The Crown is a jewel for Netflix viewers
Television | Historical drama examines the marriage and early reign of Queen Elizabeth II
by Laura Finch
Posted 11/07/16, 03:03 pm
“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” wrote Shakespeare, who would surely approve of Netflix’s new series about Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
The first 10-episode season of The Crown, released Friday on Netflix, depicts the queen’s marriage to Prince Philip, her ascension to the throne, and her first few years learning to adjust to her newly granted power. Five more seasons are planned and will cover the entirety of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. By some reports, it’s the most expensive project Netflix has ever undertaken.
The timing of this release couldn’t be better. Last year, the real queen became the longest reigning monarch in British history, and the recent births of her great-grandchildren Prince George and Princess Charlotte—currently third and fourth in the line of succession—have renewed worldwide interest in the royal family.
Claire Foy portrays the queen as anything but emotional, but in the first season she shows just how insecure the queen feels in her new role. The result is a character who is remarkably relatable despite her royal lifestyle—a queen who thinks she doesn’t have what it takes to carry out her calling, surrounded by people who are quite skilled at convincing her she is right.
Creator Peter Morgan captures the tension between family desires and public duties with such force that his storylines sometimes border on formulaic. Most first-season episodes follow a pattern: A member of the royal family wants something, the queen agrees, her advisers disagree, and she eventually caves to them, disappointing her family. But each story is told deftly and with enough historical detail to keep audiences curious for more.
The “rot” of divorce, and the degree to which the royal family is associated with it, is a recurring theme in the season. Two different plotlines involve a royal who wants to marry a divorcee. In contrast, Prince Phillip (played by Matt Smith, best known for his role as Doctor Who) remains ever faithful even though he dearly misses his freedom and grows frustrated when the queen repeatedly pulls him back into orbit around her.
Queen Elizabeth must cope with both blatant and subtle sexism. In the first episode, a few instances of bawdiness show the world into which young Elizabeth is breaking. Otherwise, the first season is safe for all ages.
The show will inspire viewers with deep knowledge or only a passing interest in English history to read up on the events depicted in The Crown. The project calls to mind other binge-worthy titles, including The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth (which tells the story of King George VI, the queen’s father), and the TV show Borgen, a three-season series about the fictional first female prime minister of Denmark. Borgen in particular explores many of the same themes as The Crown and goes in-depth into the multiparty parliamentary system—something many Americans might be longing for as they prepare to head to the polls tomorrow.
Laura is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course.