I have been waiting eagerly for new series The Crown to drop on Netflix ever since it was announced. November 4th couldn’t come soon enough for me. I took it as a good omen that the premiere date was midway between my birthday (November 2) and Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th). So far I’ve watched the 1st five episodes of the series and I have mixed feelings about it. After watching the episodes, I did a little research to see how close the series is to what we know historically. Apparently the Palace was very anxious about the series, particularly since writer Peter Morgan declined their help. They have nothing to worry about, the series is quite reverential in many ways. Almost too reverential.
The production values are absolutely first rate, I have no idea how much exactly the series is costing, although there are rumors that it is over $100 million dollars. If that’s true, most of it is on the screen. If you have ever watched The Royals or Reign, you’ll have noticed that their budgets hover around about $5 for each episode. In the first few episodes, the series has shown us Buckingham Palace, Sandringham, Marlborough House, No. 10 Downing Street, Broadlands, Westminster Abbey (or the equivalents). There is a sweep to the series that is missing from The Royals and Reign. The viewer gets more of a sense of how little privacy royalty actually have.
Although none of the actors remotely resemble their counterparts, the performances are uniformly fantastic particularly Claire Foy as Princess Elizabeth soon to be Queen Elizabeth II. However, the 1st episode is very slow and not very engaging except for the very end. The first episode covers the years 1947 through 1951. In the very first episode, we get to see the eager young bride anxious to marry Philip. There is a sweet moment, where her fiancé manages to steal a quick kiss after the garter ceremony. The series sort of squashes Prince Philip giving up his Greek titles and being made Duke of Edinburgh, etc. as well as receiving the Order of the Garter into one scene at the very beginning of the episode. There is no mention of the fact that it actually wasn’t necessary for him to have to do it. Poor King George is coughing up blood in the bathroom and then lighting up a cigarette. I admit those scenes gave me pause mainly because of how realistic they were. I’ve had relatives who’ve suffered from lung cancer who continued to smoke even after they on oxygen to breathe. While Jared Harris a bit too robust physically for the King, I think that he aptly portrays a man who never wanted to be King but who once the mantle was thrust upon him, made the best of it. There is an interesting scene where he sings a rather dirty limerick while he’s getting dressed, it gives the viewer a glimpse of a man who was once a sailor just like his son-in-law.
The wedding scene is brief but spectacular, mad props to the costume designer who recreated not only Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress but also the dresses of the maids of honor. Princess Elizabeth is tentative in her vows while Philip gives her subtle encouragement. Winston Churchill, who is no longer Prime Minister makes a grand entrance into the Abbey, which is remarked up on by Anthony Eden. Also so commentary about how Princess Elizabeth kept the word ‘obey’ in her marriage vows. There is a telling scene during the taking of the wedding photographs, where Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth discuss how Elizabeth got her way in marrying Philip since so many people were against the marriage in the government. I wish that we had actually gotten to see a bit of that instead of rushing into the wedding scene. I think it would have done a lot to establish just how much of an outsider Prince Philip was from the beginning. Queen Elizabeth also makes mention of the fact that Philip is very German which is hysterical considering the King’s background. I should mention that none of Prince Philip’s sisters were allowed to attend his wedding because of their marriages to Germans. The Queen also makes a very catty comment about Philip’s mother having just gotten out a sanitarium, calling her a Hun dressed like a Nun. Making fun of Princess Alice’s mental illness was a low blow and did nothing to give the viewer any idea of who this woman was.
There is a lovely moment after the ceremony where King George gives Elizabeth a movie camera as a wedding present. This leads to a lovely montage of the births of Prince Charles and Princess Anne as the years go by and we are suddenly in 1951. Princess Elizabeth and Philip are having a jolly old time in Malta. There are scenes of Philip playing with Prince Charles and Princess Anne which is interesting given that Charles and Anne actually stayed in England while Philip was stationed in Malta. The Princess would go back and forth to see them and do fulfill her duties.
Churchill is now back in power and the King is not doing so well. The blood coughing has led him to need surgery in the fanciest operating room in the country, the ballroom at Buckingham Palace. Seriously, there are chandeliers in the operating theatre! The Princess and Philip have flown back to England just in case. The King has one of his lungs removed (at this point no one has yet mentioned the word cancer). There is a bizarre scene where Philip wanders into the operating theatre while the doctors and nurses are cleaning up. Princess Elizabeth is of course anxious to get back to Malta so that Philip can go on doing his naval duties but she soon realizes that this is not going to happen. The King asks Elizabeth to take over the Commonwealth tour since he hasn’t fully recovered. Before they leave, the King takes Philip out into a boat to do duck hunting, basically giving him a pep talk about supporting the Princess yada yada, duty etc. what the Crown really means. It is basically a metaphor for what the whole series is about.
In Episode 2, the series starts to pick up steam. Despite his surgery, the King is still coughing up blood. When he questions his doctors, they tell him that it is nothing out of the ordinary (in real life the King was never told that he had cancer). Later on, his doctor informs him that there are malignancies in his other lung. He asks how long he has but the doctor doesn’t know. While all this is going on, Anthony Eden (played by Jeremy Northam) decides to make a power play. He cozies up to the King during a shooting party and tries to convince him to ask Churchill to resign. The King however declines, thwarting Eden’s ambitions for the moment.
In Kenya, Princess Elizabeth and Philip are having a grand old time. We finally get to see the Philip who suffers from foot in mouth disease, making politically incorrect comments about several of the natives that they meet. Poor Matt Smith, whatever hair dye they are using to try and approximate the Prince’s blond hair doesn’t seem to want to stick. His hair ranges from sort of blond to chestnut depending on the scene. However, he’s managed to capture the charm and the action man aspects of the Prince, chafing at having nothing really to do but support his wife. You get a sense of the warmth and affection that these two have for each other which has sustained them in almost 70 years of marriage.
At a house party at Sandringham, there is a lovely scene of Princess Margaret and the King singing a duet at the piano. It echoes an earlier scene where Princess Margaret drives her father while he gives her advice on her driving skills. In these brief scenes, you get a sense of the relationship between father and daughter, that Margaret was his joy. I wish that there had been more scenes like that. Anyhoo, the inevitable happens and the King dies in his sleep. There is a particularly awful moment where Margaret goes into see her father’s body as they are preparing him for embalming. Seriously, who would want to see their father with a large poker sticking out of his body? It was seriously gross and unnecessary.Of course, they have to let the Princess Elizabeth know that she is now Queen.
What The Crown does well are the small intimate scenes, Philip telling the Queen the news (we only see her reaction, we don’t hear what he actually said), Elizabeth getting dressed in her mourning clothes on the plane before she arrives in England, Margaret riding off on her horse and being comforted by Peter Townsend, Queen Elizabeth breaking down when she hears the news of her husband’s death (they slept in separate rooms).
For another look at the 1st episode head on over to The Court Jeweller and Tom and Lorenzo