The Crown, Season One (2016)

 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

I've been waiting for this series for nine months, since the grand announcement of its impending arrival on Netflix. Since I enjoyed the screenwriter's previous two projects (The Queen, and Frost/Nixon), I knew the story was in capable hands. The result has been worth the wait, a magnificent series of heartache, human triumph, the difficulties of ruling kingdoms, political maneuvers, and bitter truths, framed around the question of, what is the crown?

 

Since the war's conclusion, England has changed. Its king, George (Jared Harris) rallied for the good of his country, leading them through hard times at the side of Winston Churchill (John Lithgow), but with the monarch's health in a steady decline, he prepares his daughter, Elizabeth (Claire Foy), for the throne. Newly married to Philip Mountbatten (Matt Smith), and on a global tour, the young couple struggle to find their footing in a rapidly changing world. Philip finds it difficult to step down, to play the feminine role to a future queen; and she faces a difficult task with steely determination and vulnerability, in awe of such greats as Winston. Her father's death thrusts the crown upon her, and all it entails... her uncle's abdication lingers in all their minds, her sister Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) yearns for the love of her life as much as she desires the spotlight, and her aged grandmother, former Queen Mary (Eileen Atkins), warns her that everything else, who she is, what she wants for her life, must take a backseat to... the crown.

 

The first season covers a decade of the queen's monarchy, beginning with the months prior to her father's death, and ending on a dramatic family upheaval. The writing divides the story between Buckingham Palace and Downing Street, residence of the Prime Minister. Winston is in his seventies, still determined to run the country, still raging against socialism, but slipping enough that his co-chair, Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam), is prepared to reach for power. It's a broad cast, and the slow pacing permits us to spend an episode or more each coming to know and care about these individuals, the good, the bad, the poisonous, the selfish, the selfless. It breaks our hearts with truths about slow moral decay, about the war age wages on us all, in its contrast between youth and idealism and weariness and old beliefs. It never tells us what reaction to have, or how to think, but it paints vivid pictures of the good and bad elements of the throne, inviting us to care. It's unashamed in its portraits, sometimes unflattering in its sketches (Churchill's slow decline is especially agonizing to watch, but Harriet Walter is marvelous as his far-seeing wife), but never cruel or dismissive.

 

In my opinion, if you're not well-informed on the royals, it's better to leave fact-checking for later; part of the intensity of the production is not knowing every outcome. The series invites comments and informative placards where necessary, but doesn't explain everything and leaves out certain details. Overall, however, it's a masterful production, featuring dozens of cast members; you'll find familiar faces everywhere in minor roles, from Stephen Dillane to Nicholas Rowe. The production itself millions, and it shows in exquisite decor, costumes, a stirring score by Han Zimmer, and the tremendous talent of the leads. Foy is strong but nervous, Smith harsh but likable, Lithgow probably going to be up for an Emmy win, if not a nomination. It's an immersive experience... take your time with it, if you can.

     
Sexual Content:
A crass sexual rhyme. Two brief scenes of backside nudity, in the first and second episodes (Philip likes to sleep naked; the king wakes him for his own amusement); a double-entendre that references oral sex; a woman kisses a married man; discussion of adultery, and whether or not marriage is permissible within the Church for divorced people; the queen and prince watch horses mate.
 
Language:
One use of c**t, one f-word, in a sexual context; a dozen abuses of Christ's name as an exclamation.
 
Violence:
A man spits up blood into a toilet bowl. A woman throws things at her husband and screams for him to get out.

 
Other:
Some departures from the true story; some of the royals are not depicted in a favorable light.


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