The opulent set of Netflix's 'The Crown'.
Martin Childs, Production Designer of The Crown
The first season of Netflix's award-winning series The Crown introduced us to young Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) adapting to life as the head of the monarchy after the premature death of her father, King George VI (Jared Harris).
The second season begins in 1956 and spans the next eight years of Elizabeth's reign with a spotlight on her marriage to Prince Philip (Matt Smith) and the growing independence of Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby).
Below the Line spoke with The Crown's production designer, Martin Childs about season 2 and his process for bringing history to the screen. Childs, best known for his work on such films as Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Quills (2000), became involved with the series through one of the shows producer-directors, Stephen Daldry, who knew both Childs and his work. The look the designer created was a critical success and earned him an Emmy in 2017.
Childs estimates that there were 398 sets this season. His process for creating each one was meticulous. "I do days, weeks and months of forensic research (it never stops) but not all of it into the period I'm trying to recreate. I also research the way stories are told in pictures, whether they are paintings or photographs: composition, framing, color, lighting, how they can be employed to isolate characters or bring them together, expanded Childs. ìEvery design decision is anchored by historical reality, but then I choose to run with one particular feature of it in order to create something individual, recognizable, emphasizing character and place."
The season began with Prince Philip on a five-month royal tour with many of the scenes taking place aboard the royal yacht, Britannia. "If I say I enjoyed the royal yacht, then I am admitting to enjoying a challenge! It was made up of three built sets in the U.K., three in South Africa (one of them floating), and, for the below decks, a real ship permanently moored on the Thames. I aimed to make each of the seven elements overlap with the next, in such a way as to make the whole thing look as if you could smell the engine oil. And to make the royal quarters a kind of oasis, as well as a low-ceiling version of the royal suite of bedrooms at Buckingham Palace. This was so the audience would be constantly aware of Philip's absence in the palace and Elizabeth's absence on the yacht, since being apart is what the first three episodes are about."
As the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret explores a life beyond the palace with Anthony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode), Childs added that he had "designed a new bohemian world for Princess Margaret to move into when she was tempted away from the establishment by the allure of the unknown. Anthony's studio had to represent everything she wasn't used to, and the Cavendish party was the first step in that direction."
In the second season, Childs' vision for the show evolved. "Knowing that several decades span the story, it was necessary in season 1 to create a look we could move on from." He described season one's look as focused on "post-war austerity and neglect," while season 2 is "what Princess Margaret called 'Phoenix time,' - the emerging from the ashes of a world war," explained the production designer. Childs is currently busy at work on the third season of the renowned series. "The look and feel of season 2 allows space and time to move on to season three, where there will be much more color," Childs concluded.