A complicated inheritance. A scandal-prone sister. A prominent family ruled as much by those who serve them as by traditions that put them out of step with the march of history.
And footmen everywhere.
Any of this sound familiar?
Fans of Downton Abbey are probably tired of hearing that Such-and-Such is "the next Downton," but Netflix's The Crown deserves the title heir apparent more than most.
Ten episodes of you-can't-make-this-stuff-up drama from Peter Morgan, who scripted Helen Mirren's Queen Elizabeth II for film in The Queen and for stage in The Audience, The Crown premieres Nov. 4, starring Claire Foy (Wolf Hall) as the young Elizabeth and Matt Smith (Doctor Who) as her husband, Prince Philip.
It's a treatment so intimate that it begins with the future queen's father, King George VI (Jared Harris, Mad Men), coughing up blood on the day before her wedding - foreshadowing the death that will make his daughter queen - and sweeping enough to place the private lives of the royal family against the backdrop of a postwar Britain where Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) is in his final years as prime minister.
It's that scope that makes the $100 million Netflix reportedly paid for this first season seem almost reasonable.
Which doesn't mean Foy and Smith didn't laugh when I asked about the money during a phone interview Wednesday.
He: "I've got a really big house."
She: "I've got a Ferrari!"
"We've bought five Ferraris each, and we bought a small island, and all we do is we dress up in royal garments and drink pressed juices all day," Smith joked.
"No, the thing is," he said, "we don't see any of that money, and I think a lot of that is speculation," but with the costumes, "the wonderful locations, great wigs, they've spent it wisely."
Said Foy: "All of the decisions that were being made, none of them were being made because they were short on time or [money]. They always went for the most ambitious, the most beautiful, and the most appropriate choice."
"And really the most truthful," Smith added. "Because, when the royal car is pulling up, you do sort of need eight people to open a door. Apparently. It needs that scale. And without it, it would have taken away from the reality. So they really supported, ultimately, I think, the reality of it.
"And we bought an island."
Royals with issues
American viewers may be more familiar with the travails of Princess Diana than those of the queen's late sister, Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby), whose love affair with the divorced Peter Townsend (Ben Miles) becomes a royal headache in the first season. The media firestorm it ignites is both an echo of the 1936 abdication of Edward VIII (Alex Jennings) and a hint of royal scandals that still lie far ahead.
Even Foy and Smith, who grew up as subjects of the now-90-year-old queen, didn't know much of their characters' early history.
"I just had no concept of that fact that she was a young mother. I had no idea that Philip had a naval career and that they had a life before the life that they now have," Foy said.
"And I'd never thought about the emotional significance of her father dying in order for her to become queen," she said. "You just think people can take it, I suppose. People who are in public life, you think they're prepared for it and kind of seasoned for it in some way. And I just never thought of her being vulnerable and unsure and scared and grieving."
For his part, Smith was surprised to find that the prince was "sort of the alien of the group and the outsider." Philip, who was related to several royal families, had a rockier childhood than Elizabeth had.
"He's never really belonged anywhere . . . [although] I think the navy felt like a home in many ways," he said. "My understanding and affection for him opened up and grew enormously."
It didn't hurt that Philip, who chafes at becoming subservient to his wife, has a sharp tongue.
"One of the things that I've enjoyed playing is the fact that he can say, not the outrageous thing, but that he can say the thing that everyone's thinking but no one dares say, particularly in the context of the time and particularly when you join a new family. And not just any new family," Smith said, "but the most notorious family in the world."
Notorious, but still relatable, in Foy's eyes.
"I suppose the royal family - people never wanted to know them as human, because you don't want to know that those people who you think are magical and the perfect sort of Christian family," she said, "you don't want to know that they're struggling and are having a hard time, and they're having difficulties like everybody does."
Playing Elizabeth, "I really sympathized with the fact that she suddenly had a role that she just didn't want and . . . she was upsetting the people that she loved the most."