Season 4 of The Crown focused heavily on Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) and Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson), but Episode 7 “The Hereditary Principle” turned the spotlight on Helena Bonham Carter’s Princess Margaret. While dealing with her mental-health issues, Margaret learns about cousins on her mother’s side who were institutionalized. After, they were declared dead to ensure the royal bloodline’s fitness wouldn’t be questioned.
We spoke with editor Morten Højbjerg about the role of an editor, his work on “The Hereditary Principle,” and what aspects the episode stand out the most for him. Prior to editing for The Crown, he worked on Netflix‘s revival of Top Boy, Prime Video’s Hanna, and the BBC miniseries Trigonometry. His career has spanned more than 20 years.
Read highlights from our interview below. And make sure to add Wiretap to Chrome for Morten’s commentary in Season 4, Episode 7 of The Crown, “The Hereditary Principle.”
Before we talk about the episode of The Crown that you edited for Season 4, please describe what your role as an editor involves.
Editing is basically the place where everybody’s effort comes together, and where the actual film or television episode is created. A film crew is often hundreds of people with a variety of different talents and skills, from makeup artists to camera operators. Editing is where everything meets. It’s where we experience the moment of truth. We have to sit there and decide what works and what doesn’t.
Does an editor spend time on set during filming?
I tend to spend as little time as possible on set. As an editor, I feel like I’m in the way and don’t really have a function there. Another thing that is odd about being on set is talking with the actors. When you’re editing, you’re in this bubble of make-believe where the actors are not actors, they’re characters. Being on set is awkward and breaks my concentration. Sometimes it’s necessary for me to be there, like if they’re filming in a location where it’s difficult to get the rushes or dailies to me. For those situations, I can look through the material as quickly as possible and tell them if they need to change something or film it differently.
Before the story in “The Hereditary Principle” takes a dark turn, we see Princess Margaret sharing a moment of joy with her friend, Dazzle Jennings. They dance to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” What can you share about balancing the episode’s darker threads with some fun and whimsy?
That first scene, the David Bowie dance with Princess Margaret and Dazzle, was invented quite late in the process by Jessica Hobbs. She was the amazing director of the episode. The scene came about because the episode is quite dark. It’s about depression, Princess Margaret’s state of mind, and this big Royal Family secret.
Jessica and all of us felt that there wasn’t a lot of light in this episode. In life, as well as on TV, everything is relative. You need to have a happy place in order to fall off the cliff and into darkness. You need to know what that journey is, and you only know what it is if you’ve seen the light. Jessica invented this scene on the set pretty much while shooting. We needed to see Princess Margaret’s happiness before she descended into darkness. It’s really important to have that balance in a film or a TV episode.
How many hours of footage were you given to edit into a 50-minute episode of The Crown?
I don’t have the exact number of hours, but I’d say it was 20 to 30 times as much footage as what ended up in the episode. It’s a lot, but it’s also necessary for precision. It’s expensive to bring a whole film crew out somewhere and start shooting. So while you’re there, you might as well shoot as much as possible. Then you have many options while editing. Also, Helena Bonham Carter is absolutely phenomenal because she has this rare gift of being completely generous with herself. It’s fantastic how willing she is to try different takes. That’s one of the things that makes her a brilliant actor.
When you look back at your experience working on The Crown, what stands out the most?
I’m always going to remember the scenes with the two cousins, Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon. Back when casting was going on, there were different attitudes about how they were going to film the scenes with the cousins who were put away in a home. Some people involved in the production had the opinion that it would be better to have actors without disabilities. But Jessica, the director, insisted that if we were going to make this episode, we had to find disabled actors.
We found these two fantastic actors–Pauline Hendrikson and Trudie Emery—who were living in a home. We then cast nurses and other caregivers in that home so the actors would feel secure with the camera crew and filming. How the actors came across in the episode and how they worked was remarkable. That’s something I’ll carry with me – something that was outstanding and so beautiful.
What really stood out for me besides the storyline with Nerissa and Katherine was how absolutely amazing Helena Bonham Carter is as an actor. It was a wonderful privilege to work with her, and something I’ve wanted to do for years. For it to finally happen was exciting, and brilliant on a personal level.
(This interview was edited and condensed.)
Images Courtesy of Netflix