Near the end of 2016, Netflix released a stunning set of ten episodes that captivated the world with mesmerizing cinematography and jarring set and costume design, as well as top-notch performances. “The Crown” is a quite simple story, one that is rather familiar considering Queen Elizabeth II is one of the most famous figures in the world. While the first season followed the young monarch from her coronation through her earliest days as sovereign, the second season explores the issues and highlights that develop a few years into her reign. The production values continue to be just as epic as before, but the overall story does feel less concentrated and more scattered as the focus is shifted to various subplots; each episode basically tells a self-contained story as several elements are threaded throughout the season. While it may not live up to the first season, “The Crown” still manages to feel magical and awe-inspiring, beautifully showcasing the good, the bad and the ugly of royal life.
Obviously, the narrative for the entire series has already been written in the form of actual history and there is no way around that, but this season does falter a bit without John Lithgow’s portrayal of the strong-willed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In his place comes Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam) and later, Harold MacMillan (Anton Lesser), both of whom are involved in some of the political drama that takes place during this time period (this season covers the years of 1956 to 1964); the season limits its time with these two players and really only shows their stories in the extent to which they impact the Queen (Claire Foy). Speaking of which, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II spends this time in more bickerings with her husband Prince Phillip (Matt Smith), while trying to keep her younger sister Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) out of the media spotlight.
As mentioned previously, the season feels far less compact and concentrated than its predecessor, mostly due to the fact that the major historical events of the time period are delegated to individual episodes rather than spread out. In a way, this makes the consequences of the important decisions made, as well as the life events of the royal family, feel somewhat rushed as much of the aftermaths are more or less glossed over. For instance, both the Queen and Princess Margaret give birth to children this season, yet a very limited amount of time is spent showing the two develop relationships with their newborns; this is an issue that I had with last season as the Queen’s role as mother is given next to no screentime, the same being true for Season 2. The penultimate episode of the season, “Paterfamilias,” does feature an emotional look at the heir apparent Prince Charles (Julian Baring) as he relocates to northern Scotland for his education at Gordonstoun, a strict boarding school which his father also attended; this episode features powerful parallels showing the similarities and differences of Prince Charles and Prince Phillip’s time at the all-boys school, both undergoing bullying and difficulties in adjusting. Both Julian Baring and Finn Elliot, the actor portraying a young Prince Phillip, deliver raw and heart-breaking performances in this episode.
The events that are covered over the ten episodes are fascinating to watch play out on screen, with the development of a relationship between Princess Margaret and photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode) being a highlight of the season, particularly their focus-episode “Beryl.” Other moments in history that are covered include Prince Phillip’s tour through the Commonwealth, the Suez Crisis, as well as the Queen meeting evangelist Billy Graham (Paul Sparks). There’s also the arrival of President John F. Kennedy (Michael C. Hall) and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (Jodi Balfour) in London, both of whom are unfortunately miscast (they’re both great actors, but not fit for these roles). The episode that they’re featured in, “Dear Mrs. Kennedy,” is a remarkable look at relations between the United States, Ghana, the Soviet Union and Great Britain during an especially tumultuous time; the episode also details the rough relationship between the two iconic figures of the Queen and Jackie, culminating into a stunning and impactful sequence that shows the reactions of the royal family to the assassination of JFK.
All in all, Season 2 of “The Crown” is yet another remarkable chapter in the retelling of the fascinating story of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. The lack of a concentrated focus this season doesn’t take away much from the overall storytelling that does take place; this is especially true in regards to dialogue, which feels so incredibly foreign to “commoners,” yet oddly familiar, comforting and intimate. The series remains as one of the most extraordinarily beautiful pieces to air on the small screen with nearly every shot being an absolute work of art. The production values of this series are still so dazzling that I’m continually left wondering if filming took place at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle among other famed royal locations (this is highly unlikely and can rather be attributed to the massive budget); that’s a testament to just how engrossing this series is to watch. On top of all of the many delightful aspects of this series, the acting from the entire cast is especially deserving of praise with Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby and Victoria Hamilton standing out in their respective roles of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother. “The Crown” is a series that deserves your full attention when viewing simply because of the gorgeous aforementioned elements; while the cast will be undergoing a massive overhaul in the next season to show the progression of time, the production will surely remain just as mesmerizing as ever.
Season 1 and 2 of “The Crown” are available to stream on Netflix.