minor British princess to the revered queen of the United Kingdom. The general consensus among viewers and critics is that all four of the Netflix show’s seasons thus far have been nothing short of riveting (albeit somewhat fictionalised), as well as superbly acted.

So now, as we eagerly await Season 5 and the new cast members who will be playing older versions of the “characters” we’ve come to feel we know personally, let’s see how the actors from The Crown compare to the real-life royals and other characters in their world.

Queen Elizabeth II as a young woman, as played by Claire Foy

Claire Foy’s portrayal of the Queen from young adulthood through the first decade or so of middle age has been an absolute revelation. Thanks to Foy’s deeply felt, Emmy-winning portrayal, it feels as though we have a sense of the Queen as a person. And by that, we mean as a devoted daughter, a young woman in love, a mother, a politician, a boss-in-training who is excited but trepidatious about assuming the top leadership role in her “Firm,” and, ultimately, the boss.

Queen Elizabeth II in middle age, as played by Olivia Colman

After seeing Claire Foy, it was hard to imagine how the role of the Queen could possibly be filled by another. However, the moment we first laid eyes on Olivia Colman as the middle-aged monarch, we were hooked. Not surprisingly, Colman won a Golden Globe for her portrayal, which follows the Queen into her 50s.

“For the last year, I feel like I’ve been living someone else’s life, and now I feel like I’m winning someone else’s award,” Colman said during her slightly tipsy (by her own account) acceptance speech.

Prince Philip as a young man, as played by Matt Smith

The husband of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, now 99, is arguably an even more challenging role for an actor to tackle than the Queen herself because the former Prince of Greece and Denmark and current Duke of Edinburgh is such a force of nature. However, Doctor Who alum Matt Smith delivered an on-point portrayal of the charming, handsome military man Princess Elizabeth fell in love with when she was only 13 years old.

Prince Philip in middle age, as played by Tobias Menzies

Following Matt Smith as Prince Philip was a formidable task, but Tobias Menzies came through as the middle-aged husband of Queen Elizabeth, perhaps better than anyone else might have. Truth be told, the role of Prince Philip was far less meaty in the Menzies seasons than in the Smith seasons. However, the scene in which Menzies as Philip attempts to talk reason to an agitated and desperately unhappy Princess Diana couldn’t have been more perfect. In it, we see the awkwardness that the not-quite-patriarch might have been feeling as he tried to school his headstrong daughter-in-law on what was what in the world of royalty.

Prince Charles as a young man, as played by Josh O’Connor

It may be difficult to believe today, but on the day of his wedding to Lady Diana Spencer, Prince Charles was perceived by the world as a real-life Prince Charming. Tall and not-too-bad-looking despite having rather large ears, he was the slightly socially awkward future king of England. And he was marrying the sweet, statuesque kindergarten teacher with the enormous blue eyes, who was already well on her way to becoming the most beloved woman of the 20th century. As it turned out, the Princess’s popularity would play a role in alienating the Prince’s love…but so would the Prince’s love of a married commoner named Camilla Parker Bowles.

But enough about Prince Charles. Let’s talk about Josh O’Connor, shall we? Thanks to O’Connor’s charming, brilliant, adorable, and, yes, big-eared portrayal of the Prince of Wales, the future king’s reputation has been restored. Or nearly so. As much dirt as we believe we know about the royal couple’s doomed marriage, O’Connor has made it almost impossible for us to continue to dislike the man who rejected Princess Diana and idolised Camilla. He’s almost helped us to understand what the Prince saw in Camilla, whom he eventually married in 2005.

Prince Charles as a teenager, as played by Julian Baring

The fact that Josh O’Connor transformed Prince Charles into a heartthrob is not to say that Julian Baring’s portrayal is any less brilliant – nor is it any less charming. Baring brought true pathos to the teenage prince, who was ill-suited for the sporty boarding school, Gordonstoun, that his father insisted he attend. If we weren’t exactly swooning over Baring as Charles, it is no doubt because Baring was only 13 when he took on the role, and the script for the early seasons of The Crown did not present Charles as a romantic lead so much as a misunderstood, and sometimes petulant, teenager.

Princess Diana, as played by Emma Corrin

Take a look at these rarely seen photos of Diana and then see if you can honestly tell them apart from Emma Corrin’s portrayal of the doomed princess and mother of Princes William and Harry. Corrin so completely embodies Princess Diana, it was almost painful for her superfans (like us) to watch – but obviously not so much that we didn’t watch. In fact, we couldn’t not watch whenever Corrin appeared on screen. We’d be inclined to say that it’s hard to imagine The Crown’s recasting of Princess Diana, but we’ve already seen the publicity photos of Elizabeth Debicki as a slightly older (but eternally youthful) version, and we suspect Debicki’s portrayal will be equally breathtaking.

Camilla Parker Bowles, as played by Emerald Fennell

Meet The Crown’s reinvented version of the former Camilla Shand. As played by Emerald Fennell, the “other woman” in the Wales marriage is a pillow-lipped beauty who tries and tries and tries to get Charles to stay with Diana.

Although The Crown is historical fiction, rather than a docudrama or historical reenactment, it’s still a bit stunning to see the story told in this way – with this gorgeous, likable actress playing the role of a woman who carried on a long-term affair with the husband of the beloved People’s Princess and ended up succeeding Diana as the future queen (or something like that).

Princess Margaret Rose of York as a young woman, as played by Vanessa Kirby

Princess Margaret was the Queen’s beloved younger sister. Because she was never going to be queen, Margaret was known more for her beauty and, if we’re being frank, her antics than virtually anything else. Vanessa Kirby plays Princess Margaret as a young woman in The Crown, and the likeness, mannerisms and acting are astounding. Many viewers are especially fond of Kirby’s depiction of Princess Margaret as a star-crossed lover of the married Group Captain Peter Townsend. Despite Townsend’s having obtained a divorce and the couple’s desire to marry, they parted ways to avoid a scandal that might have tarnished Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.

Princess Margaret in middle age, as played by Helena Bonham Carter

Helena Bonham Carter is an incredibly talented actress, and she’s especially memorable in the film Fight Club, in which she starred as Marla Singer, the deranged girlfriend of the main character, Tyler Durden. Why are we bringing that up? Arguably, and with all due respect to Bonham Carter’s acting chops, it appears she is channelling Marla Singer when playing Princess Margaret in middle age. Plus, appearance-wise, Bonham Carter doesn’t look even a bit like Princess Margaret.

Peter Townsend, as played by Ben Miles

Peter Townsend was, arguably, the love of Princess Margaret’s life. An officer with the Royal Air Force, he acted as equerry to King George VI from 1944 to 1952 and to Queen Elizabeth II from 1952 to 1953. Having such close proximity to the royal family, Townsend fell in love with the beautiful Princess Margaret, despite the fact that he was married at the time. And the feelings were apparently mutual. The handsome Ben Miles plays Townsend to perfection, and when Margaret does not accept his marriage proposal after his divorce, his heartbreak is palpable.

Antony Armstrong-Jones, as played by Matthew Goode

After spurning Peter Townsend’s marriage proposal in 1955, Princess Margaret went on to meet and marry a handsome and charismatic photographer, Antony Armstrong-Jones, who became the first commoner in four centuries to marry into the royal family. Following the wedding in 1960, “Tony” became the 1st Earl of Snowdon. Played on The Crown by Matthew Goode during the early years, Lord Snowdon is handsome, smarmy and seemingly irresistible, at least at first.

Unfortunately, the Snowdon marriage was plagued by infidelity on both sides. When the couple divorced, Princess Margaret became the very first royal to be divorced since King Henry VIII. Ben Daniels plays Tony in the later years when things got incredibly weird between the Snowdons (more on that next).

Roddy Llewellyn, as played by Harry Treadaway

Harry Treadaway appears in only two episodes of The Crown, but he’s quite memorable nonetheless. In the last episode of Season 3, Princess Margaret falls for Roddy, a gardener nearly 20 years her junior. In real life, the two carried on a romantic relationship for eight years. That’s not entirely clear from the way it’s portrayed on The Crown (which characterises the relationship as more of a fling). Treadaway as Roddy perfectly captures both the young man’s admiration for the much-older princess and his frustration over their impossible-to-ignore differences.

Treadaway appears once more in the seventh episode of Season 4, but it’s so fleeting, it’s easy to miss, and this is likely because in real life, the two had parted ways before the events depicted in that episode happened.

King George VI, as played by Jared Harris

Jared Harris was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of King George VI, the former Prince Bertie of York (born Albert Frederick Arthur George), who spent most of his life never suspecting he would become king. Yet he did, thanks to the romantic antics of his older brother, David, who for one brief year of his life was King Edward VIII. As depicted by The Crown, King George VI was an all-around good guy who was dearly loved by his family, who never wished to be king, and whose unintended ascension to the throne may have cost him his life. (He died at 56 from lung cancer.)

The Queen Consort, Queen Elizabeth, and later, the Queen Mother, as played by Victoria Hamilton

Victoria Hamilton’s portrayal of the Queen Consort to King George VI (the former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who was also called Her Majesty), the mother of Princess Elizabeth, and the eventual Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (still Her Majesty, along with her daughter, the Queen) really sells her fierce loyalty to her husband. You can genuinely feel her pain when she learns of her husband’s death. You can also feel her anger and disgust at her brother-in-law, David (the Duke of Windsor and former King Edward VIII), for putting Bertie in the position of having to be king.

The Queen Mother, as played by Marion Bailey

When Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne, the wife of the late King George VI was also known as Queen Elizabeth. Up until that time, it had been customary for the wife of a late king to be titled “Dowager Queen.” However, this title, while accurate, also didn’t quite hit the mark because the elder Queen Elizabeth was not just the widow of the king, but also the mother of the new queen. Hence, she became Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

We see a lot of the Queen Mother in The Crown, and we should expect to continue to do so because in real life, she lived until 2002, the same year her younger daughter, Princess Margaret, passed.

Princess Anne, as played by Erin Doherty

In a stroke of casting brilliance, Erin Doherty portrays Princess Anne in The Crown. As played by Doherty, Princess Anne is completely relatable as the often sarcastic, sometimes surly, horseback-riding younger sister of the man born to be king. So far, we’ve seen Princess Anne’s talents as an equestrian take her all the way to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. We’ve also seen that Anne enjoyed a brief dalliance with Andrew Parker-Bowles, who would later marry Camilla Shand. What we have not yet seen is the acrimonious tailspin of the last years of her marriage to Mark Phillips, nor her acquaintance with the man who eventually became her second and current husband, Timothy Laurence.

David, Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII, as played by Alex Jennings

Alex Jennings plays the younger version of King Edward VIII, who abdicated to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson. When King George V died in January 1936, his eldest son, David, Prince of Wales, ascended the throne. But being king meant nothing to David if he couldn’t rule alongside his lady love of two years, American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Notwithstanding the unequivocal will of the King, the government had rules to follow, which forbade a king’s marriage to a divorcée. In order to prevent a constitutional crisis, King Edward VIII abdicated, leaving his brother, Bertie, the Duke of York, to rule – and transforming Princess Elizabeth of York into the heir apparent. This decision also forever damaged David’s relationship with his own mother, Queen Mary, as well as the rest of his family.

The former King Edward VIII went on to marry Wallis. Ostracised by the royal family, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor lived most of the rest of their lives in exile from the UK while rubbing elbows with anyone rich, famous, or powerful who would tolerate them. That included Nazis, although The Crown only briefly touches upon that. Acting legend Derek Jacobi plays the Duke of Windsor at the end of his life, but Jennings’ performance, which captures a sense of bravado and entitlement that makes the Duke seem at once despicable and pathetic, is so iconic that he will likely be the one most associated with the role.

Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, as played by Lia Williams

Wallis Simpson was still married to another man when she began her relationship with David, who was then the Prince of Wales. However, she was divorced by the time King George V died, leaving the throne to David, who became King Edward VIII. The new king wished to marry Wallis, but that was unacceptable as the rules then stood (not allowing a divorced consort), leading to King Edward VIII’s abdication. And that, of course, changed the line of succession forever.

That being said, since the Duke and Duchess of Windsor never had children, it’s arguable that even if King Edward VIII had not abdicated, Queen Elizabeth might very well have ascended anyway upon his death (based on the rules of succession). For the Duchess’ later years, The Crown cast the iconic Geraldine Chaplin.

Lord Louis Mountbatten (aka Uncle Dickie), as played by Greg Wise

Lord Louis Mountbatten, the man affectionately known as Uncle Dickie to the royal family, was Princess Alice of Battenberg’s brother. Portrayed by Greg Wise in the first two seasons, Uncle Dickie is charming and lovable, setting up the great tragedy of his death in the fourth season (when he was played by Charles Dance). Prince Philip had been close with his uncle during his youth, and Uncle Dickie also became Prince Charles’ mentor.

While the death of Lord Mountbatten was shocking and tragic for the royal family, it did, nevertheless, provide a way for the writers of The Crown to offer a depiction of the future Princess Diana (who uses the death as an opening to flirt with Prince Charles) as less naive than many of us might have believed.

Prince Andrew, Duke of York, as played by Tom Byrne

Thus far, The Crown has not given us much of the adult Prince Andrew, who is played by Tom Byrne. That said, we’re led to believe that if the Queen has, or perhaps had, a favourite child, it might have been Prince Andrew. On the other hand, there’s also a bit of hedging (and perhaps winking from the scriptwriters) as the Queen expresses to Philip that she’s concerned about what might become of Andrew if he doesn’t make some changes to himself. Years later, as we all know, Prince Andrew was forced to step back from his royal duties following a scandal involving the late Jeffrey Epstein.

Prince Edward, as played by Angus Imrie

Prince Edward is one of the least publicly recognisable of Queen Elizabeth II’s children, so it’s refreshing that The Crown offers surprising insight about him. In a memorable scene, a teenage Prince Edward, played by Angus Imrie, reveals to the Queen in no uncertain terms that being the son of the Queen is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

Sir Winston Churchill, as played by John Lithgow


If it’s wrong that The Crown cast an American actor to play the great Winston Churchill, then would we even want it to be right? Even those who aren’t fans of the royal family should get something valuable out of watching John Lithgow virtually disappear into the role of the legendary prime minister in all his gaucheness, wilfulness and, ultimately, humanity.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as played by Gillian Anderson

Gillian Anderson, who played Agent Scully on The X-Files, makes a star turn as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during Season 4 of The Crown. She portrays the Iron Lady with dignity and surprising pathos (we even get to see her cry after being ostracised by members of Parliament). And talk about disappearing into a role – the resemblance between the real-life person and the actress playing her is nothing if not startling.

Written by  Lauren Cahn. This article first appeared on Reader’s Digest. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, here’s our best subscription offer.