Netflix’s The Crown is nominated for 24 Primetime Emmy Awards including Outstanding Drama Series for the fourth season of the series detailing the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The season covers the whirlwind romance between Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin), as well as Margaret Thatcher’s (Gillian Anderson) tenure as Prime Minister. Both O’Connor and Corrin are nominated for Emmys in lead acting categories, while Anderson is nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
The Season 4 finale, titled “War” and written by series creator Peter Morgan, is a nominee in the Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series category. The episode begins with Thatcher’s leadership challenged. As she deals with the prospect of losing her position, Charles learns that Diana is continuing with her infidelity. He plans to go through with separation and divorce, until he is confronted by other people in his life that advise against it.
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Here, Morgan answers some questions about his work on the finale as part of Deadline’s It Starts on the Page, a series showcasing scripts from this year’s Emmy-nominated programs and the writers who brought them to life.
What was the inspiration behind the script for this episode?
Season 4 features two of the most extraordinary women of the 20th century, Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher, so I suppose you could say they are the inspiration behind this script. They bring incredible energy but also incredible disruption. In “War,” we take these stories to their season-long conclusion: in Thatcher’s case, to the end; in Diana’s case, to breaking point. Another inspiration is the cast. Our show is unusual in that we change the cast every second season. In “War,” we not only had to wrap up the events of the season; we also had a duty to give our season 3 & 4 cast the send-off they deserve. It’s a moment of both death and rebirth, so we have to balance that valedictory feel with a sense of renewal.
What is your favorite line from the script?
You can’t ask a writer that!
There are some I enjoyed writing, like Thatcher’s “The difference is you have power in doing nothing. I will have nothing,” or Camilla’s “In the narrative law of fairytales versus reality – the fairytale always prevails.”
But ultimately perhaps I’d choose Philip’s line:
“Everyone in this system is a lost, lonely, irrelevant, outsider apart from the one person, the only person that matters. She is the oxygen we all breathe. The essence of all our duty.”
One of the fundamental truths of the Royal Family is that the entire apparatus revolves around the Sovereign. “For better or worse,” says the Queen in Season 1, “the Crown has landed on my head.” This immoveable fact reasserts itself time and again in our show, and gives the show the character of a fugue, constructed on a recurring theme. This line is a prime example. In the very first episode of the show, the ailing George VI told Philip: “You understand, the titles, the dukedom. They’re not the job. She is the job. She is the essence of your duty.” Now he is passing on the advice to Diana. He’s playing the theme in a different key.
What was the most difficult scene to write?
The last 10 minutes of the script were challenging because it was constructed as a series of two-handers — Diana asking to speak to the Queen, the Queen finding Charles in her study, Philip talking to Diana as the family gathered downstairs to celebrate Christmas. I suppose, like the end of an opera, all the main players needed to come on for their final aria. But it needed to feel natural and not like a curtain call.
Ultimately, the most difficult scene to write was Charles and Diana’s argument when he comes to see her after the New York trip. There is an ever-present tension when writing a show like The Crown because you are writing about real people, about their lives and feelings. Writing about the disintegration of a marriage is difficult enough in and of itself. It’s something private and personal. But in the case of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, it’s not just the disintegration of a marriage. It had huge constitutional implications because Prince Charles is the future monarch. Of course, everyone wanted the fairytale to last; no one wanted it to come to an end. It’s a desperately sad thing and something, I’m sure, people would have wished I didn’t write about. But that would have been dishonest. Your job as writer, then, is to try and find the emotional truth of the scene.
How many rewrites did the script go through?
I asked this question of the script team and it turns out we have 37 different drafts of the episode – which includes a lot more writing that happened during the editing and pick-ups process. Ultimately, it’s a matter of coming back to the canvas and applying additional coats of paint. Sometimes it becomes clear that something doesn’t quite belong, so you have to repaint it in its entirety; other times you discover splashes of colour that you want to bring out. At every stage there is an improvement, and sometimes even then something will occur to you! The painter Pierre Bonnard used to go to the Musée du Luxembourg, where his own, completed paintings were hanging, and add finishing touches under the security guards’ noses because he still saw changes that needed to be made. I know how he felt.
Click on the script below to read it.