Susan Griffin finds that being one of five actresses to play The Queen has changed the way Barbara Flynn feels about the monarch.

IT’S no mean feat to play The Queen, so it’s incredible that not one but five actresses have risen to the challenge in a new dramadocumentary depicting the most pivotal moments of her reign.

Mixing dramatised scenes that portray life behind palace doors with news archive and testimony from royal insiders, the five-part series looks at the social and political changes in Britain since World War Two through the eyes of Elizabeth II, the one person who was at the very heart of these events.

Silent Witness actress Emilia Fox starts by portraying The Queen in 1955, just as the affair between her sister Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend exploded into public view.

Samantha Bond then picks up the mantle, depicting the Queen through the tumultuous early- Seventies when there was civil unrest, IRA threats and even a kidnap attempt on Princess Anne.

Susan Jameson adopts the royal pose in dramatising the hidden conflict between The Queen and the first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher during the Eighties, while Diana Quick, who made her name in Brideshead Revisited, concludes the series in 2005, a year that saw The Queen eventually accept Prince Charles’s marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles.

Perhaps the greatest challenge though falls on the shoulders of Barbara Flynn, as she depicts Her Majesty as she was in 1992, a year that was riddled with disasters for the House of Windsor and which she referred to as her “annus horribilis”.

“I found it a big enough challenge as it was without comparing myself to the other actresses,” says Flynn laughing, when asked if she thinks her episode was the toughest of them all.

Turning the spotlight on The Queen’s role as Head of the Royal Family, the episode examines how she coped with a catalogue of disasters, including the fire at Windsor Castle, the issue of her paying taxes and what came to be seen by many royal insiders as “the enemy within”, her daughter-inlaw, Princess Diana.

Diana’s involvement in Andrew Morton’s book succeeded in shattering the public image of the Royal Family and newspapers seized upon the scandals, marking the beginning of the breakdown of the age of deference.

“I would suspect she understood more about Diana’s problems than Diana herself, but found it very difficult to reach her because of the different rules in their upbringing and the different times,” says Flynn, 61, in the perfectly formed vowels that have made her an actress in demand in voice-over work.

“The Queen is a woman of great internal stability, or appears to be. I mean, I can’t believe that anyone alive doesn’t have massive doubts and massive troubles but she seems incredibly true and solid.”

Flynn believes the notion of having the royal relationships discussed must have been “appalling and very, very, very hard to deal with”.

“There’s a lovely line in the episode where Charles says ‘I’m not the first Prince of Wales to have a mistress’ and The Queen says ‘But you are the first Prince of Wales to have it reported in the newspaper’.”

Flynn was asked to play Her Royal Highness one Friday morning and by Tuesday, shooting had begun, which left little time to prepare for the role. “It was really a matter of ‘add water, be Queen’ although the wig, the pearls and the Corgis really helped,” she says.

“It’s impertinent to even think that we know her, but you take a lot in don’t you, about how you feel about her and you get feelings and instincts about what you think might be a part of her personality.

“I watched a lot of documentaries and imagined her walking down all these red carpets, day after day, to meet trains or cars, sometimes to see people who she wanted to have lunch with and on other occasions being forced by duty to lunch with these people she must have loathed. I just think she’s one of the most remarkable people of our recent history.”

Admitting she “didn’t think that deeply about what The Queen went through before I played her”, Flynn says that spending time in character has made her more empathetic towards Her Majesty. “I think more of her, certainly not less,”

she says.

As for whether Flynn can imagine The Queen settling down in her slippers to watch the series, she laughs and says, “I don’t know. I know she loves Cranford though, so I hope she’ll forgive me.”

Cranford is the successful period drama in which Flynn plays Mrs Jamieson, a wealthy woman with aristocratic pretensions. Also starring such luminaries as Dame Judi Dench, Michael Gambon and Francesca Annis, Her Royal Highness will no doubt be pleased to hear there will be a two-part Cranford special over the Christmas holidays.

“It was delightful, as you can imagine,” says Flynn on reuniting with the Cranford cast and crew. “Working in that company is just brilliant. It’s huge fun, with all the make-up and the costumes..”

■ The Queen is a five-part series which begins on Sunday, C4, 9pm. Barbara Flynn appears on December 2.