‘The Crown’ royal drama on Netflix has drawn both its ardent fans for its rich portrayal of the lives of the young Queen Elizabeth, her sister Margaret, her new husband Philip, but also its critics of perceived liberties with the text.
However, its star Jared Harris hoots with laughter when I tell him what happened at the BAFTA screening I attended, when one furious viewer loudly berated director Stephen Daldry for including two scenes - one where King George VI, played by Jared, underwent surgery, and one where his dead body was embalmed.
“I imagine Stephen Daldry enjoyed that exchange a lot,” chuckles Jared.
The ‘Mad Men’ star agrees with Stephen Daldry that the surgery deserved to be included - “it was very visceral, very human” - and, he explains, the embalming scene served a narrative, illustrating the intense bond between George VI and Margaret, and how her shock at his loss helped propel her in to the arms of Peter Townsend. “That scene did a lot in a short time,” is Jared’s actors’ shorthand.
For Jared, ‘The Crown’ set in the early years of the Queen’s reign, taps into very contemporary themes.
“It’s not about class, it’s about power, the difference between the Royal Family and the inhabitants of Downing Street,” he says.
“There’s the family who don’t want it, who know it corrupts and pulls them apart from each other, and on the other hand we see Downing Street, where people are desperate for power, and will elbow each other out of the way in order to get it.”
Jared Harris is a busy man. He also co-stars in the big screen wartime epic ‘Allied’ headed by Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. He plays Frank Heslop, the man who must break it to Pitt’s character that his wife might not be all she appears.
Despite the vintage old-fashioned feel to the film, For Jared, just as The Crown touches on timeless themes of family, so ‘Allied’ highlights the dilemma of duty versus personal feelings, as well as all the three unavoidable elements of any love story.
“You fall in love with the idea of someone, you shack up with then, and only then, do you belatedly ask, who IS this person?” he laughs. It’s unavoidable.
“Plus in this film, of course, there is no real villain. Any wartime film makes the Nazis the baddies, but we don’t really meet them. For these people, it’s circumstance who is the real enemy.”
One of the best parts of the film, for Jared, was sharing scenes with Brad Pitt - “I’m all theatre-trained, so for me it’s all about rehearsal and preparation. But he’s the opposite, he’s instinctive, he wants to put it on the screen. I learned a lot.”
Jared hasn’t failed to notice the shadow of Brad Pitt’s divorce hovering over the film’s release, with the star cancelling most publicity engagements, and it’s something that saddens him.
“There are children involved,” he remembers. “There’s a difference between idle speculation and malicious speculation, and when people only want to indulge in the latter for commercial purposes, well, then they really need to take a look at themselves.”
‘Allied’ is in UK cinemas now.