But he makes it clear this is an interpretation not an impersonation. “There have definitely been a few times when I’ve wanted to go down the rabbit hole and try to look and sound exactly like him,” says Menzies. “But then you step back a bit. He has to be a person – this isn’t an exercise in mimicry.”
Menzies is part of a completely new cast that will portray the British royal family in the years between 1964 and 1976 in series three and four of The Crown. Broadchurch star Olivia Colman has replaced Claire Foy as the monarch, Helena Bonham Carter plays Princess Margaret (previously performed by Vanessa Kirby) and Charles Dance is the stalwart Lord Mountbatten. Josh O’Connor, as Prince Charles, leads a cast of younger royals.
Menzies admits he has big shoes to fill after Matt Smith’s acclaimed performance as Prince Philip in seasons one and two. The lantern-jawed Doctor Who star was nominated for an Emmy award for his portrayal of Philip as a free-spirited young man struggling to adapt to life as a royal consort.
Smith described his Prince Philip as a “cool cat” and a “rock star”. Menzies, who plays him in middle age, offers a rather more sober version. But while the royal marriage has entered calmer waters in series three and four – and the Queen cultivates a steady relationship with Prime Minister Harold Wilson – external threats to the realm combine with waning public support for the monarchy to create a series of existential crises.
Philip also continues to struggle with life in the shadow of his wife. Indeed the episode being filmed at Lancaster House shows him gripped by a crisis of confidence after meeting the Apollo 11 astronauts in October 1969.
“Philip gets almost obsessed with the moon landings,” says Menzies. “The astronauts’ exploits seem to raise uncomfortable questions about what he’s done with his own life. He sees in these men what he would have liked to have been.”
The notion that the Duke had a visceral reaction to meeting Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins is pure conjecture of course. But it illustrates the way The Crown’s creator Peter Morgan deftly blends historical fact with psychological fiction. The result, says the show’s executive producer Andy Harries, is that regardless of the emotions on display, “there is an overall truthfulness to every scene”.
Menzies, whose film and TV credits also include Outlander and the Bond movie Casino Royale, says he developed his version of Prince Philip by studying newsreel footage and listening to audio interviews. The challenge, he says, is imagining how his famous public face changes behind closed doors.
Does he admire Philip, a man whose gruff persona and tendency to put his foot in his mouth have made regular headlines over the years?
The answer: a qualified yes.
“He had a tough childhood – a lot of it almost parentless,” says Menzies. “His father was quite absent, his mother had mental health issues and he was passed from pillar to post.”
As an adult, Philip’s freewheeling life as navy commander ended the moment his wife took the throne. It was a shock to the system that required years of adjustment.
“At his core he’s an alpha male who has spent his life walking a few steps behind his wife,” says Menzies. “I get the sense that has been a real challenge for him.”
Faced with a daily regime of shaking hands and making small talk with strangers, it is perhaps easy to understand the Duke’s “impatience with all the flummery”.
Says Menzies, “I feel a lot of his gaffes are an attempt to get some sort of response from people. They’re awkward or ham-fisted attempts at humour or an attempt to try to get something going.
“I’m not saying he [Prince Philip] doesn’t have some outdated or less than perfect views on some things – he is a product of his generation. But I feel myself bridling when people call him a racist. That feels lazy.”
WHAT The Crown, season 3
WHEN Netflix, from November 17