Queen Olivia Colman? The Crown has pulled off a perfect feat of casting

Colman will bring a reassuring presence and although she’ll be playing the monarch in her most boring period, Colman’s brilliance means she’ll be unmissable in the Netflix series … but the Americans had better give her back

When Claire Foy casually revealed that she was being binned from The Crown, thanks to the programme’s determination to age the Queen at speed like a row of old stamps, you were right to feel a slight jolt of trepidation.

Foy was, after all, a tremendous Queen Elizabeth. Quiet and firm, resigned to her duty while being surrounded by a swirl of the world’s most obnoxious toffs, her eyes constantly betrayed a churn of inner turmoil. If you ever wondered why Her Majesty spent the entirety of the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony scowling like a woman who had just stumbled across an unwanted fungal infection, then Foy was there to tell you the origin story. She was exceptional, and quite possibly too exceptional to substitute. Did she really have to be replaced? Couldn’t they just bung her in a wig and cover her in cobwebs instead?

Colman with David Tennant in Broadchurch.

Instead, The Crown might just have pulled off another perfect feat of casting. The Queen’s middle period looks set to be carried out by none other than Olivia Colman. That sound you can hear is the sound of nobody in the world complaining.

If The Crown’s pattern holds, Colman will be in place to oversee the years between the mid-60s and the mid-80s. In truth, this might count as the dullest period of the entire series – young Queen got Churchill and Kennedy and the coronation, old Queen gets Diana, toejobs and the Windsor Castle fire, but Colman’s middle Queen is left to juggle farts like decolonisation, a non-starting assassination attempt and Prince Edward. But that probably won’t matter. Because she’ll be played by Olivia Colman.

Much like the Queen herself, Colman is a reassuring presence and the subject of not a little mystery. Read any interview with her and you’ll come away with a picture of happy, content normality – she seems like an actual person rather than an actor, which is rare enough as it is – but onscreen she plumbs all manner of alarming depths. Watch her fold in on herself as she discovers the identity of the killer in the first series of Broadchurch. Watch any of the wrenching, violent, abuse-filled Tyrannosaur. Watch her brief, awkward cameo in W1A even, where she managed to cut through the show’s endless cycle of catchphrases with a moment of heartbreak. This is genuine anguish. She must be pulling it from somewhere. The eternal mystery is that nobody knows where.

So who better to play Queen Elizabeth’s flabby middle era? Outwardly, it was a time of successful ubiquity during which she became more icon than person. But, if the trailer for the second series of The Crown is anything to go by, she would have inwardly had to deal with Prince Philip’s perpetual midlife crisis, suffering in silence as he marauded around the globe with an assortment of ladies. That’s Colman’s wheelhouse. She can do that stuff in her sleep.

Colman in Fleabag.

She’s been royalty before, too. In Hyde Park on Hudson she got to play the Queen Mother; although there she was only a supporting character, largely tasked with reacting to Bill Murray’s scenery chewing. Now, though, she gets to play the beating heart of an entire institution; Vito Corleone, but crippled by duty. Only a true disaster can stop it from being brilliant.

When you play the Queen, your career tends to go off like a rocket – it put Foy into the stratosphere out of nowhere and reignited everyone’s interest in Helen Mirren like never before – so it’ll be interesting to see what The Crown does for Colman. The woman is already a national treasure. My great fear is that the Americans will grab her and refuse to let go, depriving us of another Fleabag or Broadchurch or Rev. That’s how good I’m expecting her to be as Queen Elizabeth; so good I’m already trepidatious about who will replace her.


Stuart Heritage

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