Netflix’s rumoured £100m first season of The Crown focuses on a young Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) between 1947 and 1955. Queen Elizabeth ascends the throne at the death of her father King George VI (Jared Harris). In essence, she is just a girl who knows nothing of the ways of the world and she’s expected to lead the world’s most famous monarchy and forge a long-lasting relationship with legendary Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill (John Lithgow).
Meanwhile, the British Empire is on the fall, global politics is in ruins and young Elizabeth is on the verge of claiming godlike status, Queen Of The United Kingdom…and other commonwealth realms. “Times are changing. Morality is changing. The country is changing.” says Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam). Elizabeth with her husband Duke Philip Mountbatten (Matt Smith) by her side, has been forcefully chosen to lead the world into a new era. Peter Morgan’s teleplay shows us not only the Queen’s journey but also the Royal Family’s journey behind the sovereign veil of public façade.
The Crown has opened and been binged by millions of period drama fanatics worldwide. It is by far one of the most experimental television shows in living memory. Even before it aired, we all knew it was going to be good. Written by Peter Morgan (The Queen) and starring the talents of John Lithgow (The Accountant), Claire Foy (Wolf Hall) and Matt Smith, there’s no way this could fail. It was paramount that this high budget period drama succeeded and that it did. There’s no way your standard cable channels could justify spending £100m on one season of television, so that is why it’s on Netflix who have a fancy for the extravagant and unconventional.
As soon as the foreigner Phil (Matt Smith) has cast his nationality aside and assimilated more Englishness in order to marry Elizabeth, they are wed and he’s made Duke of Edinburgh. Churchill along with the House think its poppycock that Elizabeth should marry a Greek. “His uncle lost India, His sisters are all married to Nazis! Prominent Nazis.” says Winston in his very English fashion whilst sweat drops from his brow. George dies, Elizabeth becomes Queen, Phil pledges his allegiance to her and that’s how the story begins. Elizabeth becomes Queen years before she was supposed to and she can’t refuse. She is the oldest child and her uncle (Edward VIII/David) cocked things up in 1936 when he resigned after a few weeks, creating a scandal in the process.
Liz’s early years are done magnificently over the season. Many say The Crown is unbingewatchable but I beg to differ. Every Netflix series is bingewatchable and The Crown has followed suit. It’s a slowburn mind you, but what period drama of this calibre wouldn’t be? Shows as politically driven as The Crown are always going to be slowburns and the greatness of shows like this lie in the smallprint. Awkward silences, the dressing down of politicians like they’re naughty children and ruckus in the Empire doesn’t exactly make for a slow turn of events.
Jeremy Northam’s slimy Anthony Eden is out to take the power from Churchill. “Winston still thinks he’s the father of the nation. Let us not forget times are changing.” Then Churchill delivers a badass speech and shows that despite being eighty years old, he’s still got bite. Throughout the whole season, the main historical points are ace. Churchill’s re-election, the infamous smog of 1952 and the growing anxieties towards the Commonwealth’s necessity. More and more anti-British Empire ideologies are taking root around the globe. Let us not forget the globally watched coronation of Elizabeth in 1952.
Aside from the historical aspects, there is also politics within the family like the relationship of Elizabeth and Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) with Elizabeth going back on her word to let Margaret marry Captain Peter Townsend (Ben Miles). What gets me is how the public relished in the scandal and love lives of royalty. It was like a dog with a bone. The Peter-Margaret scandal turned Peter into a bit of a celebrity. Before watching The Crown, I was very much anti-monarchy. I still am, yet I have a newfound love/hate admiration of what it represents, as it’s one of many symbols of British identity.
The development of Elizabeth over the season is formidable. She goes from loving and caring sister, wife and mother to a thin-lipped, cold-hearted and pragmatic monarch. To adapt a famous quote: “kill the girl Elizabeth Windsor and let the Queen be born.” In essence, she can’t show what she really feels. People are always watching, whether those people are journalists, politicians or members of her family who think they can do the job better. She is battling with her personal freedom, motherhood, sisterhood, wifehood but most importantly womanhood and her own humanity. Nothing else matters, “the crown must win. It must always win” says Elizabeth’s grandmother Queen Mary (Eileen Atkins), a sentiment that Elizabeth takes to heart.
Claire Foy’s performance as Elizabeth was royally good. To play a character that becomes more withdrawn with each episode, shows great talent from an actor. She manages to peel away the layers of sadness and despair as the girl dies and the Queen is born. To be queen is one thing, but to be The Queen is something different entirely. To be the monarch Of The United Kingdom is to be a God. That’s how the monarch is portrayed at home, and more prominently abroad. Matt Smith (Doctor Who) gives an equally poignant performance and every bit young Phil’s doppelganger…spooky. Phil has fallen from grace by marrying Liz. His children cannot have his name, he cannot continue his navy career and he cannot refuse to bow to his wife. You end up feeling a bad for the guy, but then again you could be the outcast Uncle David (Alex Jennings).
Uncle David AKA the disgraced Duke Of Windsor says “Who wants transparency when you can have magic? Who wants prose, when you can have poetry? Pull away the veil and what are you left with? Wrap her up like this and anoint her with oil and hey, presto – what do you have? A goddess.” It’s quotes like this that make the dialogue so great: poetic yet meaningful, accurate yet hyperbolic. He sacrificed the crown for love and he couldn’t be happier living it large in the United States where he can’t be a nuisance. His existence is a spurn on the family. Alex Jennings along with the whole cast give regal performances. Main and supporting characters alike take part in many emotionally stirring scenes.
These are scenes such as Queen Mother (Victoria Hamilton) grieving for her late husband by taking a trip to the highlands of Scotland. I also enjoyed the scene with Jared Harris’ King George listening to carol singers at Sandringham and Winston Churchill being painted by Graham Sutherland (Stephen Dillane) in his home. The Crown is a high quality period drama that leaves Downton Abbey down in the dust (still love it). It’s produced by Netflix but it is still a very English drama, and hasn’t been Americanized by the television mongrel. With excellent casting, a tear-jerking musical score (Zimmer/Gregson-Williams) and killer performances, The Crown should be number one on everyone’s watchlist. Hopefully, it’ll get recognized come Emmy season and fend off the competition, Game Of Thrones. And to think we’re going to have six seasons of this.