Adding disclaimers to The Crown would “patronise” its worldwide audience, claims the actor who plays Princess Anne in the fifth series of the hit Netflix miniseries.
Claudia Harrison, 46, was responding to criticism of the drama after the Queen’s death, which included former prime ministers Sir John Major and Sir Tony Blair objecting to their depictions – while Dame Judi Dench called for a disclaimer to be added to each episode.
Harrison, who takes over the role from Erin Doherty just as The Crown examines the Queen’s “annus horribilis” of 1992, said she was “incredibly excited” to be part of such a “beautifully, meticulously researched piece of historical fiction”.
Of the criticism, she said: “That debate has been there, understandably, through the context of the time we are living through. And that’s fine. And I think we have moved on, haven’t we, into a more nuanced area where as an actor – I have to talk about it only as that – I think my job is always to respect the intelligence of the audience.”
“To patronise the audiences worldwide, and to think people are genuinely sitting down thinking this is a documentary and that everything they see is fact, I feel uncomfortable with that,” she added. “Patronise an audience at your peril.”
She said the show, set to premiere on 9 November, looked at the imagined conversations behind closed doors “with an enormous amount of respect and research”. As an actor, she was “incredibly uncomfortable” with the idea of putting disclaimers on art.
She added we live in a world where “the story behind who wears the crown is a legitimate subject for us to examine as creatives. Well, thank God we live in a world with free press and free cultural landscape”
Harrison, a mother of three, who, like the Princess Royal, also lives on a working farm, took her preparations for the role very seriously.
She said: “As an actor I enjoy getting into the meat of something like that, so I read the books, the research team on The Crown is exceptional, and I read Princess Anne’s book Riding Through My Life. And it was very illuminating.”
Anne was an Olympian, a professional athlete, a working mother, a patron of hundreds of charities and organisations – an “exceptional woman”, she added. “She wants to be well briefed. She comes into a room. She is not there to decorate it, but there to do a job, get to know people. It’s never about her. That sort of workman-like, businesslike aspect to her is so refreshing.”
By series five, Anne is newly divorced. “Time has passed since the last series. Whereas, perhaps in series three and four, everyone had so much to hope for, now we find a different royal family. We are older, we’re tireder, we’ve been doing the job a long time, and the duty has set in, and that is a really interesting thing to look at.”
She hopes her portrayal of Anne will convey “her wit and her sense of humour”.
“Look at what she has done. With her role as the Princess Royal, she has been exceptional, and I hope The Crown is part of turning her into a feminist icon,” she said.
Of landing the role, Harrison, who has appeared in Humans and The IT Crowd, said: “I would love to play the cool card and go ‘no no no it’s just another part’. But of course this is a huge show, with a huge, huge audience. And to be part of that is so unbelievably exciting,” she said.