The Crown review: God save the Queen, and God save this majestic Netflix show
The Crown review: Netflix peels the layers off the Royal Family and Queen Elizabeth in an intimate, terrific and addictive new drama starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith.tv Updated: Jan 16, 2017 18:52 IST
For a while, it seems like The Crown exists only to remind you how embarrassingly little you know about the Queen. She is, after all, the longest-reigning monarch in history, but for what seems like at least a couple of generations now, the only time people pay any sort of attention to her is when one of her adventurous headgear choices ignites a debate on the evening news or when she’s jumping out of planes with Daniel Craig.
But then, in a matter of mere episodes (less than 2, by my estimation), it moves beyond the giggle-inducing posh accents, the stiff-upper-lipped stoicism, and the immaculate moustaches to become one of the most deliriously entertaining shows of the year.
Not that you’d think it upon first glance.
Everything about it screams ‘Prestige TV’ (very politely of course). It’s the sort of show where if there’s a scene set at the Westminster Abbey, it really does seem like they went at shot at the Westminster Abbey. For months, The Crown has been generating buzz as the most expensive show Netflix has ever produced. And immediately, it is clear that no expense was spared. Every penny of its – ahem, majestic – Rs 815 crore budget can be seen on screen.
From the luxurious opening titles, scored to a grand theme composed by Hans Zimmer, to the name those titles end with: Stephen Daldry, a rather luxurious director - the sort of director who makes Oscar-winning films starring Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet. This is an extravagant show, opulent, but never ostentatious.
Behind it all, its creator and writer of each of its 10 fabulous episodes is Peter Morgan, who is beginning to resemble a man obsessed. He previously wrote The Queen, which was, for many years, considered to be the seminal film on Elizabeth II. It is my belief that The Crown will eclipse it. The sheer ambition alone (each season, for 6 seasons, will cover a decade of the Queen’s reign) is astounding enough. For now, the enormous burden of the playing the Queen has been placed on the shoulders of Claire Foy, as delicately as the titular crown on was once placed on Elizabeth’s head.
As exciting as this plan is, there is of course the issue of the macabre thought that should have sprung up in your head by now. The Queen is, and has been for several decades now, a very old woman. In fact, prior to watching this show, her age was probably one of the top 5 facts I knew about her. And were she to… pass on, during it’s run, it would send the show down fascinating new avenues. But trudge as we might towards it, we are yet to cross that bridge, and until such time as we do, long live the Queen.
Its greatest success however – and in many ways, this is what makes it similar to, of all things, The Godfather – is how it manages to peel away the layers off a famously inaccessible family that is bound by rules, sometimes unspoken and sometimes not, and find the humanity within.
Disregard for a moment everything you know about the Queen and picture her as a young girl, conditioned from as far back as she can remember to one day take on the burden of a cripplingly traditional, increasingly irrelevant and rotting monarchy; a burden that would abruptly be thrust upon her when her father (Colin Firth from The King’s Speech) dies; a burden that would condemn her to a half-life, ruining her relationships and despite all its promises of power, leaving her more vulnerable than she could ever have imagined.
And remember, beneath that stony façade is a person, capable of feeling pain, when confronted by impossible choices; anger, when she can’t please them all; jealousy, at her more popular sister; insecurity, a result of her insufficient education; and love, for a man who may not love her back.
This is the sort of character portrait that can only be created from true respect – not the reverential kind. It is what Peter Morgan does best. It’s also to his credit that he doesn’t limit himself to just being a chronicler of the Royal Family, but also, and arguably more importantly, finds top form as an historian of post-WWII Britain.
Perhaps this is why the show’s secret weapon is John Lithgow’s terrifyingly flawless performance as Winston Churchill. In a series full of proper, West End actors, he out acts each one of them – often wordlessly, often with just his body.
2016 has been an embarrassment of riches as far as TV is concerned, and The Crown, despite it well-trod and admittedly unappealing premise, is appointment viewing at its best. And guess what, it might just have made the Monarchy relevant again - at least until such time as you find yourself admiring a particularly stellar headpiece again.