Let’s Unpack That

Why is everyone in The Crown so sexy?

Is the Netflix hit’s relationship to controversy in direct proportion to the inappropriate attractiveness of its ensemble cast? Adam White investigates why a show about largely unsexy people is so ripe with sexy actors

Wednesday 09 November 2022 06:30 GMT
Too sexy for this show: Olivia Williams, Dominic West, Josh O’Connor and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Crown’
Too sexy for this show: Olivia Williams, Dominic West, Josh O’Connor and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Crown’ (iStock)

That John Major is one mighty hunk of man-meat,” said no one but Edwina Currie probably. Watch The Crown this season, though, and you’ll be foaming at the mouth in minutes over Britain’s most boring PM. See, Major – who absolutely, categorically did not advise Prince Charles on whether to force his mother’s abdication in 1991, thank you very much – is played in The Crown by Jonny Lee Miller, an actor so flagrantly good-looking that even dressing him up in geeky spectacles and a floppy grey wig can’t extinguish the heat.

Inappropriate sexiness is The Crown’s métier. Here is a show that thought the perfect person to play famed demonoid Margaret Thatcher was Gillian Anderson, knowledge of whose overt, indubitable sex appeal has been passed down the generations like some kind of erotic folk tale. Prince Charles has been played by both the prolifically allergic-to-clothes Josh O’Connor and, in the new season, Dominic West – think He-Man if he went to Eton. Camilla Parker Bowles, meanwhile, has been embodied by the very beguiling Emerald Fennell and, this season, Olivia Williams – an actor whose beauty is such that Bruce Willis literally convinced himself he wasn’t dead in The Sixth Sense solely to be within reach of her.

It should be said that the physical allure of The Crown’s ensemble has had absolutely no impact on its overall quality. This has always been one of the most well-cast series on television, its actors able to thread the needle between the show’s richest modes: powerful, emotive drama and soap opera camp. But I’m beginning to worry that the reason The Crown has become so contentious this year – with everyone from Tony Blair to Dame Judi Dench condemning its dramatisation of real events – isn’t because the Queen died and made everyone feel existentially guilty-slash-deranged. Rather, it’s because everyone in it is just too hot.

I should quickly interject here and clarify that sex appeal is not, of course, inherently linked with physical attractiveness. The most aesthetically beautiful people on the planet can be entirely beige when it comes to sexual charisma, just as someone who’d never appear on the cover of Vogue could easily be the hottest person in any given room. And many members of the royal family throughout history have been very conventionally beautiful. But they also happen to embody many of the things that act as groin repellent, from inherited wealth and love of fox hunts to Prince Andrew and, well, colonial rule and all that. You know what’s also sexy? Conversation, repartee, humour. But all of those things have been drummed out of them – publicly, at least – by the “rules” of royal life. Dignified silence. Stiff upper lips. Lots of tweed. Bleurgh.

Political unsexiness is a little more obvious to pinpoint. As any good subscriber to the “I’d never kiss a Tory” ethos will know, political leanings make or break someone’s sexual allure. It’s why all those breathless cries of “Dishy Rishi” went down like cups of cold sick two years ago. No matter how good-looking someone is, if they’re redistributing funds from deprived areas to pump into rich ones, you’re going to be reaching for the nearest chastity belt. So The Crown bringing two Tory PMs to the screen in the form of FHM’s Sexiest Woman in the World 1997 and a one-time Mr Angelina Jolie isn’t just jarring, it’s practically offensive.

And I can’t help but wonder if it’s key to The Crown’s increasingly checkered reputation. Since it began in 2016, The Crown has largely stuck to the facts of royal history, if naturally enhancing them a little because this is a Netflix drama series. Lucy Worsley may not wander on-screen every few minutes to tell us that such-and-such a posh person did indeed do such-and-such a posh thing 30 years ago, but The Crown is – for the most part – an accurate recreation of truth. It’s the product of not just showrunner Peter Morgan but a large team of researchers, sources and historians. Even some of the more outlandish scenes in the show – such as Diana roller-skating around Buckingham Palace to Duran Duran – did apparently really happen.

Jonny Lee Miller as John Major in ‘The Crown' (Netflix)

Yet the idea persists that The Crown is a kind of anti-establishment propaganda machine built on intricate, elaborate untruths. Or “malicious fiction”, as John Major grumbled last month. But, in Major’s defence, wouldn’t you think The Crown was vague nonsense if you hadn’t actually seen the show and just saw how sexy this cast is? Surely a show starring Timothy Dalton – actual James Bond! – as Princess Margaret’s great love may have taken a hammer to other bits of truth, too?

The Crown may be giving into this kind of misplaced criticism. They’ve already agreed to add a “fictional dramatisation” disclaimer to the new season. Whatever next? Recast Jonny Lee Miller with a bag of flour? Just to reduce the sexual magnetism? We shouldn’t stand for it. The Crown may take our lives, but they will never take our weird crushes.

‘The Crown’ is streaming on Netflix now

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