Netflix once again proves that it is the king (or queen) of producing top-notch television programming. The latest series explores the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) during her early days as sovereign of the United Kingdom. From high quality production values to an all-star cast, “The Crown” is an absolute gem, proving that we indeed live in the Golden Age of Television.
The Royal Family has always seemed to fascinate Americans and other outsiders to the British way of life. There is a sort of larger-than-life element that the Monarchy seems to possess, bridging medieval times with the modern way of life. Outside of traveling to London and visiting the royal houses, the closest that most Americans get to royalty is the fantasy world of “Game of Thrones.” “The Crown” is very different from that mythical world of dragons and duels, however. There is a calm sense of magnificence mixed in with the high stakes real world of British politics. Claire Foy stars as the young monarch, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, who is thrown into the role of Queen after her father, King Charles VI (Jared Harris), succumbs to lung cancer. With Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (Matt Smith), by her side, the Queen faces an array of challenges in both her political and private life.
A large portion of this ten-episode first season focuses on the precarious relationship between the Queen and Prince Philip. The latter struggles with his new life as a husband to the most famous woman in the world. After being forced to move to Buckingham Palace and give up his surname, Prince Philip spends much of the season complaining about his role among the family. A major problem with biopics such as this is that it is difficult to tell just how much of the story is fictionalized. Was Prince Philip as irritable in real life as depicted in the series? Being that the relationship is vital to the Queen’s position, the fragile nature of the marriage causes great tension throughout. Seeing this union behind closed doors is truly fascinating, although I wish there would have been a heavier focus on the Queen’s role as a mother to Prince Charles and Princess Anne among her other roles.
Another major storyline featured in this season is the “scandalous” affair between Princess Margaret and Group Captain Peter Townsend. Due to the divorcee marital status of Townsend and the strict Church of England rules about marriage, the Queen is forced to find some semblance of a middle ground between her personal family life and her duty as Monarch. This particular subplot is especially heartbreaking, but is crucial in the development of the Queen’s balance of roles. While attempting to uphold a promise made to her late father, Queen Elizabeth II is placed in an impossibly difficult position. The public perception of the Royal Family plays into this decision and others; one wrong decision may destroy the sanctity of The Crown or collapse the personal relations within the family. This family’s longevity is tested similarly with Edward, Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings), who was formerly the King before abdicating, leading to King George assuming the throne. This causes tension and drama among the family after Edward essentially chooses his wife over his duty to his family and country.
Don’t be mistaken into thinking that this series solely focuses on the Royal Family. A large portion of the season explores the time when Sir Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) served as Prime Minister. Due to his age and relatively poor health, many members of Parliament and the public call for the elderly Prime Minster to step down to allow young blood to fill the position. The fascinating relationship between the Queen and the Prime Minister receives a sizable amount of screen-time. Aside from her daily briefings, the Queen is given the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister on a weekly basis to be advised, hear important state matters and to plan upcoming events. These meetings showcase the unusual friendship that forms between the two leaders; there is clear respect between them even when in disagreement. John Lithgow’s talent absolutely shines in this role, specifically in the episode “Assassins,” which is heavily focused on the final days of his tenure as Prime Minister.
“The Crown” is a grand series in nearly every sense. Clear attention to detail is present in every single frame, making an already majestic story even more awe-inspiring. The sets alone are breathtaking and left me wondering if the series was actually filmed at Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, among other famed royal London locations. The costumes design, cinematography, directing and writing are also worthy of praise; this series is already an Emmys front-runner on each of these accounts in my opinion. The acting across the board is spectacular as well. Claire Foy absolutely shines as the Queen, her regal appearance at stately functions is jarringly different, but also strangely similar to her time in private; Claire Foy hit the nail on the head in regards to the Queen’s mannerisms and more specifically, her voice. Netflix seems to have hit a goldmine with this series and its longevity could match that of the real life Queen’s lengthy reign. The ten-episode first season is available to stream now with a Netflix subscription.