It’s daunting – Helena Bonham Carter on playing Princess Margaret

Helena Bonham Carter has spoken of the difficulty of playing Princess Margaret in the forthcoming series of The Crown.

The actress said not only was she taking over the role from Bafta winner Vanessa Kirby but she was also trying to get under the skin of the real-life princess’s complex character.

Bonham Carter, who stars in the third season of The Crown which airs on Netflix from November 17, said she could not turn down the role of the Queen’s sister when she was offered it.

“It’s daunting, definitely daunting. Vanessa has just won a Bafta and she’s brilliant, and in a way you have the ghost of the real Margaret and the ghost of the actress who played her,” Bonham Carter said.

“You also have the fact everyone has an opinion about the woman and yet ultimately very few people knew what her private life was like and that’s the sort of the joy of the job.”

Bonham Carter, who was speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, said she had read biographies of Princess Margaret and also spoke with close friends and family.

Queen Mother Luncheon Margaret
Princess Margaret (John Stillwell/PA)

The 53-year-old also revealed she had met the princess as a child because her uncle, former Liberal MP Mark Bonham Carter, was a life-long friend.

“They really loved her, and when you go to the inner circle of people and talk to three ladies in waiting, a couple of relatives, a very close relative, and some really some close friends, they were very happy to talk about her because they miss her,” she said.

“I felt very lucky to suddenly be the receptacle of all these stories and a lot of the time I am not going to use it, but I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to abuse it.

“I think, for a lot of the friends, they are so tired with her being portrayed in a one-dimensional, very bitchy understanding of her. She herself felt very misunderstood, certainly through the press.”

Bonham Carter said The Crown is not a documentary but hoped those who knew the princess would like the portrayal.

“I don’t look like her. You just hope you get something of an idiom and a blade or a scent of them and it transforms your inner landscape,” she said.

“The Crown has been very, very compassionate to most of the members of the family and has been very positive.

“A lot of it is true and there is a whole floor of researchers.”

Describing meeting Princess Margaret as an adult, Bonham Carter said: “I met her at Windsor at a reception and she was on her own and I approached her.

“She said ‘Oh Helena’, and she knew who I was because of Mark and knew who my dad was and she said ‘You are getting better at acting, aren’t you?’”

Bonham Carter also revealed that she consults a psychic and a graphologist ahead of playing some of her major roles.

She said the graphologist was able to help her to play Queen Elizabeth alongside Colin Firth’s King George VI in The King’s Speech.

“I think Margaret was very much her father’s daughter. She had the anxiety he had, and I think a lot of people interpreted her as angry, rude and tough,” she said.

“She wasn’t tough at all, and I think she was quite vulnerable and often attack was the best form of defence.”

Bonham Carter also revealed details of what the psychic said, telling the audience: “When you play someone who is real, you kind of want their blessing.

“She said ‘You’re better than the other actress that they were thinking of.’ They will not admit it was me and somebody else but it’s a very Margaret thing to say. She was really good at complimenting you but putting you down at the same time.

“Then she said ‘You have to brush up and be more groomed and neater’ and then she said ‘Get the smoking right’ by smoking in a very particular way and remember that the cigarette holder was very much a weapon of expression as it was for smoking.”

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