After the considerable anticipation built up by the promising trailers and articles, when The Crown premiered, it did not take me long to go through the series. It turned out to be as impressive as the speculation around it had suggested. The show follows the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and the first series spans from 1947 to 1955, covering subjects such as the coronation, Princess Margaret’s engagement to Peter Townsend and the Great Smog of 1952.
The show works to expose the cracks in the demeanors of perfection, and humanizes those who are, today, seen as icons of yesteryear. It delves into the personal lives of the royal family and the compromises they need to make to maintain the ideal image they need to project to the public. The show thrives not on over-the-top dramatic confrontations, but in the subtle nuances of emotion, best portrayed by Claire Foy’s Elizabeth II as she struggles to maintain her ties with her sister and husband while appeasing the parliament. We can see her becoming more and more emotionally repressed as the series progresses as she must be the Queen not just in public but in private.
The Crown humanizes these royal icons by depicting their vulnerabilities and their emotional collapse. Indeed, we see several of these stoical characters breaking down. It can be seen in moments like the breakdown of King George VI (Jared Harris) during the Christmas party as he realizes he is dying and the Queen Mother’s (Victoria Hamilton) breakdown among her friends as she struggles to cope with her husband’s death and a lack of purpose in the absence of her duties as the queen consort. A special mention to Alex Jennings, who brilliantly portrays the conniving and snide, Edward, Duke of Windsor, whose attempts to appear aloof to his royal relatives is undercut by moment like the “bagpipe scene” during Elizabeth’s coronation showing his conflicted emotions in having renounced a chance to be a part of the glory and history.
The show’s first season moves beyond the royal family to show a picture of a country past its prime. This is most explicitly stated in the U.S. President’s comment on the sleeping and physically diminished, Anthony Eden before their meeting, “That gentleman is not just a sleeping man, it’s a sad metaphor. The second most powerful man in what was once the most powerful country on Earth”. In Winston Churchill, the show depicts the relic of an age past. Masterfully performed by John Lithgow, he embodies a leader who is stuck in the glories of the past and struggles to cope with the transition into a post-war world. The show works in exposing the weakest points and vulnerabilities of supposedly indomitable figures and Churchill’s is his confrontation with artist, Graham Sutherland over his portrait which reveals to him what he has been in denial about, that, he, like, the country he is leading, is past his prime and that he is no longer the herculean war-time leader.
The show is held together by Clair Foy’s splendidly portrayed Queen Elizabeth II who is the center of the show. She is a woman thrust into power decades before she was expected. We see her struggle to balance her commitments to her family and her duties as a monarch while trying not to let the cracks seep through. This is depicted in her relationships with her husband and sister. Matt Smith’s Prince Philip portrays a man who feels emasculated by his wife’s higher position as he is unable to pass on his family name to his children nor keep his navy career. Even as Elizabeth tries to make him feel a part of her office, he reacts like an impetuous child. It goes to show Matt Smith’s talent as he moves on from his much-loved character of the Doctor to the imprudent, gaffe prone and frustrating, Prince Philip. His character trajectory is summed up by the Queen Mother as she points out that, “You have more freedom than any consort in history, and you repay it by scowling and sulking”.
The central conflict of the first series is between the royal siblings who appear to be complete opposites. Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) like Philip is destined to live in the shadow of her sister, which seems in contrast with the charismatic and vivacious character. Although not sitting on the throne, she still has to comply by the multitude of rules to maintain her sister’s image and keep the parliament appeased. The main source of contention in the show is her relationship with Peter Townsend (Ben Miles). Through this contention, we shown the hints of sibling rivalry as we see glimpses of jealousy in both Elizabeth and Margaret—Elizabeth for her sister’s apparent freedom from the duties of the crown and the public friendly persona of her sister and her suitor, and Margaret, in what she sees as her sister’s freedom to choose from her position of her power. The sibling rivalry between the royal siblings is further humanized as Margaret insists on how their father while calling Elizabeth his “pride”, called Margaret his “joy”, thus, trying to assert her worth over her powerful sister in the family structure by claiming the love of their father.
The show is brilliantly written, with an excellent cinematography and a talented set of cast which come together to create the drama between a complex set of characters. It gives us a sense of the post-war Britain while trying not be overly hindered by political correctness (one example could be the discussion surrounding the colonies which while offensive today, fits in with the thoughts of the time in question). Peter Morgan has created a show which is both intelligent and entertaining and satisfies the cravings of the lovers of period dramas.