Why I'm Thrilled 'The Crown' Is Casting Middle-Aged Actors

Hollywood years for women are rather like dog years
Karwai Tang via Getty Images

‘The Crown’, are two words which conjure up in my mind two other words, binge-watch. If there is a fan out there who claims more devotion to that show than me, then they’re lying.

I saw Kristen Scott Thomas as The Queen in Peter Morgan’s superb play ‘The Audience’ in the West End and like ‘The Crown’, the writer gave us a delightfully nuanced and complex version of the most ‘known, unknown’ woman in the world. Scott Thomas was excellent.

Claire Foy again delights as our monarch of infinite complexity, in Morgan’s Netflix series.

Foy entranced us all in her first outing as Queen, playing the doomed-by-misogyny, second wife of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn in ‘Wolf Hall’.

I can’t think of any other spectrum-bending playing range, more competently displayed by a performer than Foy’s transition from Boylen to Windsor.

‘The Crown’ is a triumph for women, as subjects and as performers. Although Queen Elizabeth is the hub around which the series revolves, it truly is an ensemble piece. It brings us to Morgan’s central truth, which is that the crown is worn by one but casts its weighty shadow over all of the royal family. From Queen Mary, to Elizabeth the Queen Mother, through Princess Margaret to Wallis Simpson, each page of the Queen’s life story in the 1950s and 60s, is written through the prism of the women who defined and were affected by her transition.

It’s also written through the men who surrounded and shaped the Queen’s evolution. The men who loved her and whom she loved and those who served as her Prime Ministers.

These ambitious, at times duplicitous men, believed themselves capable of molding the Queen to serve their own career aims.

Her path from the daughter of King George VI, wife to Prince Phillip Duke of Edinburgh, mother of Prince Charles, niece of The Duke of Windsor and finally as head of the family at the tender age of 25, is one in which Morgan shows us a steep learning curve of the art and limitations of her role and responsibility.

Foy is stepping away from the role and it’s to be inhabited by Olivia Coleman who is also greatly loved by all.

The news that the portrayal of the monarch as she ages, is to be performed by a middle aged actor made me very happy and sadly grateful.

It is sad that I’m grateful. I’m 51 and apart from the other screen love of my life Sarah Lancashire, there aren’t many women who look like me on TV. There are women yes, but I have to say they either are young, or they look young.

I recently tired to restart my acting career at 50 after a 30 year break. I might as well have tried to push a penny with my nose along the fast lane of the M25, whilst remaining injury free.

No one gets into show business as a newcomer, at 50.

So the news that the production company of ‘The Crown’, Left Bank Pictures, the team behind of one of the most successful series ever made, have decided to authentically cast women over 40, to play women over 40; makes me feel quite tearful.

It could be gratitude or the peri-menopause, but it’s true.

They’re casting men over 40 too but that’s not news in film and TV, that’s the status quo. To be fair, a man over 40 in the industry is more than likely only half way through his career and for the rest of his career his leading lady will be only half his age, but there we are.

It has history, that trend. In 1959 Cary Grant, aged 55, starred opposite 35-year-old Eva Marie saint in ‘North by Northwest’. Jessie Royce Landis played Grant’s mother, Clara Thornhill. Aged 63 she was only eight years his senior.

This wasn’t deemed odd. Hollywood years for women are rather like dog years. For every year after the age of 35 Hollywood adds five years. Men don’t have that calculation applied, the only age limit applied to them, is the upper age limit beyond which their leading lady cannot pass.

So I’m delighted and excited by the forthcoming Series 3 of ‘The Crown’. I’ve loved the first two series, ensemble cast and beautiful production. It’s a show about the strength and visibility of one woman, made by a production company who believe in the strength through visibility, of all women.

Good for them and good for us all.


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