The third season of The Crown, the Netflix drama about the rise and fall of the Windsor family, is marked by change. After two blockbuster seasons that garnered 26 Emmy nominations and eight trophies, creator Peter Morgan transformed the face of the show with an entirely new cast. Aged up to represent Queen Elizabeth and her generation of royals as middle-aged stalwarts holding the line in a decaying empire, legends like Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter took center stage. And while their performances riveted audiences across the world, it was Erin Doherty, playing a college-aged Princess Anne, who slyly stole the season as a new kind of royal: A well-adjusted one.
One of the first things Doherty learned when researching for the part is that Princess Anne, the second child and only daughter of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, is notoriously renowned for dodging the press. She even famously hid her engagement to Mark Phillips from the press until she was ready to announce, going so far as to lie to her own royal press officers so the story wouldn't accidentally be leaked. "She loves her privacy and she wouldn't have it any other way," said Doherty on the phone with TV Guide after the Season 3 premiere.
Doherty even noted Anne's need to play everything close to chest translated into quite a challenging physical trait. "I watched her for hours on end on YouTube and she just has a way of refraining from moving her mouth, but the sound comes out quite loud," Doherty said. "That's what gave me the most sleepless nights, [Anne's voice and tone] was the only thing that I massively wanted to adhere to in terms of physically abiding by the real act." Doherty's own open, warm tone is so drastically different than perfect polish of Princess Anne — who suffers no fools — it's clear why she felt Anne's voice was the key to nailing what made her so different than the royals around her.
"I just don't have that confidence, it's like a grounded self-confidence, that she has," said Doherty as she explained how Anne expresses so much emotion in so few words. But it all clicked into place for Doherty on her first day on set, during which she shot Anne's very first scene of Season 3. By the time she had pulled on Anne's luxurious riding boots and was walking toward Prince Phillip's (Tobias Menzies) office, the totally "surreal moment in time" she had when she first got to L Street and saw the palace they built on the studio lot had passed. The second Doherty was in a room with Menzies, the endless research (both her own and that provided by the diligent research team on The Crown) fell away, and it simply became a moment between a well-meaning father and an equally stubborn daughter.
After a disastrous interview in which Prince Phillip essentially asked the English people for a pay raise for one of the wealthiest families in the world, the palace damage control team comes up with a "hideous" option: A documentary meant to show the English people that the Windsors were really just like them, and sway public opinion back to the monarchy's side. Part of the documentary would involve Anne's debut to the public because, as Phillip puts it, she's "good value for money." Anne's reaction to hearing this news starts with refusing a seat to stay in her father's eye line, includes three scorn-filled, single-syllable reactions, and ends with scathing jabs at the reptiles that run the palace. It's easy to see why Prince Phillip thinks the public will relate to her.
But while Phillip wins the battle, Anne wins the war. The documentary is a disaster, and when Anne walks into her father's office only to have a profile pressed on her as a way to make up for this latest gaffe, she reminds him she was right. And then takes the situation into her own hands by giving her profile to Princess Alice (Jane Lapotaire), her grandmother who was subjected to torture in an insane asylum after fleeing Greece during a coup against the royal family. The profile is a massive success because, as Anne and the reporter realized, Anne is one of the few royals that's suffered more hardship in her life than most commoners.
For Doherty, this episode ("Bubbikins") is less about the political implications of being a real-life Windsor and more about a young woman who loves her family but is able to see them clearly for the out-of-touch and self-righteous people that they are. "That's the danger with these parts, like when you play someone who is actually alive, there's definitely a real moment in time where you have to just let go of it because you'll just explode from the pressure. In the moment I just said, no, this is going to be Erin's version and it's Peter's script," said Doherty. When Doherty began to look at Princess Anne as a character simply trying her best to assert herself and her happiness — which in this case meant staying out of the press while also pushing her father and grandmother into reuniting — any danger of the performance becoming an overly-researched caricature melted away. Instead, into the spotlight stepped a level-headed young woman who knows she'll have to fight every day to be happy, and is beginning to learn how to work the system so she can be.
"You do see her battling with her position really early on in the series," said Doherty. But very quickly there comes a point where she can see what being number one — both in her mother and in her brother Charles (Josh O'Connor) — does to a person. "She can see what it's doing to Charles, this pressure," said Doherty. "Even with [Queen Elizabeth], knowing that there is something that will always come first with your mom rather than your relationship! It blows my mind every time I think about it."
But while Charles can't be with the woman he loves because she'll be an unsuitable future queen, and Queen Elizabeth is the one standing in his way and repeating the mistakes that have already torn her family apart, Princess Anne somehow miraculously becomes the royal closest to finding happiness. "There has to come a point when you just have to accept it. That that is her mom's job. And seeing it...she genuinely is just really grateful not to be in Charles's shoes," said Doherty. "Anne finds an immense amount of peace the moment that happens, I think that you can see that throughout the rest of her life."
Doherty added, "After that one bad run in with the press when she was young, she's put herself at a distance from the crown in a way she actually definitely benefits from that. She's very clear-headed about her position in the family." As number two, Anne "gets a certain amount of freedom whereas everyone else seems so hung up and pinned down by it" that allows her to be "open, and honest about her opinion, and it's genuinely valued in their family because no one else has the option to be in her shoes." This level of clarity may be the closest any character on The Crown will ever get to a generally stable and emotionally fulfilling life, which hopefully we'll see a lot more of in Season 4 for Anne. But in the meantime, for Doherty, playing Anne has been a complete joy.
"She's become the voice of reason within the family," said Doherty. "I feel a lot better having spent a year in her skin. F---, it's a really great part to play."
The Crown Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.