Netflix’s 10 part drama The Crown makes the the first years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign a human tale of love and sacrifice. And it makes very clear that being the Queen of English is a terrible job to be stuck with.
Let me say up front that I’ve never been a fan of the English monarchy. I don’t get excited by stories about Engish royalty. The concept generally bores me. But I heard so many people say The Crown was excellent, I gave it a try. I was hooked immediately. It isn’t the usual pageant. It’s a human-sized story about very human individuals.
The story begins with Elizabeth’s (Claire Foy) 1947 marriage to Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (Matt Smith). The young couple were happy and in love, having children and building a home. There are flashbacks to Elizabeth’s childhood, her relationship with her father, and her education.
Then King George VI (Jared Harris) died, and Elizabeth became Queen. The series shows her struggling to be Queen and deal with all her responsibilities and duties. The series continues until the mid 1950s.
In those years Elizabeth II developed a backbone and a steely resolve. She became strong and competent. She also sacrificed her family and her relationships to the demands of the crown. English royals are in an impossible position. They have absolutely no power. Elizabeth II couldn’t do the simplest things, such as select her own private secretary, because there are rules and traditions that dictate how everything must be done.
Queen Elizabeth II couldn’t help her sister, Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) marry the man she loved, Peter Townsend (Ben Miles). It caused a rift in her family.
The Prime Minister and the cabinet held all the power to govern. The series is as much about English Prime Minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) as it is about Queen Elizabeth II. It’s a fascinating look at the way Churchill held on to power when everyone around him wanted the aging PM to be replaced by Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam).
It was Elizabeth’s dealings with these men, with the leaders of the Church of England, and with the entrenched traditionalists surrounding her daily life that schooled her and molded her into the fixed and predetermined role of Queen. Their opposition to every act of individuality forced her into giving up many of the things she wanted in order to represent the crown in the traditional way.
There is a split in the life on an English monarch: on one side is the human, on the other is the crown. Learning to live with this split was a struggle, not just for the Queen but for everyone in her shadow: her husband, her sister, the people she wanted around her.
Interesting Minor Storylines
In America, we romanticize the story of the Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings) and the American divorcée for whom he abdicated the crown Wallis Simpson (Lia Williams). The royal family from Queen Mary (Eileen Atkins) and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (Victoria Hamilton) to everyone else below them hated him for giving up the throne and sticking his brother with the task of becoming King George VI. The Duke of Windsor was painted as petty and small minded and greedy in The Crown.
In the episode “An Act of God” an air inversion kept a toxic fog hovering over London for days as coal smoke spewed into the air. The way Churchill dismissed any notion that the burning of coal could be a health hazard and a threat to the environment was a fascinating parallel with today’s political situation. Churchill came to his senses when Venetia Scott (Kate Phillips), a young aide at 10 Downing Street, was killed in the fog. He pulled a press conference about the fog out of thin air, made himself look like a hero, and began a process that led to England’s Clean Air Act.
The acting in the series is superb. Claire Foy is brilliant. John Lithgow is brilliant. I hate to keep using the word brilliant, but it can also apply to Vanessa Kirby, Matt Smith, and several others. The children who played young Elizabeth (Verity Russell) and young Margaret (Beau Gadsdon) did a very good job, particularly Verity Russell.
There are many actors in this 10 hour drama that I haven’t mentioned. The acting was excellent at every level.
Set design and costuming looked completely authentic. Telephones, radios, television sets, automobiles – all meticulously chosen for the period. The various castles, the smokey rooms, the private suites all looked like the real thing.
The series was created and written by Peter Morgan. Only male directors were used.