The Crown‘s fourth season already earned series-high reviews when it premiered on Netflix on November 15. The introduction of Gillian Anderson as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the welcome presence of Emma Corrin as the legendary Diana gave audiences the high class soap twists and turns for which they’d longed. But the season also features stellar work and material on more familiar characters and actors carried over from its third season.
One episode that has audiences talking is episode seven, “The Hereditary Principle.” Here, Princess Margaret (the great Helena Bonham Carter) faces isolation and obsolescence as she is removed from official Buckingham Palace duties. An ensuing depression sends her on a journey of self-discovery where she eventually uncovers a long-buried family secret. If you haven’t seen the episode, then you must before reading this interview. It features some of Carter’s best work in the series in addition to the exquisitely constructed structure that we’ve come to expect from the sterling series.
Much of the suspense and empathy felt during the episode can be attributed to first time Crown editor Morten Højbjerg. Højbjerg was hand-picked by episode director Jessica Hobbs to guide and shape Margaret’s journey, eliciting unusual comparisons between the royal family and a newly introduced group of royal onlookers.
Here, Morten Højbjerg talks to Awards Daily about working with Hobbs to craft this great episode. He talks about building suspense out of this chapter in British history. He also talks about how he thinks audiences will react to the revelations therein.
Warning: This interview contains spoilers for The Crown‘s “The Hereditary Principle,” episode seven.
Awards Daily: So this is your first time editing on The Crown. How did you first start working on “The Hereditary Principle?”
Morten Højbjerg: The episode was actually chosen for me by Jessica Hobbs, the great director that I had the privilege to work with on this. She invited me in for the interview saying, ‘I think you will be right for this episode that I’m doing about Princess Margaret.’ So, what do you say? I read the script, and I just obviously said yes to it. But it was actually chosen for me by her that I would be the person to cut this episode.
AD: So what was the working relationship like between you and Jessica?
MH: She’s just the greatest director. It was such a pleasure. It’s all about collaboration, really. It’s not a specific mathematic thing. Everything can mean so many different things. Filmmaking is a very subjective language. So, the focus has to be on building relationships and trusting each other in the way that, when you are talking about a specific tone of things or specific kind of music or specific tone of the shot, you know that all the people that you’re collaborating with are on the same page. We all have the same language. Those things take a lot of time to develop. She’s extremely good at acknowledging that I think. She’s really wonderful and caring and clever. She has a really good understanding of this collaboration part. She’s so open to ideas and suggestions and whatever you can bring to the table. She’s always listening, which is amazing. So, it has been amazing.
But then of course, with the whole COVID lockdown, things got a little bit more difficult. That was in the middle of this season of The Crown. We were so incredibly lucky that the shooting just finished when the whole lockdown was announced. We had literally just finished. We obviously couldn’t go to the cutting rooms anymore, and we all had to just sit in our houses and have all sorts of gear to be able to work together remotely. So, of course, that kind of changed things a bit because then everything was just over FaceTime and Skype and whatever instead of sitting in a room together, which is obviously very different. But luckily, we had time to establish a personal relationship before that happened.
AD: So given that each episode of The Crown roughly has its own director and its own editor, when you approach the material, is there some sort of continuity concern in making sure that the episodes flow visually and creatively? Or were you really able to bring your own touches and your own perspective to cutting “The Hereditary Principle?”
MH: It’s a very unique show in that it’s very luxurious in the time that we have per episode to edit. You’re encouraged to treat your episode as almost if it was a feature film — a unique piece of work with a beginning, a middle, and an end. So, I did that. The thing that makes that possible is that we have the brilliant Peter Morgan. The series is his child. Everything about it is his. He’s the expert, and he, just through his writing, keeps you from straying off. It’s always very precise. Having him and having his eyes on it and sensibilities on it all the way through just really ensures that it’s always The Crown pretty much no matter what you do to your episodes. You can sit there with your episode and just concentrate on that for months. Then afterwards, you zoom out, and you watch the other episodes. You realize that everything is kind of connected, and everything feels like one big series. That all comes down to him I would say.
AD: So, I’m an American, and I didn’t know the back story behind this episode. Given the frequent juxtapositions between the royal family and another family of sorts, do you consider that people may not know the story? That this may be a new experience to them? Does that help infer how you build the episode?
MH: I think, in a lot of ways, yes. Yes, it sure does. It’s not just you that didn’t know that story, I think. Most people don’t. I think it might be kind of a shock to people in general that this actually happened. That’s always a consideration when you approach something like this. How much are you telling upfront, and how much do you just want to tease the audience and make them curious? When does the feeling of curiousness stop and just become confusion? How far can you push it until it just becomes confusion and as an audience? At the same time, it’s also really important for the whole structure of this episode, I think, to keep it going as long as possible.
Our main goal was to make this a very subjective episode as seen through Princess Margaret. I also think that that’s one of the things that really works very well in the episode. It’s such strongly subjective experience, and we convey her shock at making this discovery. We wanted to make the audience aware of this other universe, but we didn’t necessarily want to tell them what connection they have to the story until Princess Margaret discovers it for herself.
AD: This season increasingly shows the royal family in a negative light given the impact of their choices on the family and those immediately around them. Do you think it is the full intent of the season? To show them in a very, very different light than previous seasons?
MH: I don’t think so. I actually really don’t think so. How I see it, it’s not about criticizing, actually, the royal family like that. It’s just about telling what actually happened. If we really wanted to criticize the royal family, I think we could have done that. We could have gone much further down that road if that was what we wanted. I think we have at least tried very much to be as respectful and as truthful as possible and not kind of point fingers. Regardless of your opinion of the royal family, the series has to be truthful. Everything that we show has to be something that happened. That’s really important because, obviously, a show like this will come under a lot of scrutiny. Things have to be pretty watertight.
AD: You’ve already mentioned that people will likely be shocked by this episode because it is a story that isn’t widely known. What else do you think people will take away from it?
MH: On a personal note, I really hope that they will take away what a brilliant actress Helena Bonham Carter is. Obviously this season is so much about Diana who played by Emma Corrin, and she’s amazing, obviously fantastic. We get these two new characters [Diana, Thatcher], and they deserve every bit of the recognition they’re getting. My humble wish for episode seven is that Helena Bonham Carter gets the credit she deserves from her remarkable work in this episode. She deserve some limelight as well, I think.
I just think she’s so generous, you know, in the way that she delivers to the camera. She just gives so much of herself without fear. She’s completely fearless, which is just brilliant as an editor to work with. An actor who is fearless and who’s not afraid of just giving everything to the camera and to the project. That’s just such a pleasure, every day.
The Crown Season 4 is now streaming on Netflix.