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Review: The Crown
TV Critic Rebecca Cutler reviews Netflix's new period drama The Crown
If there are two words that encapsulate both the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and the new Netflix series The Crown, which documents the beginnings of said reign, they are understated excellence. A quiet but powerful drama, The Crown brings new life to the woman and the family who have found themselves eternally represented and reproduced across the media. With production costs reaching over £100 million, the historical drama was an expensive gamble for the American streaming giant, but with a recent double win at the Golden Globes, it seems that there might be something that’s catching critical attention and applause.
With the end of Downton Abbey came the beginning of the end of the epic period drama reconnaissance. The Crown manages to strike the sweet spot between historical drama and the increasing influence of streaming services, combining them to introduce the beginnings of the Windsor dynasty to a new audience, one without memories of the events as they happened. It’s not just all about the Queen, either; through the ten episodes of the series, we see the deterioration and death of King George IV, the re-election and downfall of Winston Churchill, an illicit dalliance between the Princess Margaret and the King’s married equerry Peter Townsend and the ongoing scandal of Edward VIII’s abdication. There’s a lot going on, all precariously balanced around the marriage Queen Elizabeth II and her consort Prince Phillip. Each extraordinary event that dictates their lives is made even more incredible considering their real-life inspirations.
With a pedigree for playing royal women, most notably her turn as the ill-fated Anne Boleyn in the BBC’s Wolf Hall, Claire Foy triumphs in her modest yet exceptional portrayal of Elizabeth Regina, from Princess through her coronation and into her role as leader of the Realm. Each crisis that faces the young Queen is approached with a measured and powerful on-screen presence, with Foy showing the young Elizabeth’s vulnerabilities equally as well as the developing strengths we recognise in the monarch today. It is her conflicting relationship with the ageing and ailing Winston Churchill that perhaps demonstrates this best; the young woman skillfully defends herself and her subjects in a way that on-screen is visually compelling. John Lithgow’s Churchill is a commanding presence, his physical size matching the authoritative nature of his character, something that is lessened by his declining health. The demise of Churchill gives way for the rise of the new Queen, in a journey that juxtaposes age, authority and gender in a subtle but effective manner.
“The demise of Churchill gives way for the rise of the new Queen, in a journey that juxtaposes age, authority and gender in a subtle but effective manner
The relationship between the Queen and Prince Phillip is also one that takes precedent amongst the many storylines of the series. Matt Smith manages to humanise the man at the monarch’s side, and we are reminded less of the blundersome Duke of Edinburgh and are instead presented with a man who has given up much – his nationality, his family name, his freedom??? – for the sake of his wife. The Crown captures the internal conflicts of the Windsor family as they struggle to stop them becoming public – the irony, of course, being our hindsight as modern viewers. The Crown does not shy away from these nuances of royal personalities either; we see hints of the stutter that plagued King George VI, the beginnings of Phillip’s penchant for a public gaffe and Anthony Eden’s struggles with drug addiction. There is no area of royal and diplomatic history that The Crown does not dare to explore, and in doing so it creates a sense of the utter mayhem that accompanies the role of being head tenant at Buckingham Palace.
Be warned, though: just because The Crown is on Netflix, it’s not the ideal viewing if you’re planning to chill. The intense and complicated weave of story arcs require your full attention, as titles are granted and repealed, and alliances are formed and betrayed. It isn’t ideal for binging, but is rather to be enjoyed like your mum’s expensive wine – in small, sophisticated doses that leave you satisfied in quality rather than quantity. It’s also a shame to waste the production values on a laptop screen - if you can, you should watch The Crown in the highest resolution possible – it deserves it.
Article by Rebecca Cutler