Launching on November 4, Netflix’s The Crown is an often glittering look at the beginning of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign that is worth bingeing with an “in for a penny, in for a pound” approach. However, the first 10-episode season of the streaming service’s $100 million drama series created by The Queen scribe Peter Morgan is not necessarily a prescription for those Downton Abbey fans going through withdrawal. As I say in my video review above, the series led by Claire Foy and Matt Smith is actually a sprawling take on the bigger picture that details the birth of a new type of United Kingdom in the latter half of the fast-moving 20th century.
“The Britain of the early 1950s is so utterly different from Britain in 2008, when I lay down my pen, that it is bizarre to think that we have had the same Head of State as we did when rationing was still in force, and when Churchill was still Prime Minister,” wrote A.N. Wilson in Our Times: The Age Of Elizabeth II. Add another eight years onto the historian’s words and you pretty much have an overview of The Crown, with added focus on the conflicted and complicated Queen, her often ornery husband Prince Philip and their family over the generations – including the once-King and then-scandalized Duke of Windsor.
After having given us the warm-up acts of the Oscar-winning 2006 film The Queen and the 2013 play The Audience (both of which starred Helen Mirren), Morgan at times keeps the winds of change, so to speak, focused on Elizabeth’s Prime Ministers as much as her and her brood. All of which lends itself to a Season 1-stealing performance by John Lithgow as Churchill and a marvelous Vanessa Kirby as the often party girl known as Princess Margaret.
While The Crown can sometimes move slowly, as if Morgan wanted to get every single bit of his research on the screen, it is best when it provides the backstage view on history and those who make it. We forget now, for instance, what a powerhouse the Queen’s younger sister was on the international social scene with her hard-partying ways and in her love affairs with the likes of divorced Captain Peter Townsend. All of which, of course, ended badly and prophetically for royal marriages and generations to come.
Yet, amidst Constitutional crises, national upheaval, the rise of mass media and paparazzi, and never putting love before family and nation, it is that perspective on the now forgotten, dusty and disregarded which is the real jewel in The Crown. Plus an inspiring turn by Jared Harris as Elizabeth’s beloved father King George VI that reveals more of a leader than The King’s Speech ever did.
Take a look at my video review of The Crown and tell us what you think. Are you going to put the kettle on and binge November 4?