Review: Netflix Original The Crown
by Christine Latham
I came for the fashion, I stayed for the history.
Summer television has always been a bleak landscape. The advent of streaming, however, has given us options other than a summer of sports. The much-hyped opulent staging of Netflix’s The Crown encouraged a quick look to check out the mid-century fashions. I just love that era of clothing, the dresses and silhouettes impractical in the modern world (or my body shape). The fashion and staging do live up to the hype. The visuals of the series are exquisite. However, I found myself more engaged by the elements of history and the perspectives provided by post-war politics in England.
The usual suspects are trotted out, including the curmudgeon that was Churchill (played by John Lithgow). Egotistical to an extreme that is almost caricature, an unattractive lump of a man, now a shadow of his heroic past. Though he grows on you, the portrayal of him is not always complimentary, particularly around his behaviour regarding his portrait gift from the nation (Series 1 Episode 9). His last days as prime minister are a well-drawn insight into a man past his time, not willing to let go of his place at the centre of significant events.
The development of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) in her role as monarch is presented via the relationship she has with her prime ministers, how they inform and are advised by the sovereign – which, for those of you with a political bent, is the fundamental role the crown has in the British government. Through the prime ministers the history element of the series takes life and drives the underlying narrative, elevating the soap opera themes of palace intrigue and family relationships.
History as drama shows Prime Minister Anthony Eden’s ( Jeremy Northam) blind ego and poor management of the Suez Crisis (Series 2 Episode 1). We observe how the inexperienced Queen manages the relationship and events while remaining above any hint of direct action. The issue of the monarch not acting in government but being the symbol of the state is at the heart of how the Queen’s character is portrayed. It provides the symbolic link to the title, in addition to an interpretation of William Shakespeare’s line in Henry IV Part 2,“uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” (3.1).
We watch as the sun sets on the British Empire, as anti-colonialism awakens across the far-flung empire. We watch as the idea of the British Commonwealth takes hold with the Queen at its centre. We see the dawning of a new age of personality politics.
The series is set on a grand scale. The interactions between the characters is enthralling, but let’s face it: the writers make up all the dialogue. I did, however, find myself like so many others doing the odd Wikipedia search on the events of the series just to get a little more historical fact. Was Eden so vainly incompetent during Suez? What did the Duke of Windsor really do during the war? …
Historical accuracy: they do get most of the names and dates right, but don’t be tempted to cite this in a research essay – you will be in real trouble – P (just).
Visuals and style: excellent – low-level H1.
Engagement: surprisingly addictive, I am guiltily awaiting series 3 – H2A.
Acting: Claire Foy as the Queen is really very good, despite the recurring shot of her face with that “Am I actually related to these people?” look. Princess Margaret by Vanessa Kirby is a little unrealistic, but so was that poor woman’s life. I was not impressed with Greg Wise as Louis Mountbatten, who is portrayed in a rather shallow manner for a man who was the last Viceroy of India, but that might be the writing. Alex Jennings does a pathetic Duke of Windsor rather well – H2A.
Overall – a worthy replacement for watching two people you do not know grunting at one another while hitting a tennis ball around Melbourne Park on a hot day – High H2B. Much better than I expected, I suggest you give it a go.