Jodi Balfour plays Jackie Kennedy in the The Crown

At the heart of the spectacular new series of The Crown lies a visit from Jackie Kennedy that sent the Queen into a jealous fury with her husband. And as Rellik star Jodi Balfour tells Event, playing the First Lady of flirtation was truly seductive

On the set of the award-winning TV drama The Crown, Prince Philip and First Lady Jackie Kennedy are deep in conversation. While the guests at the banquet are making small talk, and the Queen sits a few feet away, the Prince, played by Matt Smith, is engaged in some serious flirting. He turns to Jackie and, eyes twinkling, asks the only thing a man in that situation can: ‘So, what star sign are you?’

The Kennedys’ Buckingham Palace visit as seen in The Crown, with (from left) Michael C Hall (as JFK), Jodi Balfour (Jackie Kennedy), Claire Foy (the Queen) and Matt Smith (Prince Philip).

Jodi Balfour, who plays Jackie Kennedy, laughs provocatively. ‘We were ad-libbing that scene. I doubt that line will make it.’

Balfour didn’t appear in the first series of The Crown, but if you watched last Monday’s nerve-shredding first episode of Rellik you’ll already be engrossed by her turn as a troubled detective in the BBC’s gripping new thriller. With its rain-drenched East London sets and physically and emotionally scarred cast of characters, Rellik makes for gloomy yet compelling viewing, but it’s a long way from her eagerly anticipated role as one of the 20th century’s most glamorous women in the new series of The Crown.

The Netflix drama, which launched last year, deals with the ongoing struggles of the Queen (Claire Foy) to reconcile her public and private selves. And while it has been showered with critical praise, it has also stirred up much controversy, by reigniting rumours of Prince Philip’s supposed philandering.

The trailer for the new season has the Queen lamenting: ‘I have learnt more about humiliation in the past few weeks than I hoped I would in a lifetime,’ and according to the show’s creator, Peter Morgan, season two features ‘a lot more’ of the suggestion that her husband might have strayed. Certainly it does nothing to dispel the reputation of the Prince as a seasoned flirt – with Balfour’s Jackie Kennedy playing a pivotal, and receptive, role.

JFK, the Queen, Jackie and Prince Philip in 1961 in a picture from the original visit

JFK, the Queen, Jackie and Prince Philip in 1961 in a picture from the original visit

‘The Queen and Jackie don’t get off to a good start in the series because of Philip,’ says Balfour. ‘The Prince is just a flirt [with her] and I don’t think there’s any intention behind it, but he’s going through a phase of liking a lot of women, as is [her husband] JFK.’

The effusive 30-year-old South African makes her appearance in episode eight of the new ten-part season, which covers the three-year period between the election of President Kennedy (Dexter’s Michael C Hall) and his assassination in 1963, and centres on the Kennedys’ visit to Buckingham Palace in June 1961. The relationship between the Queen and First Lady gets off on the wrong foot, even before they meet: Jackie wants her sister, the twice-married Lee Radziwill, to attend the dinner despite divorcees not traditionally being invited and the Queen, under pressure, relents. ‘Jackie really wasn’t happy with how things were unfolding,’ says Balfour, ‘and probably there’s a little bit of revenge flirting with Philip there.’

The Queen, according to the series, is already feeling somewhat unsure of herself. ‘It’s the Sixties and although she’s only 35, she’s already starting to feel middle-aged when these two glamorous rock stars from America show up,’ says Balfour – a situation that is not entirely helped by the Prince. ‘He has a lot of fun with the idea that Jackie’s coming to the palace and that scratches an already painful wound for the Queen. So the Queen isn’t all that determined to become Jackie’s friend. Added to that, Jackie enjoys the attention she’s getting from the Prince, as she’s not been getting it from her husband. She inadvertently steals his limelight on the visit, which causes tension between them and mirrors the tension between the Queen and Philip.’ But then, a shift starts to occur. When Jackie asks Philip to show her the palace, the Queen swiftly intervenes and it is while the two women tour the grounds that they start to form a surprising bond.

Balfour¿s first taste of the spotlight came as a 21-year-old, when she entered the Miss South Africa pageant

Balfour’s first taste of the spotlight came as a 21-year-old, when she entered the Miss South Africa pageant

‘They were both introverts cast into these extrovert, public roles,’ says Balfour, ‘and they were both married to alpha males. This surprising moment of kinship develops when the Queen asks Jackie how she finds respite from the expectations and constant public examination, and Jackie says she spends time at their farm [in Virginia]. Both women love animals and nature so they get talking about that and find some common ground. When JFK is assassinated, we see the Queen reach out to Jackie and it shows her depth of compassion.’

The new series will no doubt rile the Royal experts once more with its focus at least partially trained on Philip’s rumoured indiscretions (‘even my grandmother was upset by that,’ admits Balfour), but it will still have viewers absorbed.

‘No one is professing to know exactly what the Queen said or felt,’ admits Balfour. ‘But whereas before the series I felt distant from her, afterwards I loved her because she felt more real and fully fleshed-out. And Prince Philip too comes across as a dynamic human being. The show does a great service to the Royals in that sense.’ Balfour was actually watching the final three episodes of the first season when she received the call asking to meet with director Stephen Daldry. ‘I got the part on Christmas Eve, which was the best Christmas present ever… that is, until the terror set in.’

Rumoured to be the most expensive TV show ever made (the first season cost a staggering £100 million; the second, reputedly double that), Balfour’s nerves are understandable.

‘And then I went from wearing these exquisite, tailor-made ballgowns on The Crown to wearing leather jackets on these grubby east London sets for Rellik,’ she says. ‘It was a bit of a shock to the system.’

Balfour’s previous roles include the US series Quarry and Canadian drama Bomb Girls, ‘which like The Crown is another period piece – I must have the face for it’, but Rellik is set firmly in the present day, at times with disturbing prescience.

She stars opposite Game Of Thrones’s Richard Dormer, whose character, Detective Gabriel Markham, has been disfigured by a serial killer. ‘The killer uses hydrochloric acid on his victims to make it difficult for forensics to identify the body,’ says Balfour, ‘and we were filming while those acid attacks were happening in London. We’d be coming into work feeling a little spooked by it all.’

The narrative of Rellik unravels in reverse, spooling backwards from the opening scenes of the perpetrator being caught to the crime being committed (the show’s title spells ‘Killer’ backwards). ‘Also Gabriel, who’s married, is having a very steamy affair with my character Elaine, so it’s incredibly dark and complicated,’ says Balfour. ‘Afterwards, I said to my agent, “Please can I do a rom-com now?” ’

Balfour’s first taste of the spotlight came as a 21-year-old, when she entered the Miss South Africa pageant, placing in the top 12. ‘I call it my momentary lapse of sanity,’ she winces. ‘I just remember standing backstage, waiting to come on for the bikini section and thinking: what on earth am I doing here?’

The following year she moved to Vancouver and after securing a leading role on Bomb Girls moved to LA where she has lived for the past four years with actor boyfriend Alex Ashbaugh. ‘When it came to casting, I wasn’t the hot girl or the quirky best friend,’ she says, ‘so in the beginning it was hard to get roles. I don’t think people in Hollywood really knew what to do with me.’

Given her presence on our screens over the coming months, they certainly do now. 

‘Rellik’ is on BBC1 at 9pm on Mondays. ‘The Crown’ returns to Netflix in December