Why Prince Philip Was Elusive Onscreen

There have been numerous portrayals of Prince Philip over the course of his long life, which ended Friday at the age of 99. Actors including Tobias Menzies, Matt Smith, James Cromwell and Christopher Lee all played the part.

However, according to one of Philip’s biographers, no one ever captured the man’s essence onscreen. The reason, said Ingrid Seward, the author of “Prince Philip Revealed,” is that no one ever had the opportunity to study him closely. As a man accustomed to walking a few paces behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, in public, he remained partly out of view.

Seward, who has interviewed many members of the royal family, including Prince Charles and Princess Diana, began talking to the Duke of Edinburgh in the late 1970s. Some of their early meetings were disasters, she said. “He was rude to me.” But she eventually formed a clearer view of Philip’s complicated persona — his irascible character, his acerbic wit, his generosity of spirit.

Here, she helps assess the accuracy and relative merits of his film and television portrayals through the decades, which evolved along with the public perception of the monarchy.

“It’s true that he disliked fools,” though, she said. “And sometimes he could be like, ‘I can’t bother with this.’”

That applied to Diana after the separation. But it hadn’t always been that way. Philip tried to help his daughter-in-law adjust to the royal family and, later, to help save her marriage. (Some of this was depicted in the most recent season of “The Crown.”) He wrote Diana several letters of encouragement, which were revealed at the inquest into her death, in 1997. But when his efforts failed, he stopped supporting her.

“Philip really worked hard at it,” Seward said, but eventually Diana turned against him.

“I remember Diana telling me how much she hated Philip,” she said. “Diana told me that she had told William and Harry to never, ever, ever shout at anyone who couldn’t answer back, the way Philip did.” (In Philip’s defense, Seward also noted that his staff loved him, and that as he grew hard of hearing, the volume of his speaking voice increased.)

Philip didn’t really take out his grandchildren on a stag hunt to distract them in the wake of their mother’s death, as depicted in “The Queen” — Seward said that was done by other members of the royal family. It was, however, “the sort of thing he would have done,” she said, “so that was OK.”

Rent “The Queen” on Amazon.

Matt Smith and Tobias Menzies played Philip in “The Crown,” which premiered in 2016, and Seward took issue with both portrayals.

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