Netflix’s new show, The Crown, cost around 100 million dollars to make, which would cover nearly a third of the cost of the Buckingham Palace renovations. It’s got great reviews, too – the series, not the building plans, which are proving quite controversial. (And all for a palace that according to this series, nobody wants to live in.)
The Crown takes us behind those illustrious doors with a fictionalized imagining of the young Queen (Claire Foy) Elizabeth II’s life. Ten episodes take us from the then Princess Elizabeth’s 1947 marriage to Prince Philip (Matt Smith), to the brink of the Suez crisis of 1956.
Between those historical milestones, the youthful royal is embroiled in various family dramas. In each chapter she will have to choose between the ones she loves – and duty.
“The fact is,” her grandmother admonishes her, “the crown must win – must always win!”
Writer/creator Peter Morgan’s series isn’t all about the hat, but also the person wearing it. Foy is beautifully regal as the Queen (even rivaling Sarah Gadon in the fanciful A Royal Night Out), and is also credible as a supposedly simple countrywoman, more interested in dogs and horses than politics or people.
Matt Smith layers his rubbery-faced, zany energy over the mannerisms and ‘wit’ of the notoriously prickly Duke of Edinburgh. I kept expecting him to demand a Doctor Who-themed nursery for Charles and Anne.
Everyone seems far nicer than they probably were/are in real life – even Eileen Atkins as scary Queen Mary. Well, almost everyone. There’s the fabulously brittle duo of the Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings) and Wallis Simpson (Lia Williams – I had to check it wasn’t Game of Thrones’ Red Woman Carice van Houten).
“An ordinary young woman of modest ability and little imagination,” is how the Duke describes his niece Elizabeth during a bitchy coronation commentary. Only once anointed is she transformed, he says, into a “goddess”.
The Crown is secure enough in its power that we also spend plenty of time with the politicians of the day. Still needing a movie to themselves are John Lithgow as Churchill, and Stephen Dillane as the painter Graham Sutherland, hired to produce a portrait of the PM. (It ends up on a bonfire – true story, apparently).
It can all get artificial, as things are explained to viewers. Underlings tell Her Majesty: “And your father’s real name was Albert, and of course your uncle’s real name was David and your name is Elizabeth…”
If Morgan is a Republican, there’s little evidence, with all the urgent ‘The Crown Must Endure’ conflict throughout his show. I suppose we couldn’t have expected anything more insightful in our nostalgia-obsessed times.