While I’ve never been a full-blown anglophile, I have been somewhat fascinated by the English monarchy, especially the very early years. Still, I hadn’t been interested in seeing The Crown, despite having heard a lot of good things about it. Ironically, watching The Girl in the Spider’s Web is what changed my mind, because here’s this great actress, Claire Foy, tearing it up as Lisbeth Salander and I wondered what it would be like to see her portraying a young Queen Elizabeth II. Would my head tear clean off from all the spinning around?
Well, it was close but I’m still intact. The Crown is a fairly accurate telling of the story of the second queen of England by the name of Elizabeth. As Winston Churchill said, they’ve had a lot of luck with their queens. The real Elizabeth was a quiet and pretty young woman who, knowing she would someday be queen, threw herself into the war effort when Germany was trying to bomb England off the map. She was a truck mechanic and driver, and remains the only female member of the royal family to have entered the armed forces and is currently the only living head of state who served in World War II. It’s hard to imagine while seeing her in the pastel hats, but the real queen is kind of a bad ass. She also looks amazingly like my grandmother.
The Crown begins after the war, just as she is about to marry Phillip Mountbatten, a dashing young European royal. Phillip is played by Matt Smith, who was The Doctor for four years. The first episode of The Crown left me unimpressed. The drama seemed a little flat, and the interpersonal give and take seemed a little aimless. Fortunately I continued watching, and by the end of the second episode I knew I had been hooked.
PBS is well known for its elaborate period dramas like Downton Abbey, and Netflix has given us a ramped up version of high drama and elaborate protocol. The sets are jaw dropping, to the point that I’m convinced they’re mostly green screen. Fashion in the 1950s was terribly embarrassing, and it’s strikingly rendered here, from the hardy bush clothes the royal couple wore in Kenya to the high fashion of the London royal court. The acting is first rate all around. Claire Foy and Matt Smith have gotten a lot of accolades, as they should, but there isn’t a single weak spot except for John Lithgow as Winston Churchill. He’s not terrible, but his accent slips now and then.
If you’re looking for drama, this is the place to go. While the first episode left me cold, the second and third episodes gave me some really emotional highs. After watching the king sucking hard on a cigarette after having a cancerous lung removed, you wouldn’t expect to feel sad when he dies. But it’s more than a sadness for just his death. The show is very good at making you realize how emotionally affecting his death was to everyone, and they even gave us a little thriller with the race to find the new queen before she could hear about it on the radio. And then her immediate family had to bow and curtsy to her, sealing the idea that her real life was over for good. It’s a lot of feels.
This is a beautifully crafted show depicting a very important part of recent history. I had heard a lot of really good things about it, and now I know why. If you’re interested in seeing the British upper crust with a little more real life angst than you’re used to from the PBS renditions, check this out.
The Crown | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix
CFR: In Addition: I always wonder what the actual royal family of England thinks of these dramas. I wonder if they sit around laughing. Or ignore it altogether. I don’t know if I could watch something about my life. Just me.