How The Crown Season 5 Nailed Queen Elizabeth II's Most Subtle Mannerisms

Portraying Queen Elizabeth II, arguably the most recognizable and famous woman on the planet, would be daunting for anyone, and Academy Award nominee Imelda Staunton is no exception. The veteran actor, best known for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Vera Drake, and the Downton Abbey films (opposite husband Jim Carter) tells Glamour that stepping into the late monarch’s shoes for the fifth season of The Crown actually made her feel ill.

“It was not easy for me,” she says on a recent Zoom during a break from filming the sixth and final season of the Emmy-winning Netflix series. “People kept saying, ‘Are you enjoying it?’ No, not until nearly the end because it was too frightening.”

Ironically—and whether Staunton realizes it or not—she took a page from the monarch’s “keep calm and carry on” playbook by approaching the role with clear focus and intent. Much like Olivia Colman and Claire Foy before her, Staunton created a reserved portrayal that speaks volumes. When her Teflon exterior gives way to human emotion, the scene stays with you long after the episode ends.

Part of that is because Staunton and her onscreen husband, Jonathan Pryce (who plays Prince Philip), adapted and studied such specific mannerisms that even the most diehard royals watcher might not notice. Now, as season five premieres on Netflix, the two open up about their approach and what you never realized about the royal couple.

Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II in season 5 of The Crown.
Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II in season 5 of The Crown.
Courtesy of Netflix

Glamour: Were there any mannerisms that we the audience wouldn’t have picked up on but you wanted to make sure to execute in your portrayal of the queen and Prince Philip?

Imelda Staunton: The queen had a lot of faith, and she got great strength and stability from her faith. For me, that suggested adapting a great stillness and to be as restrained as she needed to be. I think that restraint was fed by her ability to digest something and not to think, “Oh, I’ve got to be witty or quick.” She could just digest it and think about it.

How did you adapt that restraint in terms of her physicality?

Imelda: I always think of it as she’s a great horse woman. I wanted to think I had blinkers, like a horse would have blinkers, so you just go straight ahead. That’s all you need to do. Whenever I watched her arrive at a function, she would never be looking around. She would just go where she had to go. That focus and that ability not to dissipate her activity was very useful in reducing it down.

Jonathan, what mannerisms did you adapt to play Prince Philip?

Jonathan Pryce: Well, I don’t know about mannerisms, but there are certain things about him which are a far cry from how I live or lead my life. One of the things I had to try and work on was my posture. He’s a straight-back man, and he’s very publicly and socially confident. He’s generally smiling and always has something to say. He shakes hands in a very particular way. His hand doesn’t go straight in; it swoops in from the outside.

But also you begin to notice—and it’s in the script—the economy with which they lead their lives. Unlike me, there’s no gesture wasted. One of the early scenes that Imelda and I had together, we were having a meal and there were servants bringing the food. Because of our lowly backgrounds, we would thank the servants, but we were told, “No, no, no, you don't say, ‘Thank you.’” You don’t. They ignore them.

That’s so fascinating.

Jonathan: That’s a lot of fun being that person who is so blinkered and so determined in a room. It’s the way they could deal with their lives when they were in public. They would walk into a room, do what they had to do, and walk straight out. The joy of the series is you get to see their private life and all these real events played out, that the audience all know about. Peter Morgan’s input is to explain something of their emotional life and what their reactions might or might not have been.

Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip, Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II, and Claudia Harrison as Princess Anne


Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip, Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II, and Claudia Harrison as Princess Anne
Netflix/Keith Bernstein

As I watch the series, I have greater empathy for them and what their lives are really like. What do you hope viewers take away from season 5?

Imelda: I hope that they continue to realize that Peter Morgan doesn’t take sides. He’ll present things and you might not like what you’re seeing, but he shows you both sides. Within that, he’ll create tension. That makes a drama, which is what this is.

So I hope the audience feels that they are watching something that has been written, performed, designed, and created with great respect and delivered with dignity. Peter has been writing about the queen for a very long time with Helen Mirren, with The Audience, with The Crown…. I don’t think you can write about a family or people that you don’t really feel you can invest your writing ability in, to create those imagined bits of the tapestry in between, if you didn’t really like them.

Jonathan: Also, you’ve got to have respect for your audience in that you’re presenting this epic story. You have to allow the audience to do their own work, to put their interpretation on what they see. If it occasionally comes out that Peter is more sympathetic or empathetic to the characters in the story, at least the audience can do their own work. Not everybody is a monarchist. You want to inform people and educate people at the same time.

I remember I did The Two Popes and we had a screening for the Vatican, and a very prominent bishop in Rome who was very close to Pope Francis came to see it. Director Fernando Meirelles said to the bishop, “Do you think we were too hard on the church?” And the bishop said, “Not hard enough.” I take that away to the ground, but it’s up to people to make their own minds up of how the family is treated. I think Peter does treat them with a great deal of integrity.

Imelda: We’re making a show that is historical now. We can’t get any perspective. It’s so close, particularly with the queen’s death.

What was that day like for you when Her Majesty passed away, especially given that you both have met her as well?

Imelda: Well, I’ve been living with her for over two years, so that evening I was inconsolable. The outpouring was immense for me. And then I thought, Well, of course it’s because I’m being her. I think the people who loved the queen, who queued up all night and whatever, just realized that they’ve lost someone who stood for many things. Of course there’ll be people who go, “Well, they lived in all these palace and all that,” but someone who did her duty for 70 years, who kept her promise, who survived all the traumas that happened, and with such grace. If you look at her in recent times, whether it is appearing at the Olympics or at her Jubilee, you looked at a person who realized that she had to change with the times as much as she could. I think she did that with great grace. There was a big sense of sadness for a lot of the crew on The Crown who’ve worked on it from day one.

Jonathan: But I think also for the nation, as it were, who the past few years we’ve experienced such disappointment and treachery by our politicians that the image of the queen—who was solid, steadfast, did her duty…that’s why people queued for hours and hours to not just pay a tribute to the queen, but to pay tribute to what she represented about our character and our personality that was being and has been eroded these last few years.

Is there an episode this season that kept you up the most the night before or made you most nervous to film?

Jonathan: No, I got quite the opposite. I can’t think of anything I was nervous about, but I can think of things I was excited about. Every night I went to bed thinking, Ooh. Certain scenes I knew I had to do with Imelda, which went into depth about this relationship, that kind of thing, I enjoyed. I enjoyed in the fake Russia that we created, hearing the singing, the women’s choir, the Orthodox Church, stuff like that. I wasn’t nervous about anything. I was seeing a world that I wouldn’t normally get to see. I was seeing inside great palaces, great houses….

Imelda: I felt sick for quite some time doing this show. It was not easy for me. So people kept saying, “Are you enjoying it?” No, not until nearly the end because it was too frightening. And also, remember we were doing this in COVID, so there were no producers allowed on set. So no one was sort of saying, “It’s going okay.” I just thought, Is this all right? I have no idea. Johnny Lee Miller [who plays Prime Minister Jonathan Majors] and I were both were quite frightened about that, but we loved doing them in the end.

Jonathan: You had a bigger responsibility because everyone knows what they think about the queen. There’s lots of very positive images of the queen. If Philip came off well to the audience, that’s a good thing. If he’s still the person they already thought he was, that’s also a good thing. I could just get on with being.

Jessica Radloff is the Glamour senior West Coast editor and author of the New York Times best-selling book The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series. You can follow her on Instagram here.

Originally Appeared on Glamour