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New Netflix drama The Crown is a hit

Netflix's new drama The Crown, which dramatises the life of young Queen Elizabeth II, has received praise from critics and viewers

Queen Elizabeth II's husband Prince Philip is seen sleeping in several scenes in Netflix's lavishly scripted royal drama The Crown.

The difference is, his royal bum is exposed.

Is Prince Philip a fan of sleeping in the nude?

According to some reports, yes, and like many other royal factoids, the detail has been massaged into The Crown, a highly watchable and addictive series that dramatises the life and relationships of the young queen, who was made monarch in 1952.

British actress Claire Foy plays the Queen and Matt Smith, who starred in Dr Who from 2010 to 2013, is her husband Prince Philip.

The Crown, whose first season of 10 episodes was released on Internet streaming service Netflix last week, looks at all that young Elizabeth had to deal with when she was suddenly made queen at the age of 25 after her father, King George VI, died of lung cancer.

No one imagines her as a young woman making choices about a marriage, learning how to become queen and the kind of sacrifices she had to make. No one imagines her as a romantic creature and becoming a mother.

PETER MORGAN, creator and writer of The Crown, who wants to humanise the royal family

Set in post-World War II Britain, the sumptuous US$120-million (S$169-million) drama also has sensitive portrayals of towering historical figures - no, not Smith's pair of kingly globes - such as then-prime minister Winston Churchill, played by John Lithgow as an ageing but determined politician.

It is also a highly personal behind-the-scenes look at Her Majesty's life when she takes off the crown.

It features marital squabbles between the Queen and her husband, as well as sibling rivalry with her sister Princess Margaret (played by Vanessa Kirby).

But lest you think that the show is indulging prurient curiosities, creator and writer of the series Peter Morgan assures viewers that this was never the intention.

Including such personal scenes simply helps to "humanise" the royal family, says Morgan at an interview with The Straits Times in a hotel in London.

"There is something about the royal family - you think you know them, but you don't, really.

"I always say that the Queen is the most visible invisible woman in the world.

"No one imagines her as a young woman making choices about a marriage, learning how to become queen and the kind of sacrifices she had to make. No one imagines her as a romantic creature and becoming a mother," he says.

Having said that, Morgan, 53, was careful "not to tip into the salacious" - which means there will not be any racy sex scenes between the royal couple.

"You want to go close, but not too close on some things. I was more interested in the emotional aspects of their lives - that loneliness and difficulty the Queen must have felt when she was suddenly made queen at the age of 25.

"As a woman, mother, wife and sister - how does she deal with all of that?", says the Oscar-nominated writer of The Queen (2006) and Frost/Nixon (2008).

In a separate interview, the show's director and executive producer Stephen Daldry, 56, muses on the same topic: "It's all a matter of taste, isn't it?

"I'm interested in the drama in the Queen's family and how that affects our lives. I'm not interested in seeing them in intimate circumstances," says the Oscar-nominated film-maker of Billy Elliot (2000), The Hours (2002) and The Reader (2008).

The second season of The Crown, which moves the story into the 1960s, is currently in production.

In the role of the Queen, Foy, 33, says she had to constantly remind herself not to let any pre-conceived notions about her character get in the way.

"You have to forget everything you know because I don't think you can approach this role as someone who's grown up with that family.

"You want to hold the royal family on a pedestal and you want to see them as these perfect creatures, but you can't do that when you're playing a character. You just have to forget a lot of stuff, start at the bottom and then work your way up."

This is not Foy's first queen - she played Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall (2015), the acclaimed six-part TV adaptation of Hilary Mantel's novels Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up The Bodies (2012).

She says: "I think the pressure is that you don't want to play these roles by 'being queen'. You don't want to just sit upright and wear these beautiful costumes. If you're doing something that's period, you have to live in it and make it resonate with you."

Since the release of the first season, The Crown has been widely praised for being "moving" (New York Observer) and "pitch perfect" (The Telegraph).

The Hollywood Reporter wrote that where it "lacks for nudity and dragons and bloody upheavals... The Crown makes a solid argument for the exercise of power as the stuff of compelling drama in its own right."

On reviews aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Crown is "certified fresh" with an approval rating of 90 per cent from critics, and an even higher score of 92 per cent from general audiences.

While much of the dialogue in the show is evidently fictionalised, details of the story are all as close to the truth as possible, says Morgan, who adds that the show's research team pored over royal biographies, studied newspaper clippings and consulted historians.

That extensive research turned up facts and anecdotes that surprised both Morgan and his cast.

Smith says, for example, that he enjoyed discovering how progressive his character Prince Philip was as a young man.

Prince Philip was the one who pushed the idea of televising the Queen's coronation for the first time in history in an attempt to modernise the monarchy.

That makes him "more three- dimensional" than the version so commonly portrayed in the media in more recent years: A silly old man who constantly makes undiplomatic verbal blunders.

Reportedly, Prince Philip once told children from the British Deaf Association who were standing by a Caribbean steel band in 1999: "If you're near that music, it's no wonder you're deaf."

Smith, 34, comes to his defense, citing Prince Philip's difficult childhood with his mother being committed to a sanatorium, his father going off with a mistress, and his pregnant sister dying in a plane crash while coming to visit him.

He says: "Then when his wife becomes Queen, he has to always walk two steps behind her and be constantly emasculated.

"When you look at the history of his life, I think it has made him a certain way. His circumstances have led him to speak his mind and against things, but he also has this profound love for his wife and he wants to respect her.

"I definitely have a lot of affection for him now."

Morgan hopes viewers will find the series just as enlightening in their own way.

"If not, then I would have failed because it's not just the drama of the royal family, but it's what the drama represents. The Queen provides the eyes through which we are looking at these huge events in the 20th century, which has shaped us all," he says.

In previous media interviews, he has said that the royal family is "very aware" of the show. Now that it is finally out, does he think the royal family will watch and enjoy the series?

He says with a shrug: "Who knows? These are the most satirised, portrait-painted people in the world.

"What do they care?"

•All 10 episodes of The Crown Season 1 are out on Netflix.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2016, with the headline 'Royal Flush'. Print Edition | Subscribe