Last week I was doing the thing I always do on Tuesday nights, Wikipedia-ing British politicians who were killed by Irish republican paramilitary groups, when I came upon an intriguing factoid: Airey Neave, the Conservative MP who was blown up by an IRA splinter group in 1979, was played in the Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady by none other than Nicholas Farrell, the British character actor who coincidentally also had a small-but-memorable role in season four of The Crown. That season, of course, starred Olivia Colman, who I couldn’t help but remember played Margaret Thatcher’s daughter (with the help of a fake nose) in The Iron Lady.
Hmm, I thought. I wonder how much other overlap there is between the two projects. So I spent a few hours poring through IMDb to see how many actors appeared in both The Crown and The Iron Lady.
My friends, there were 22 of them.
Yes, that’s right: Besides the fact that they both cover British politics of the 1970s and ’80s, and thus share many key characters and scenes, The Crown and The Iron Lady turn out to share basically the same cast as well. To bring math into it, The Iron Lady features exactly 87 credited cast members, which means that slightly more than a quarter of all the people in this movie later turned up in The Crown. (Much of this, I’m sure, goes to the fact that they also share the same casting director, Nina Gold.) To run through them all is to enjoy a veritable feast of middle-aged British character actors. So that is what we are going to do today.
We’ll start with the most obvious one. A clause in Britain’s unwritten constitution stipulates that each of the nation’s film and TV projects must find a part for Olivia Colman somewhere. Thus, six years before she assumed the role of Queen Elizabeth II on The Crown, Colman and her prosthetics played another Thatcher foil in The Iron Lady: the PM’s sad puppy of a daughter, Carol, the kind of role that was the actress’s bread-and-butter in the early ’10s.
As mentioned above, the Chariots of Fire actor has had a pair of meaty roles involving Thatcher. In The Iron Lady, Farrell played her friend and ally Airey Neave, who was killed by the Irish National Liberation Army shortly before she came to power, while his one-episode stint in The Crown came as the Queen’s press secretary Michael Shea, who was sacked for leaking rumors of the rift between Buckingham Palace and Downing Street.
A testament to the transformative power of wigs. The bald-in-real-life Torrens played the ultra-dry Tommy Lascelles in the first two seasons of The Crown, unstiffening his upper lip to play Ian Gilmour, Thatcher’s Conservative bête-noire, in The Iron Lady.
I must warn you that, before you are finished reading this article, all of these actors will start to blend together. But not Wright! The impressively eyebrow-ed actor cuts a distinctive presence, both as Thatcher’s defense secretary John Nott in The Iron Lady, and MI5 chief Martin Furnival Jones in the season-three premiere of The Crown. Wright’s knack for playing functionaries might run in the family: His father, Patrick Wright, served as British ambassador to Luxembourg, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
A veteran “that guy” who has played a judge in six different projects, Culkin got to step off the bench here, playing a Tory grandee who hosts young Thatcher at dinner in The Iron Lady, and Conservative minister Rab Butler in the first two seasons of The Crown. Talk about range!
Sylvestra Le Touzel
It will not surprise you that most of the actors on this list are gentlemen of a certain age. However, there is one other woman besides Olivia Colman, and she happens to be the best-named person in Britain. Le Touzel played two post-war wives: Culkin’s character’s wife in The Iron Lady, and Lady Dorothy MacMillan, unfaithful wife of the prime minister, in season two of The Crown.
Boxer warmed hearts as cuddly Denis Thatcher in The Crown, and he got practice sitting in Thatcher’s shadow as a cabinet minister in The Iron Lady. Like most of the actors playing ministers in the film, his character is not given a name, but comparing the way they’re lined up in the film to the official cabinet portrait (plus, you know, his hair) suggests he’s supposed to be Thatcher’s mentor Keith Joseph.
In fact, there’s a whole bunch of random British character actors who pop up as cabinet ministers in The Iron Lady. One of them is Vansittart, whom you may recall from Four Weddings and a Funeral or Game of Thrones, and who played newspaper magnate and would-be coup mastermind Cecil King in season three of The Crown. In The Iron Lady, he may be Humphrey Atkins, who resigned from Thatcher’s cabinet to protest the Falklands War.
Besides being an actor, Kermode also has a sideline as the “communications expert” who decodes the royals’ body-language for the British tabloids. As proof that there are indeed no small parts, his brief appearances in The Crown and The Iron Lady came as two equally pivotal figures in the history of modern Britain. In the latter he played future Prime Minister John Major, while in the former, he was the TV interviewer who spurred Prince Charles to utter the infamous line, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.”
A man with a face that just screams “Tory MP,” Pacey bears the distinction of playing two different members of Thatcher’s cabinet. In The Crown, he was Lord Soames, sacked in Thatcher’s first Cabinet reshuffling (and also, though this was unmentioned in the show, Winston Churchill’s son-in-law). His positioning in The Iron Lady suggests he’s playing the hardliner Home Secretary William Whitelaw.
Another performer with a face that just screams “Cast me as a Conservative Party politician.” Syms plays the speaker of the House of Commons — in real life, a man named Bernard Weatherill — in The Iron Lady, and Tory lifer Lord Hailsham in season four of The Crown.
Jacob is a former child star who now makes his living playing the face of the British Establishment. His CV is a feast of characters named things like “Sir Borley,” “Evelyn Winikus,” and “Lord Henry Hollingworth.” And that’s just the past two years! Anyway, besides helping fill out scenes as a Cabinet member (possibly Nicholas Edwards) in The Iron Lady, he played a Bank of England lawyer in the Crown episode “Coup.”
Opposite ends of the political spectrum for Chandler, who went from Thatcher’s cabinet in The Iron Lady to playing legendary Labour leader Clement Atlee in The Crown. Still not sure exactly who he’s supposed to be in the former; he’s in the 1989 cabinet, but comparing him to the real thing provides no obvious clues, so the answer is probably “just a guy.”
An elusive figure, Wimbush is seen only from behind in The Crown, playing a doctor who attends to Princess Margaret in season three. And I have to admit, I have no idea which of Thatcher’s cabinet ministers he’s supposed to be in The Iron Lady. Wimbush Hive, sound off in the comments!
Moving on from Thatcher’s cabinet, we come to an earlier Conservative prime minister. Maloney played Ted Heath in The Crown, which adds a slight meta-textual resonance to his appearance as a doctor treating the elderly Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
A man who looks at home dispensing advice. Rintoul helped Thatcher navigate the Falklands War as Admiral Fieldhouse in The Iron Lady, then helped Queen Elizabeth navigate the pressures of ruling Britain as her secretary Michael Adeane in The Crown season three.
Too many Adeanes! Goulding played Edward Adeane, son of Michael, who worked as Prince Charles’s private secretary in season four of The Crown, and also had a tiny part as a naval attaché in The Iron Lady. In a fun twist, he also plays Prince Harry in the Channel 4 sitcom The Windsors, a show that is much meaner to the royals than The Crown is.
Another admiral, and another doctor: Jones played Admiral Henry Leach, the First Sea Lord during the Falklands War in The Iron Lady, and Lord Moran, personal physician to Winston Churchill in the first episode of The Crown. Also, if his face looks slightly familiar, that may be because he’s the brother of beloved British character actress Gemma Jones.
We’re getting close to the end now. A Royal Shakespeare Company veteran, Rose played the Dean of Windsor in season three of The Crown, and a dinner-party guest in The Iron Lady. Funnily enough, two of his co-stars in that dinner-party scene would also later appear in The Crown, thus making it the Sex Pistols’ Manchester concert of Crown guest stars.
Cochrane’s IMDb page boasts that he has appeared “in almost every long-running mainstream British television show since the 1970s.” Doctor Who, EastEnders, Downton Abbey — you name it, he’s been in it. So of course he would pop up here. He plays another dinner-party guest in The Iron Lady, as well as Queen Elizabeth’s tutor, Sir Henry Marten, in season one of The Crown.
In 2018, Simkins wrote an essay for The Sunday Times about how annoying it was that everyone always told him to go get a part on The Crown, like it was easy. But then he did get a part on The Crown, so I guess those people were right after all. He played Patrick Dean, British ambassador to the U.S., on the series, and another guy at that dang dinner party in The Iron Lady.
Finally, we come to Matthew Marsh. Of all the middle-aged British character actors floating around London, Marsh apparently does the best American accent. How else to explain why he was cast not just as U.S. secretary of State Alexander Haig in The Iron Lady, but followed it up with an unseen performance as Dwight Eisenhower in The Crown, voicing the president in a radio broadcast in season two’s “Beryl.”
That’s all for now, but of course, there are still two seasons of The Crown left to air. How many more Iron Lady cast members will Nina Gold be able to jam in there before they’re through?