After several friends recommended, Netflix’s The Crown, I’ve started watching. It’s no secret that I have a soft spot in my heart for British historical dramas from Downton Abbey to Victoria. The BBC and itv have won me over.
I did wonder how the American Netflix would do telling the story of the current royal family. From the start it’s clear that Netflix spared no expense in this lush drama with exquisite, expensive costumes and magnificent palace settings. I’ve finished the first season, which contains a lot of flashbacks to contextualize the history. When the story begins King George VI is sickly and Elizabeth is newly married and while educated to become queen, she figures that’s a ways off. Within a few episodes, King George passes away and Elizabeth becomes queen.
Her first Prime Minister is Winston Churchill, who’s played by John Lithgow. Lithgow does a splendid job as Churchill.
One major plot line, that I wasn’t aware of, is Princess Margaret’s romance with Peter Townsend, her father’s personal secretary. Townsend is much older than Margaret and married. This is quite a juicy part of the series. When Townsend gets divorced, he hopes to marry Margaret, however, these plans are foiled because there’s a Royal Marriage Act that prevents royals from marrying without the Sovereign’s approval until they’re 26 years old. In season 1 Margaret is 23. The new queen can’t approve the wedding because although people are starting to divorce more, the royal family is not supposed to in any way approve divorce. Elizabeth is head of the church and the church is against divorce. That confused me since the reason the Church of England began was because Henry VIII wanted to get a divorce. He was a terrible model for morality so I’m wondering how the modern royal family became bound to live by high standards.
Claire Foy does an exemplary job as Elizabeth II. Her voice and mannerisms make be believe she is the queen. Matt Smith does resemble Prince Philip whom I knew was no saint, but now see his cavalier, playboy-ish. I think Smith’s prince is a bit gawkier than the real one, but I wasn’t born at the time shown in the series. Perhaps Philip’s posture was more bent over.
One interesting, almost villainous character is Edward, the King who abdicated and married the twice-divorced Mrs. Simpson. Played by Alex Jennings, who plays Uncle Leopold on Victoria, Edward comes across as petty and sniping. He’s always trying to get more allowance and he snipes a lot at his family. It’s clear that England is better off without him a king.
I am wondering what the actual Royal Family thinks of this. At the time, they had to live through the news focusing on their personal lives and it was no picnic seeing headlines about their family problems. I realize public figures’ lives can be the subject of drama, but usually the subjects aren’t still alive. So I’m sympathetic with the family having new generations learn about the various scandals they lived through.
The Crown’s characters, as a group, tend to be cool and controlled, more so than the characters on Victoria or Poldark. Thus it took me a while to warm up to them and these characters are aloof, but I do love the stories. The Crown does a great job weaving history into its plot. I loved how they showed Elizabeth’s tutorials on the constitution and how her grandmother schooled her on the importance of her role and the crown.