Prince Philip (Played by Matt Smith)
Many people would appreciate it if the king of England took them duck hunting and plainly explained their purpose in life. Philip’s is to take care of his wife, the queen. But his ego won’t allow him to just be good at that one thing, so he jollies around flying, planning a hipster coronation, and insulting the crowns of Kenyan rulers. Points for holding an elephant at bay, but did that even really happen?
Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor (Lia Williams)
Why did King Edward give up his throne for her? It’s clearly not her way with words, since she hardly ever talks except to complain. Apparently the real king appreciated that she couldn’t care less about the trappings of royalty. Neither could he, which may have been the whole appeal.
The former King Edward/Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings)
He abdicated the throne for the love of a total drip, hates his home country and plays the worst musical instrument there is. Oh, and he gets an allowance from his family like a child. Jennings and show creator Peter Morgan have lovingly made him eminently despicable.
Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam)
Kind of bland.
Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (Victoria Hamilton)
In real life, they called her “the Smiling Duchess” because of her perpetual public expression. At home, she doesn’t have to keep up that front — but she doesn’t go around pitying herself, either. She’s not the most fascinating person on “The Crown,” but she’s stoic and we respect that.
Queen Mary (Eileen Atkins)
She recognizes that being queen is a job. She’s very good at her job.
Tommy Lascelles (Pip Torrens)
The House of Windsor’s Doug Stamper is a joyless joy to watch.
Venetia Scott (Kate Phillips)
We thought “The Crown” might be setting up a gross and tedious May-December affair between Winston and his secretary but OH MY GOD we did not see that coming. Her adoration of her boss, exceptionally well played by Phillips, leads to a magnificently dark twist.
Peter Townsend (Ben Miles)
Probably more talented and heroic than any of the people he serves, he nonetheless finds himself bending to their commands. He’s the best argument for meritocracy over monarchy.
Winston Churchill (John Lithgow)
Perhaps the most brilliant thing about “The Crown” is that a takes a superhuman figure — a man who literally helped save the world – and focuses on his little flaws. He feels mortal and alive. And did anyone else have a twinge of national pride that another American finally got to play a Brit instead of the other way around? Lithgow and Renee Zellweger should get together to pour tea into Boston Harbor.
King George VI (Jared Harris)
Like the brother he succeeded, he clearly doesn’t want to rule — but unlike King Edward, George has a plumber’s let’s-get-on-with-it-then grit. And he sings. “The Crown” uses him just sparingly enough to give him the mystique of an actual king.
Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby)
A great role model who proves you can be a princess and a homewrecker. Kirby is so compelling as the most passionate royal that we kind of wish she’d gotten a crack at playing the queen. Of course, it would have posed problems dramatically: Everyone would have bended to her will as easily as poor Peter Townsend.
Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy)
She packs more into a single “oh” than any other practitioner of the English language — of course God chose her to be queen. Foy is brilliant as a woman tragically torn between herself and her title.
Prince Philip, again (Matt Smith)
That’s right: The worst person on our list is the best character, because that’s how “The Crown” works: It forces us to reconsider both our fairytale fantasies and our stereotypes about nitwit royals. Philip is a noble twit, and that’s a fascinating combination.