TV Critic Phoebe Christofi gives her thoughts on the second season of the Netflix royal drama, in light of a recent chance she got to catch up with Dame Harriet Walter who portrayed Clementine Churchill in the first season of The Crown
Should we still worship the monarchy? Is it old-fashioned, too traditional, or merely irrelevant in this modern age? The Crown reassures us that it is definitely not. In Season 2 we’re shown that the family of Windsor are just a regular family with marriage problems, sibling rivalry, and parents with high expectations; albeit with a rather exquisite wardrobe and house. In this new saga, we’re offered not just “Lilibet’s” (Queen Elizabeth II) story, but rather the perspectives of the other royals as well. As it’s an historical drama, much of Season 2’s events are, as Dame Harriet Walter disclosed in our interview, particularly focused on politics and the outside world. Events such as the Suez Crisis, the Kennedy assassination, the Duke of Windsor and the change of Prime Minister’s from Eden to Macmillan, are publicly known and therefore not a surprise. The suspense of the show was completely incorporated with the personal lives of the royals – in particular, seeing the evolving relationship of Princess Margaret and “Tony” Armstrong-Jones (played by Matthew Goode), and the childhoods of both Prince Philip and Prince Charles.
In the 1960’s, the Queen is faced with protests by the people, television broadcasts with the primary focus of critiquing her, and her majesty evaluating how she should progress into the modern age. I’m convinced that the show takes us back in time to actual footage of the Queen, so well does Claire Foy portray her. From the chin movements, to the way she simply says ‘Ah!’, Foy is exquisite and extremely regal in her portrayal. Dame Harriet Walter stated that while she was playing Clementine Churchill in the first season, she didn’t feel that she was able to do her justice in her short appearances. Further stating that Churchill was complex and interesting, Walter regrets not being able to show that to the audience more.
Juxtaposed, Claire Foy was able to portray the Queen in exactly the way we would expect her to be – with many witty lines to prove that the Queen does in fact have some sass. In her final season of The Crown (as it’s been confirmed that older actors will replace the current ones), Foy demonstrates the physical and mental strains that comes with being the Queen, and the resilience which she endures. Much of this resilience is shown in confronting Prince Philip, where in this new season we see the vulnerability and challenge of his childhood. Displaying how hard he had to work to gain the trust of the crown, his exile from Greece, uncle being shot, father running off with his mistress to Monaco, mother being sent to an institution, his sisters being Nazis, and half of his family dying in a plane crash, it seemed as if not much had been in the Prince’s favour; even at times, her Majesty – though not without reason.
Matt Smith shows us the mischievous and perhaps misunderstood young Prince, allowing the audience to finally understand the relationship between the former and Prince Charles. Vanessa Kirby returns as Princess Margaret, and much like the Peter Townsend episodes in Season 1, Kirby has featured episodes which primarily evolve around the Princesses evolving social circles and society pressures. Kirby exudes a phenomenal performance as the royal, showing how vulnerable, but snobbish, lonely, yet strong her highness could be. Credit goes to the furniture that was broken in the filming of Kirby’s scenes, and a special recommendation goes to Kirby for the flawless breakdown that Margaret endures.
Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Balmoral, and Sandringham are all elegant buildings with ornate architecture. The grand production of the show perfectly highlights the importance of the figures which live within it, and also illustrates the kind of Britain that the world expects it to be. Walter detailed how she believed that much of The Crown and the shows elegance, is what people viewing the show internationally view all of Britain to be like. Stating: “I never quite know if there’s a certain degree of nostalgia, or unreality about the way people perceive the Brits. That we’re all very genteel, and we’re all living in mansions. I think that there are some people that do associate upper class with British, and they’ve got that nostalgia for a time when people had those privileges, they forget that there are people really poor all around them. I think it’s something to do with this escapist mindset.”
With Season 2 of The Crown done and dusted, and Claire Foy and Matt Smith reminding us the trials and tribulations of being a family in power, the show delivered some scandalous and compelling insights of the royals that (some of us? Many of us?) know and love. Truly an escapist show worth viewing.