Up until now, the most scandalous talking point to emerge from The Crown’s reign on Netflix might’ve been the steamy, literal smoke-filled courtship between Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong in the middle of the second season. That was until earlier this month, when a narrative emerged around equal pay on the hugely popular series, one of Hollywood’s numerous pay gap problems in 2018 alone. It was revealed that Claire Foy, who portrayed the bona fide leading role of Queen Elizabeth II, was paid less than Matt Smith, who took on the supporting role of Prince Philip. If you’re just getting caught up in this royal scandal, here’s the complete guide to what you need to know, in chronological order.
During what was expected to be a standard, technical-centric panel discussion at the INTV Conference in Jerusalem, Israel, one of The Crown’s producers let it slip that Foy was paid less than Smith for both of their seasons of work on the series. The reasoning at the time, producer Suzanne Mackie reckoned, was because Smith had amassed international stardom status with his leading role on Doctor Who, while Foy was yet to be a prominent figure outside the United Kingdom. (If you look at Foy’s acting credits before The Crown, her biggest American television exposure was Anne Boleyn in the Wolf Hall miniseries.) “Going forward, no one gets paid more than the Queen,” Mackie said. The pay gap revelation soon got picked up by culture publications across the world, becoming trending news by the day’s end. The show’s typically active Twitter account has remained silent since the day before the panel.
A Care2 petition about The Crown begins to receive significant media attention, with nearly 30,000 supporters urging both Smith and Netflix to donate the difference in the actors’ paychecks to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. “You know gender pay gaps are a problem when even the Queen isn’t paid fairly,” the petition quips before taking a serious tone: “Women in all industries are facing a struggle for pay equality.” Legal experts soon begin weighing in on Foy’s predicament, with some claiming she has enough grounds to sue Netflix. Social media becomes divided over the merits of the petition’s cause.
Without directly naming the pay gap controversy, Philippa Lowthorpe, who directed a few episodes of The Crown’s second season, participated in a panel at the Advertising Week Europe conference in London, where she pointedly called out gender inequality behind-the-scenes in Hollywood. “The culture of a male-heavy film industry is not healthy, and it leads to imbalances of power and abuses of power,” she said.
Left Bank, the production company behind The Crown that directly handles budgets and salaries, releases a statement as a means of apologizing to Foy and Smith, “who have found themselves at the center of a media storm this week through no fault of their own.” The company, trying to deflect any blame from Smith and taking full responsibility, also stressed how none of the show’s actors are aware of anyone else’s salaries, and as such “cannot be held personally responsible for the pay of their colleagues.”
Peter White, who moderated the INTV panel that broke the pay disparity news, published an article in Deadline about the story behind his “royal scoop.” He praised Mackie for her willingness to speak openly about the gap, whom he first met the day before in a hotel bar with other conference attendees. “We discussed the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns in the context of the British film and television industry and she impressed me with her considered take on how to achieve equality across the business,” he wrote. He also alluded to the fact that Paul Bettany, who was set to play Prince Philip in seasons three and four of The Crown, potentially dropped out not because of scheduling conflicts, but rather because of payment disputes.
Jared Harris, who portrayed King George VI in the series, becomes the first Crown cast member to speak about the pay gap. He is not kind. “I think it’s an embarrassment for Left Bank Pictures,” Harris told Digital Spy, urging the production company to retroactively pay Foy what Smith earned. “I understand they made an apology but, you know, an apology and a check would be more welcome … send her a pay check and, in retrospect, bring her pay up to parity.”
The Queen speaks! In an interview with EW, Foy strategically avoids discussing the industry intricacies behind why she was paid less than Smith. Instead, she admits she wasn’t surprised by how the pay gap became and remained headline news throughout the month. “I’m surprised because I’m at the center of it, and anything that I’m at the center of like that is very very odd, and feels very very out of ordinary,” she explained. “But I’m not [surprised about the interest in the story] in the sense that it was a female-led drama. I’m not surprised that people saw [the story] and went, ‘Oh, that’s a bit odd.’ But I know that Matt feels the same that I do, that it’s odd to find yourself at the center [of a story] that you didn’t particularly ask for.”