Still Watching

The Crown Episode 8: Lesley Manville Says Ta-Ta to Princess Margaret

The celebrated actor drops by Still Watching to chat about portraying Princess Margaret as her health deteriorated, as well as her long friendship with costar Imelda Staunton. 
‘The Crown Episode 8 Lesley Manville Says TaTa to Princess Margaret
Daniel Escale/Netflix

So long, Princess Margaret. On the eighth episode of The Crown, “Ritz,” we bid a long and emotionally devastating farewell to Lesley Manville’s life of the party, Princess Margaret, as her health declined. Manville drops by Still Watching to chat about portraying the royal in her final years, and her real-life relationship with Crown costar Imelda Staunton.  

While it was difficult to watch Princess Margaret’s gradual deterioration, Still Watching hosts Hillary Busis, Richard Lawson, and Chris Murphy did feel it was fitting for The Crown to devote an entire episode to Margaret, given her importance to the series. “I kind of knew this was coming because, at this point in her life, that’s basically the biggest thing left—her horrible, slow death," said Lawson. “It’s really well done, and also horrifying.”

All three hosts were also tickled but perplexed by the episode’s framing around a young Princess Margaret and Elizabeth II going out for a wild night on VE day. “Correct me if I’m wrong: The great secret of Elizabeth's life is that once she danced in a room with a Black man?” asked Busis. “She did the jitterbug,” added Murphy, “which was illegal back then.” 

While young Margaret and Elizabeth danced till the break of dawn, the episode belonged to Oscar nominee Lesley Manville. Manville told Murphy that she was “thrilled” when she received the script for episode eight and saw the way in which Peter Morgan handled Margaret’s decline. “It’s a very beautiful examination of the sisters and their relationship and their huge love for each other,” says Manville. “I mean, they were probably the biggest loves of each other’s lives.” Manville notes that while the queen had the support of her husband, Prince Philip, as well as her faith, she also had an “extraordinary history” with her younger sister. “They were both pushed into this life that neither of them expected,” says the actor. “It made their lives drift in very different directions, but what a beautiful episode, examining two very loving siblings dealing with saying goodbye to each other.”

For Manville, portraying a stroke-stricken Margaret was a painstaking process that involved a lot of research and care. “It was quite tough to think, ‘Right, I’ve got to do three strokes in one hour,’” says Manville. Still, the actor found that challenge to be “a real privilege.” 

“We do know very well the kind of life that Margaret had,” she says. “When you know that life that she’s lived, to see her deteriorating and declining and being lonely is a very nice thing for an actress to have to play—because it’s challenging, and that’s what we want.” 

It helped that Manville could tap into her real-life, decades-long friendship with Staunton, who plays her onscreen sister, Elizabeth II. “Imelda and I are old friends, and we are really, really very close,” says Manville. “A lot of that love that we have to portray as Elizabeth and Margaret is kind of bubbling away underneath. Anyway, you know, we get that for free, because we happen to really like each other.”

The real Queen Elizabeth II died while they were filming the episode, adding a meta component to the ordeal. “The day she died, Melda and I were filming scenes from that episode,” says Manville. “I think it was very strange for Imelda, very difficult. It coincided with her having 10 days off. So, I was actually quite grateful for that fluke, that she had that period of mourning. Then we went back to work.” The final product was meaningful for both actors. “Seeing that episode together—which we did, quite privately—was very special, and will remain very special for us both as one of the highlights, really, of the whole season.”

For more on Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth’s relationship, you can listen to the full episode above. And, as always, send questions and comments and musings about The Crown season six, part two to Still Watching at