You’re twenty-five years old without even as much as a high school education, and you are the Queen of England. What would you do? The Crown which premieres on Netflix Friday November 4th is the brain child of historical drama kingpin Peter Morgan. This question, what does one do when one is thrust into the public sphere at such a tender age, seems the central crux of a show about a monarch still occupying the throne 64 years later.
The Crown is for the anglophile historical drama nerd, who will not be disappointed by some stellar performances, lavish sets, delicious fashion, and those trademark drawn-out meaningful stares.
Episode one begins on the day of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding day. The nervous bride-to-be is played by a very talented Claire Foy, who gives us a glimpse past the steely exterior of Elizabeth Regina, and gives us a more intimate picture of a daughter, mother, wife, sister— and eventually Queen Elizabeth II. That weighty meridian of monarchy resides on her father’s head George VI at the beginning of the series. A king struggling with a stutter, battling with a cough, and delighting in dirty limericks is dynamically portrayed by Jared Harris who walks his young daughter down the aisle.
Beginning with the royal wedding is a clever decision as it provides a platform wherein we are introduced to all the major players in the series without relying on dry exposition. One such character is Sir Winston Churchill, played with a series of huffs and guffaws by Jon Lithgow. Without seeming a caricature, Lithgow plays the historic man who looms larger than life in our collective imaginations with efficacy and at times providing much needed comedic relief— like when he’s shushed by a choir boy, for example.
Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh played by Matt Smith is a rakish man with no country, balancing his sense of manhood with that of being married to his Queen. Nudges and winks are all directed to his infidelity, just irreverent enough—but still with some tact. Tact may not be my best trait as I can’t recommend the series without mentioning the shots of Smith’s lovely bum.
Being bummed out is par for the course in this particular historical drama, as we see how tragedies, heart beak, marital relations, and even fog all devastate and complicate the lives of those involved. Princess Margaret played by Vanessa Kirby, for example, is scolded by the Cabinet and her sister for drawing up tittle tattle with her sordid love affair with Peter Townsend.
If there’s anything you learn about the monarchy in this series, is that English people fucking hate divorce. Poor Margaret was never allowed to marry the man she loved, and watching Kirby play the glamorous, yet notoriously nasty princess, is pure catharsis. Alex Jennings plays the would-be king Edward, who abdicated the throne to marry a divorcee. One could even argue Elizabeth and Philip might have ended things if not for the societal pressure to stay together. Philip’s nightlife and Elizabeth’s friend “Porchie” prove a strain on their marriage—just like any other relationship jealousies have a way of corroding the strongest of bonds.
The series is well shot and detailed oriented; however, it does tend to navel gaze. There are elongated moments like a slow motion parade or a duck hunt that seem to go on just for the simple purpose of ensuring each episode meets the around 60 minute mark.
In all honesty, I can’t say The Crown was particularly to my taste. I can, in many ways, see what the appeal is to many, but as a Canadian with English heritage it’s been a history I’ve been familiar with, but never been steeped in fandom of. Aside from it’s entertainment factor, The Crown exudes the stench of propaganda. It’s position is one that is reverent and in love with the royal family and seeks to see them “as real people.” Although this is fascinating to some, I can’t get past the icky feelings brought up when her majesty visits Nairobi and describes it as a “savage” place. In fact, all visits to any of the colonies is inherently uncomfortable as the citizens of said countries are seen as less civilized and totally and completely in love with the queen. Post-colonial shudders run down my spine. For me, I have to wonder what the relevancy of this story is all about, and although I understand that being a monarch is not an was easy job, the “monarchy problems” don’t always resonate as relatable or even interesting.
That being said, if you want some intrigue, good acting, or maybe even just to brush up on your history with an undeniably compelling series, The Crown might just suit you.