Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville Say Goodbye to Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret

imelda staunton and lesley manville
Imelda & Lesley Say Goodbye to 'The Crown'Getty Images
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Throughout the entirety of the sixty episodes of The Crown, there's been one relationship that's been the most important: that of Elizabeth and her sister, Margaret.

The story of Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret—first Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby, then Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter, and last, a flashback by Viola Prettejohn and Beau Gadsdon—comes to a close in season six, with Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville taking the royal sisters to a close.

In episode 8, "Ritz," Manville's Princess Margaret is beset by a number of health difficulties, including strokes, and eventually passes away at the age of 71 in February 2002. That episode, Staunton and Manville tell Town & Country, was their favorite to film during their tenure on the Netflix royal drama. Ahead of the premiere of the final episodes, the actresses spoke about saying goodbye to the show, and how they prepared to shoot the tough scenes.

a person sitting at a table
Staunton is The Crown’s final Queen Elizabeth.Netflix

As you wrap up The Crown, what's going to stick with you? And when you look back on it, what are you going to carry with you after the series?

Lesley Manville [to Imelda]: Go on, you can go first.

Imelda Staunton: What I'm going to carry with me is being part of a unique piece of television history. You've had a long narrative being played by three different casts. Being part of that experiment is a real privilege. With parts—we all do different parts all the time. And of course this is different, but I think it's different because of the subject matter, and because, as I said, it's a unique piece of television. So that's what I'll carry with me to being a part of The Crown.

LM: Just to be involved with the production, with such high level of skill and expertise from the various departments. I remember walking past a room one day at Elstree Studios, and there were craftspersons making chairs and lining them, and it just looked so beautiful. And they had all this fabric, and they were clearly brilliant at what they were doing... You know, levels of detail. We work very closely with the costume department, and hair and makeup, in the early stages and on a daily basis. Both of those departments never ceased to amaze me, tirelessly working... Well, like we do—

IS: But we have days off.

LM: But we have days off. That's right.

IS: They don't!

LM: That's right. My sister thought the costume designer would just do lots of drawings, send them off to be made and then go home. I said, 'No, she's there every morning at 6:00, making sure that everything's come together right.' So it's those levels really that are so brilliant on The Crown.

lesley manville as princess margarat credit justin downing
Princess Margaret on Mustique, her beloved island getaway. Justin Downing/Netflix

What was it like for you, especially in the scenes that Queen Elizabeth has with Prince William in part 2, to work with someone just starting out? What was that experience for you as an actor?

IS: It's wonderful to see younger actors beginning and starting, but that isn't unusual. On a set, you are all equal. On a set you're just playing your characters. So in a way, I think that's an outsider's perception of, Oh, it must be... What's that like? No, we are all being asked to play these characters, whether you are 70, 19, 3 or a dog, you are all in there doing the scene.

I was really struck by episode 8, "Ritz," that details the end of Princess Margaret's life, where the two of you share some really poignant scenes. Lesley, what was it like to approach the end of Margaret's life in that episode?

LM: Watching it, you can think, 'Oh, there's a lot of physical things that you can see have happened to her.' And obviously those are done with great consideration, with lots of input from other departments and lots of homework. But really the main thing was what that series of strokes did to her—what it took away from her life, what it didn't allow her to do anymore, what it did to her psychologically. She wasn't the woman that she thought people were perceiving her to be anymore. She didn't feel attractive anymore, and that was very torturous for her. So that was an interesting thing to grapple with.

But also coming to terms with the end of her life. Her significant relationship at the end of her life, apart from her children, is her sister. The scenes that [Peter Morgan] wrote for us to play were really rather beautiful. There were silences and very clever things done with sound and music, or lack of them that I felt were very potent, watching it. All departments just felt like they let what we were doing breathe, and didn't look to enhance it in any way, which I felt was really interesting and in good taste.

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Princess Margaret’s death is the subject of "Ritz," season 6, episode 8.NETFLIX

As actresses, how do you prepare for those scenes?

LM: That's a kind of impossible question, because you can't remember those details anyway. There might have been [preparations]. We might have. But I think a lot of what we were doing is doesn't need to be spoken. There's a lot of instinctive work going on. We are old friends, and so that's always bubbling away, and you don't need to discuss that.

IS: When it's on the page, when it's there so clear, you just say it. Obviously you're going to feel it, because that's why we're there. But we weren't struggling with, 'Well, surely this is a point where we would be doing...' It was all so succinct and clear and emotional and not emotional, all it seemed at the right times. Then that's when your director, Alex Gabassi directed that episode, and he will maybe slightly enhance something. And then you might go, 'Mm, is that in it? Okay, take it down a bit.' It's like music then with a conductor. But when it's written as well as that, you don't need to mess with it.

Did anything surprise you two about Margaret and Elizabeth's sisterhood that you learned on the show?

IS: In a way, what Peter has done is what he's tried to do the whole time, is to give these national figures the human condition that we all live in, that he has to imagine when those balcony doors shut, what goes on. That's why he's a dramatist, and he imagines and speculates and creates. And that's when we get to say his words and create these... There's Princess Margaret, and then there's Lesley Manville's Princess. They're the same but different. And then that's what's sort of fascinating about this series.

I also really loved in that episode how it interwove the flashbacks to their night out.

IS: Very end of life thing happening—or end of a story. And Peter ending this beautiful relationship story with flashbacks, it's going to tug at all our heartstrings.

LM: They went out, and the media being what it was then, and it isn't now, they could be unrecognized. That's what the evening was, why it was so important to Margaret, and she keeps bringing it up, because it was like this wonderful moment of freedom that they both had, especially Elizabeth, because she was going to become the queen. And there she was in this moment of kind of abandonment, which was just wonderful to see.

the crown elizabeth margaret ve day
Episode 8 flashes back to Elizabeth and Margaret (Viola Prettejohn and Beau Gadsdon) going out of the Palace on V-E Day in 1945.NETFLIX

I know you're coming into these roles again as other actresses have played these characters, but what was it like for you to watch those scenes in particular?

IS: Really nice.

LM: It's lovely. Great. They're lovely. You got them. You got the difference, the characters. You understood them from their portrayals and, 'Yeah. Okay. Here they are now 40, 50 years later.'

IS: Those two little birds going out of that gilded cage and then going back in.

As you look back on your two seasons with The Crown, is there a particular scene or moment that stands out to you as a cherished memory, or something that you loved working on or filming?

IS: Well, I think we pretty much liked that episode.

LM: We liked that episode! It's just a beautiful whole thing and just very important for both of us as actors.

All episodes of the Crown season six are now streaming on Netflix.

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