One of the more interesting creative choices by those responsible for making the Netflix series The Crown has been the recasting of the main characters. Though it could have ended up being a real fumble in less capable hands, it’s actually worked quite well, particularly since Claire Foy and Olivia Colman are such amazing actresses, able to bring out the complexities and complications of this most fascinating monarch.
What’s more, both can convincingly lay claim to being the best person to portray Queen Elizabeth, a woman who has reigned for over half a century. But what makes each of their performances so memorable?
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Updated January 11th, 2022 by Hilary Elizabeth: Elizabeth II is undoubtedly one of the most complex and interesting real-life historical figures of her era. Portraying the realities of her experiences is no easy task, and Claire Foy and Olivia Colman both stand out in different ways as their performances are so dimensional and unique.
Updated on November 10th, 2022 by Jordan Iacobucci: With the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II, artistic portrayals of the beloved monarch have become all the more important as a way of honoring her legacy and contributions to her country. As such, the upcoming fifth season of The Crown is being met with increased scrutiny, as Imelda Staunton takes over the role. Yet, with a third actress portraying Queen Elizabeth, the show’s former leading ladies, Claire Foy and Olivia Colman, receive special shout-outs for everything they brought to the award-winning Netflix series.
Claire Foy Is The Best Queen Elizabeth Because…
She Captures The Angst Of A Young Monarch
The first two seasons of the series largely focused on Elizabeth’s efforts to negotiate the fraught territory of the monarchy in a period of remarkable transition. This was, after all, an England still grappling with the effects of the Second World War.
What makes Foy such an excellent choice for the role is that she manages to embody so much of the anxiety and worry that Elizabeth must have felt as she grappled with both her position and a rapidly changing nation.
She Embodies The Duality Of Elizabeth
What’s interesting about Queen Elizabeth isn’t just that she ascended to the throne in a time of great upheaval for the UK, but that the experience itself upended her entire life as well, especially given that she was never supposed to be queen in the first place.
The abdication of King Edward VIII obviously radically changed the course of Windsor history, and Elizabeth had been raised to be a lady more than a ruler. She was very young when she became queen, and she largely didn’t know what she was doing, but she had to present herself as strong and self-assured.
She Captures The Complexity Of Being A Young Woman Ruling
Elizabeth was really thrown into the deep end of the pool without a life preserver when she became queen at such a young age. But what further complicated matters was that, to put it simply, she was forced to become a commanding presence in an arena that women, especially women her age, were not expected to occupy.
Presenting herself as a force to be reckoned with among older men who were not accustomed to listening to younger ladies was tough, and Foy nailed that discomfort, proving to have a quiet strength in much the same way that the real Queen Elizabeth did.
She Has Steely Delivery And Determination
In the early years of her reign, Elizabeth has to contend with all sorts of trials, both personally and publicly, which The Crown depicts with varying accuracy. Among other things, she has to deal with the disintegration of the British Empire and the numerous challenges to her authority, particularly from her irascible husband Philip.
A lesser actress might have been overwhelmed by the demands of this role, but Claire Foy rises to the challenge, again and again, giving audiences an Elizabeth with a steel spine and an iron soul which shall not be soon forgotten.
She Has A Strange Chemistry With Matt Smith
Though the Duke of Edinburgh might be a bit of a jerk in the first two seasons of The Crown, there is no doubt that Matt Smith is truly magnificent in the role, allowing Philip to be more than just a caricature.
There’s also undeniable chemistry between Smith and Foy, and the audience can well believe that these are two people that are truly in love with one another, even if they do have to overcome some truly great obstacles to their relationship and the proper functioning of their marriage.
She Captures The Complications Of A Monarch In The Postwar Era
There’s no question that Britain went through quite a lot in the years after World War II. After all, that conflict had shaken almost everything that the world believed in. As the series shows, Elizabeth was more than capable of handling this, though it would no doubt have crushed someone less able.
In Claire Foy’s equally capable hands, the viewer gets to see how determined Elizabeth is to do her duty, no matter how much of a personal cost it may take. Though the post-war stresses clearly weigh on Elizabeth, she never wavers in her duty to her country.
She Conveys Strength And Vulnerability
It takes a pretty special sort of actress to be able to capture both strength and vulnerability. It’s a tough trick to pull off, and it’s even harder to do well. How fortunate for viewers, then, that Claire Foy was chosen to portray the young Elizabeth.
Time and again as the first and second seasons unfold, the series shows Elizabeth as a woman contending with the difficulties in her marriage yet strong enough to handle the various public crises that affect her country.
She Brought Compelling Layers To The Relationships With Her PMs
During the course of the first two seasons, Elizabeth works with three different Prime Ministers: Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, and Harold Macmillan. Though these men all clashed with Elizabeth on various occasions, the audience is always made to feel as though there is a complicated relationship that each fosters with their queen.
While Olivia Colman certainly bounced off her own PMs well, particularly Margaret Thatcher, the relationships that Foy builds with each of her three counterparts are more nuanced, becoming a focal point of the series. Particularly when it comes to Winston Churchill, the audience feels as though there is a familial bond between Elizabeth and her Prime Minister, even if that bond becomes strained from time to time.
She Delivered Several Powerful Monologues
The kings and queens of England are known for often delivering lofty and memorable speeches during their reign, and Elizabeth II was certainly no exception. In her stint as Elizabeth, Claire Foy is made to give several of the queen’s more powerful speeches, nailing it each time.
While Foy does bring strength to each speech, she also proves most memorable in delivering powerful monologues that take place behind the scenes. When pushed too far, her version of Elizabeth was known to push back, often resulting in unforgettable moments, including her scathing indictment of Prime Minister MacMillan’s weakness.
Her Accent Is Perfect
The queen’s voice has become well-known to people from all around the world, even more so the previous monarchs given the increased accessibility of her speeches through recordings and television interviews. As such, one of the most important parts of portraying Queen Elizabeth II is nailing her accent.
Claire Foy absolutely nails Elizabeth’s voice, right down to her distinct accent. While Colman would deliver a similarly regal and spot-on impression of her queen, it was Foy who blazed this trail with her pitch-perfect voice.
Olivia Colman Is The Best Queen Elizabeth Because…
She Has An Aura Of Regality
In Great Britain and, to a certain extent the world, the Queen and her family are larger-than-life figures, almost untouchable in their regality. As such, it is important that any portrayal of the Queen adheres to this principal that she is not a regular person at all, but rather someone whom the rest of the world can look up to and admire.
Olivia Colman brings an added layer of regality to Elizabeth’s middle-aged years. Having grown accustomed to her position over time, she has also settled into her regal responsibilities, becoming the picture of a perfect monarch in terms of public image.
She Is Guarded, Yet Emotional
As the Queen, Elizabeth is expected to be unemotional, yet still sympathize with the various plights of her subjects. These two extremes contradict each other in every way, yet Queen Elizabeth was made to navigate between the two, finding a balance between displaying her emotions and being overly guarded.
The season 3 episode “Aberfan” deals directly with this issue, especially as Elizabeth fears that there is something wrong with her lack of emotional displays after a tragic incident. Colman brings a sense of vulnerability to the role in a very different way than Foy did, portraying a person who feels very deeply but struggles to let such emotions show.
She Is Unafraid To Share The Spotlight
As time has gone on, the general public has become invested not only in the life of their Queen but also in that of the Royal Family as a whole. Especially as Elizabeth’s children grew, got married, and engaged in various scandals, the lives of the entire Royal Family came to be in the spotlight in the ’80s and ’90s.
While Claire Foy shared the screen with several heavy hitters, Colman’s time in the role of Elizabeth included sitting back and giving another character the spotlight for an episode or two. Especially as Diana and Charles began their relationship, Colman proved unafraid to share the screen with other leading actors, yet never felt outshone by their attention. It helped that the cast of seasons 3 and 4 was absolutely brilliant, leaving Season 5’s cast with plenty to live up to.
She Has The Ability To Capture Elizabeth’s Sadness
As the years go by, Elizabeth has to contend with the fact that not only is she aging, but her country is aging with her. At one point, she even remarks that under her tenure, the nation that she loves and has devoted her life to has begun a slow and steady decline.
One core aspect of Colman’s performance is that she allows the audience to see beneath Elizabeth’s strong facade to the sadness that often lurks beneath, a reminder of just how much she’s given up for her nation (and it helps that Colman looks quite a lot like middle-aged Elizabeth).
She Conveys Elizabeth’s Complicated Relationships With Her Children
Though Elizabeth’s children are largely off-screen for most of the first two seasons (with some exceptions), they become a more central part of the drama in the third and fourth seasons. As a result, the audience sees a great deal more of their interactions with their mother.
Olivia Colman invites the audience to understand the vexed relationship that she has with her children, for while she clearly loves them, she can’t help but also feel a bit distant from them (and they from her).
She Captures The Struggle Of Raising Children To Be Monarchs
The Crown isn’t shy about examining Queen Elizabeth’s less-than-maternal nature, but what makes her position infinitely more complex is that she isn’t just tasked with raising her kids. She is responsible for building up Charles and the rest of her children to be the public face of English royalty.
The series makes it clear that she doesn’t necessarily handle this deftly, and Colman does a brilliant job of portraying the conflict between her feelings as a mother and a monarch. Particularly with Charles, her relationship with her children is strained by the weight of the crown, and this shows in every single interaction they have.
She Has Great Chemistry With Tobias Menzies
If there’s one person in the cast who can match Olivia Colman’s Elizabeth, it’s Tobias Menzies as Philip, who gives one of his best performances. Watching the two of them on-screen, viewers can well believe that these are two people who have spent a significant part of their lives together.
It’s more than just seeming to inhabit the characters, however. There’s a warmth to their relationship that, when it shows up, makes fans almost believe that they are actually watching the royal couple together in their most intimate and tender moments.
She Has The Ability To Capture Elizabeth’s Inflexibility
It’s not really surprising that as she gets older, Elizabeth would find it more and more difficult to change and adapt to the times (especially since she was never really known for her flexibility in most aspects of her life).
It would have been very easy for Colman to make Elizabeth unlikable or unsympathetic, but instead, she allows the viewer to gain at least some understanding of Elizabeth, even as she also forces an acknowledgment of some of Elizabeth’s most egregious mistakes.
She Shows The Complications Of Being Queen In A Constantly Changing Country
Elizabeth ascended to the throne when the status of the English monarchy was already in flux, and it seems like that instability never stopped.
Although it was difficult in the era that Foy portrayed, Colman was saddled with the intense responsibility of conveying the experience of being the reigning queen when the meaning of that position was constantly changing and being questioned. Colman depicts the dual sides of this conflict at the same time, which is impressive.
She Conveys Elizabeth’s Durability
One thing can be said of Queen Elizabeth, and that is that she is an institution. No matter what happens in the series, she knows that she is the embodiment of the Crown, something that the rest of her people look up to.
A less capable actress would no doubt have made her into something of a caricature, a relic from a bygone era. While Colman does allow the viewer to see Elizabeth’s inflexibility, she also emphasizes the fact that the Queen is nothing if not enduring.
Both Are Great As Queen Elizabeth Because…
There’s Continuity Between Their Versions Of Elizabeth
Both Foy and Colman are excellent in their performances of Queen Elizabeth, but the success of The Crown as a whole relies on one utterly vital component. That these two different people can believably play the same person.
And, not only do the two actresses look similar enough to convincingly appear like the same person, but the details that they both add to the depiction of Elizabeth really make the continuity work despite the huge time jump.
NEXT: The Crown Season 5 — 10 Movies & TV Shows Where You’ve Seen The Cast Before