Every odd-numbered season of The Crown, a shiny new cast is drafted in to take us through the next stage of the story – in season 5's case, the years 1991 to 1997 – with plenty of new storylines to delve into.

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One such narrative strand is the relationship between Prince Philip and Penny Knatchbull, which puts strain on Philip and the Queen's marriage in the royal drama.

"You see a little more of their separate lives," said Jonathan Pryce (Philip) of Elizabeth and her husband's relationship. "It's not a new marriage, they're leading their lives in a certain way that suits them both. He wants to be a little bit more relaxed with the way he leads his life, and it's valid to assume this was the way he was thinking.

"But what [creator] Peter [Morgan] does is think of him not just as a member of the royal family, but also as a man who is locked into a very restrictive situation. What must he be thinking? What would I be thinking if I was in that kind of marriage?"

Penny is friends with Charles and Diana and when we first meet her, she and her husband Norton are on holiday with the pair. But a short time later, her world is turned on its head when tragedy strikes, leaving Penny bereft.

That heart-rending development is the catalyst for the deep bond that develops between Philip and Penny and in the Netflix series, we see them enjoying carriage rides with one another and having lengthy philosophical conversations.

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But just who is Penny Knatchbull and who plays her in The Crown? Read on for everything you need to know.

Who is Penny Knatchbull?

Penelope Knatchbull, Lady Brabourne and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 2007
Penelope Knatchbull and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 2007. Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

Penelope Meredith Mary Knatchbull, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, was a long-time friend of Prince Philip and the wider royal family.

She is married to Norton Knatchbull, 3rd Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the Duke of Edinburgh's godson and the grandson of Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was portrayed in The Crown by Greg Wise and Charles Dance.

Penelope, or Penny as she is often known, reportedly first met Prince Philip in 1974, before she married Norton in 1979. Prince Charles was Norton's best man at his wedding to Penny.

Penny and Norton went on to have three children, Nicholas, Alexandra and Leonora. Leonora tragically died of kidney cancer in 1991 at the age of five.

From soon after they first met, Penny and Prince Philip went on to develop a close friendship. They were reportedly particularly bonded by their shared love of outdoor pursuits, including carriage driving.

In Ingrid Seward's biography Prince Philip Revealed, she describes Penny as his "constant confidant" and his "keeper of secrets".

Penny was one of only 30 guests who attended Prince Philip's funeral, which was limited due to COVID restrictions at the time. She also attended Queen Elizabeth II's state funeral earlier this year.

Who plays Penny Knatchbull in The Crown and what's her role in season 5?

Jonathan Pryce as Prince Phillip and Natascha McElhone as Penny Knatchbull in The Crown season 5
Jonathan Pryce as Prince Phillip and Natascha McElhone as Penny Knatchbull in The Crown. Netflix

Penny Knatchbull is played in The Crown season 5 by 52-year-old actress Natascha McElhone, who originates the role as she has not appeared in any of the other seasons so far.

McElhone is known for appearing in films such as The Truman Show and Mrs Dalloway, while her TV roles have included appearances in Californication, Designated Survivor and, most recently, Halo.

She first appears in The Crown during season 5 episode 1, seen on holiday with her husband Norton, Charles and Diana. She then forms a close friendship with Philip from episode 2, after her daughter's tragic death, and Philip teaches her to ride a carriage.

Their friendship then continues throughout the season, with it becoming a major plot point in episode 6.

What has Natascha McElhone said about playing Penny Knatchbull?

Jonathan Pryce as Prince Phillip and Natascha McElhone as Penny Knatchbull in The Crown season 5
Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip and Natascha McElhone as Penny Knatchbull in The Crown. Keith Bernstein/Netflix

Asked how Penny's relationship with Philip is presented in The Crown season 5, McElhone said: "Well, I’m loath to say, because I hope it’s on the screen. I think that’s the point of the exploration, probably.

"What I loved about it is we so rarely see a man and a woman on screen who have a deep friendship where romance is not alluded to. The richness of those friendships, that loyalty. Our story starts because he really sees her when she’s in deep pain and in grief, and he reaches out a hand and gives her a nudge back into life.

"There’s a strange assumption that as soon as you see a man and a woman together, you assume that they’re romantically involved, so that exploration felt really appropriate. It’s being looked at as a wild idea, but what happens if they’re just friends. I don’t want to put 'just' in front of it, because friends can be everything. So that was the way I approached it."

McElhone also spoke about the "huge responsibility" she felt playing a real-life person, but added: "I believe, and feel comfortable with the fact that The Crown is a fictionalised story about the royal family.

"I’ve done it a couple of times before, played real people. But I do believe in people’s rights to be entirely private in the public eye."

The Crown season 5 will be released on Netflix on November 9th 2022 and you can watch seasons 1-4 right now. Sign up for Netflix from £6.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.

Looking for something else to watch? Visit our TV Guide or Streaming Guide.

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