When Helena Bonham Carter takes to the small screen to play Princess Margaret in the third season of The Crown, she’ll be well prepared.
The London Evening Standard newspaper reported last week that Bonham Carter was “all but confirmed” to take on the role of Queen Elizabeth’s younger, rebellious sister. (Olivia Colman has been announced as taking over from Claire Foy as the Queen.)
And she’s certainly got the pedigree for the job: Bonham Carter not only played Margaret’s mom, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in the 2010 movie The King’s Speech, but her real-life grandmother was a great friend of the late Prime Minister Winston Churchill – a key character in the hit Netflix show’s first season.
Bonham Carter — famous for her role as Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series, among other films – previously spoke with PEOPLE in 2011 about her royal role in the film The King’s Speech. She said that she spoke with royal expert Hugo Vickers to ready herself to play Margaret and Elizabeth’s mother, and sourced rare footage of the royal talking to help.
“She had a rule that to be a public figure, never complain and never explain and never speak publicly,” Bonham Carter said in 2011. “That was why it was so hard to find her speaking so candidly. The only bit that I found was her talking about Castle of Mey towards the end of her life.”
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Bonham Carter believes the Queen Mother was “incredibly witty” and had a steely side to her character.
“She developed it almost through necessity and almost through life experience,” she said. “Underneath she was always someone who knew her own mind and in comparison to him she had a very strong sense of self and a basic confidence that he lacked.”
“She recognized that something had to be done and also out of sheer compassion and a wish to help someone she loved who was in such pain. She was an optimist also, whereas he was innately somewhat pessimist.”
The Queen Mother had a way of both giving people something, but also holding back something her “own core self,” Bonham Carter believes. “She played very low status in some ways with the cocked head and humble,” she said of the consort. “But she also knew, ultimately, her position. She knew who she was!”
The difficulty of a life in the public eye – captured so well in the first two seasons of The Crown – is not lost on the actress either.
“I’ve always had respect for them as individuals,” she said. “I’ve never had any envy for that kind of life. The sheer amount of duty! You also don’t have too much personal freedom. It is a gift to know how to be a public figure.”
Bonham Carter’s Crown links continue with her grandmother Violet, who was one of Churchill’s closest female friends. Violet was the daughter of former Prime Minister H.H. Asquith and was a formidable politician herself, serving as the President of the Liberal Party between 1945 and 1947. In 1915, she married her father’s Principal Private Secretary Sir Maurice Bonham Carter. Their son Raymond is Helena’s father.
Her grandmother’s own revelations about her close friend even provide historical context to scenes depicted in The Crown. In show’s first season, Churchill — played by John Lithgow, who won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for the role — is seen painting, a pastime that is absorbs him and is a respite from the affairs of state.
In the official companion book to the first season of The Crown, historian Robert Lacey writes that Churchill’s “longtime friend Violet Bonham Carter remarked that his ‘work with a paintbrush was the only occupation that the great orator ever pursued in total silence.’”
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