11.02.21 / New Shots

THE CROWN (2016-Present)

THE CROWN is a historical drama series that chronicles the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. For each of the show’s two season–increments (for a total of four seasons, with a fifth one in production), new actors fill the roles to show the aging process of the time represented in each season. Claire Foy portrays The Queen in the first two seasons, while Olivia Coleman takes over for the third and fourth, and Imelda Staunton in the final fifth season. The Crown has become a historically successful show and has received praise for its acting, directing, writing, cinematography, and production. Part of its praise, but also its criticism, surrounds the show’s depiction of historical events. Its list of accolades and awards is an extensive one which includes, but is not limited to, sixty-three Primetime Emmy Award nominations throughout its four seasons, for which it won twenty-one. These include Outstanding Drama Series for its fourth season, and seven awards awarded to the cast. It has twice won the Golden Globe for Best Television Series-Drama. 

The show was created and is primarily written by Peter Morgan. Martin Childs, winner of the Academy Award for Best Art Direction for Shakespeare in Love, was enlisted to be the series’ production designer. He shared that Morgan’s series scripts “aren’t full of prescriptive description”, but rather full of dialogue and movement which, as a designer, lets Childs and his team create a world where the story can believably take place. The show is primarily shot in Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, with location shooting throughout the UK and around the world. As it is a historical drama, one of the show’s challenges is bringing the past to life. That feat is achieved through VFX, especially when the production doesn’t have access to many of the real-life locations. VFX company Framestore, whose credits include Gravity and Blade Runner 2049, has worked on the VFX for multiple seasons of the show. Particularly for the fourth season, the company provided 230 shots alone. Which included effects creating Buckingham Palace, turning Manchester into New York, and The British Museum into St. Paul’s Cathedral. VFX producer Standish Millennas said that creating the stag shown in the fourth season’s third episode was one of the most complex for the studios. They wanted to make it so realistic “you didn’t even think about it being digital”, and the team did that by adding tiny details. Such as grass on its antlers, or its hair clumping from the rain. 

Lead cinematographer Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC, BSC served as the DOP on the show’s pilot episode and has shot twenty-two episodes in total. He has shared cinematography duties with Stuart Howell, Ole Bratt Birkeland, Frank Lamm, Fabian Wagner, and Ben Wilson. In an interview, Goldman mentioned that all the cinematographers are welcome to come on set to observe, but that they all have freedom to do things differently with only light subtle rules for visual consistency. Such as, no close ups on a 25mm lens, and rather on a 50mm or 65mm. Also, no shooting people from awkward angles that are too high or too low. As far as the approach for the series’ historical look, Goldman expressed that they “never wanted to go for that period look”, but the agreement was desaturation with muted colors on sets and locations’ walls, curtains, furniture, picture cars, etc. Goldman was responsible for the idea of using vintage lenses. For the first two seasons, they used a Sony PMW-F55 4K camera with Cooke Panchros, rehoused by TLS U.K., plus filters such as Glimmerglass, to add a little more glow to highlights. He credits the overall look as a combination of cinematography choices along with costume, makeup, and sets. As far as the success of the show Goldman stated, “I don’t think cinematography can save a bad script. I think people only perceive what I do if they engage with the show’s themes and performances…”

The Netflix series’ first season set in the 1940-50’s takes us right into the center of the Royal family starting with the first episode directed by award winning film director Stephen Daldry. We find the young Elizabeth (Claire Foy) thrust into the crown following the death of her father King George VI (Jared Harris). Later episodes, we see the incredible infamous history of Edward VIII and his astounding abdication of the thrown so he could be with his American lover Wallis Simpson. The history of the love of Elizabeth’s life Prince Philip (Matt Smith), their honeymoon and her coronation in the wonderful 5th episode Smoke and Mirrors.  And we see the weight of her responsibility thru her early interactions with Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) and the hard decisions she needs to make not just as Queen but as the ruler of her own family.  With its pinpoint production design, gently lit closeups, silhouetted frames within frames and seamless use of visual effects, it’s no wonder the The Crown is one of the most lauded television shows in history.