The Crown: A Tightrope Walk Between Glamour and Tragedy
When it comes to watching series, I think I have serious commitment issues. My Netflix homepage is every binge-watcher’s nightmare: hundreds of half-finished shows that I gave up on because they were repetitive and boring, or because I lacked the patience to watch 10 season for the big reveal in the end, or because I have found a character so irritating that I had to stop watching for the sake of my mental health. I haven’t seen Stranger Things, never finished Game of Thrones, and Breaking Bad I had to stop in the final season because Walter White triggered an urge in me to throw my remote at the TV. Accordingly, it could be argued that my expertise in this field is somewhat limited. Having said that, let's dive straight into a review anyway!
The Crown is one of the few programmes that did not leave me horrendously bored or seriously irritated. Probably because unlike most shows, the characters, though polished and slightly adjusted to make them fit for drama, exist in real life. Who has never wondered what happens behind the doors of Buckingham Palace? The show grants an exclusive peek behind the scenes, and even though the private conversations from the Queen's bedroom are probably conjured up by the producers of the show, there is a tiny chance that it happened just like that. In the end, the audience will never be certain, and that is the show's appeal. Plus, we learn a bit about history – an absolute win.
If you have not watched the show yet and do not intend to spoil it for yourself, then I would recommend taking a break from your reading journey here and resume later.
Season 1 takes us back to the start. In vain, we keep our eyes peeled for the Queen until we realise: she is a young woman. Claire Foy plays her so convincingly, though, that soon enough, we will have forgotten what the Queen actually looks like. While young Elizabeth is trying to fulfil her new and unwanted duties as Queen, she is also forced to put up with her husband’s temper tantrums, arguably due to an inferiority complex, which we will see a lot of over the course of the show. In fairness, though, how could Philip have possibly known that his wife would become the head of the country, leaving him to the undesired role of the second-best? Elizabeth’s coronation really was a plot twist so unpredictable that I am still recovering from it.
Having inflicted on himself the absolute tragedy of being rich and famous by marrying the future Queen, Philip goes on and turns his problems on Elizabeth and, by the end of season 1, manages to wear her down so much, that she finally surrenders and grants her adult husband the title of Prince in the hope he may feel significant as well now. Apparently, it has made him very happy – Prince Philip is turning 100 this year! Hooray...
Unfortunately, and much to the Queen’s dismay, Philip is not the only problem child in the family. Elizabeth’s younger sister Margarete, convinced she would have made a much better queen, accounts for a significant share of drama in the show. Devastated knowing she will never carry the burden of responsibility that her sister has to shoulder, she resorts to smoking around 139 cigarettes per day and causing scandals wherever possible. Successful stress-management.
In the third season, Queen Elizabeth, though still rocking the brown hair, reminds us a little more of the real-life Queen we all know and love. After a few rocky years, Lillibet, as she is affectionately nicknamed, and Philip finally seem to have overcome their marital issues and now terrorise their children instead of each other. A memorable example of this occurs in an attempt to remain in favour with the increasingly angry Welsh population, in which Charles (Prince of Wales) is sent to Wales to learn the language. After some initial problems, he comes to love the place and even bonds with his mean teacher.
At the end of his stay, when Charles gives a touching speech in Welsh, in which he unsolicitedly speaks out for the Welsh people and their struggles, the Queen almost drops her handbag. Has her son really just sympathised and made amends with a part of Britain that feels alienated by the Crown? An outrage! As a result, poor Charles receives a stand-off from his mum for taking up position, which, as we learn, is a criminal offence for members of the Royal Family. Being the supportive mother that she has been throughout the show, Elizabeth then assures Charles that no one wants to hear about his own inner struggles – not even his family. *Cries in Welsh*
Generally, Prince Charles is having a reasonably hard time in season three (of course disregarding the fact that he is a rich brat), having to endure some oppression from his family, who also pull strings in order for his one and true love Camilla to get married off to someone else, leaving him lonely and betrayed once again. But then a ray of light shines through the clouds and Charles’s future wife Diana reveals herself to him in the shape of a magic tree. No, I did not make this up. All of the Royals seem to adore her, but alas! – Charles is the exception. However and staying true to the tradition of ruining his life, it is agreed that he shall marry her.
Despite occasional stories from low-life London, that provide a poignant contrast to the Royals' glamorous lives, the show teaches us that they are to be pitied rather than envied: the family are trapped in a golden cage, constantly being watched and judged by the unforgiving eye of the public. On the other side, it seems as though they inflict most of their problems on themselves, by being as up-tight and conservative as humanly possible and persuading each other constantly that they cannot ever allow themselves to be anything but royal wax-figures and puppets of the nation. No opinions, no controversial statements, no humanity.
The Queen even made this policy the family's motto, which results in a general disconnectedness of the members and very rare occurrences of proximity or – God forbid – affection. Elizabeth and Philip have separate bedrooms, and as for their children, they seem to have been raised as people who are incapable of making reasonable life choices. There are some scenes of familiar intimacy as well, but for the most part, it all seems rather depressing. But – and it is very difficult to say the following without sounding like a cynical arsehole – it is this exact combination of glamour and tragedy that makes the family's story so intriguing.
The cast is a brilliant choice of actors who not only resemble their respective character but also nail their typical accents, gestures and facial expressions. Claire Foy scored a Golden Globe Award for her portrayal of the Queen and American actor John Lithgow received an Emmy for his outstanding performance of legendary Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Gillian Anderson as the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, on the other hand, took the painfully slow speech of her character a tad too seriously.
In my opinion, the cast is the key to the success of the show. It manages to convince us that we are actually watching a very well-made documentary about the Royals. Despite the time leap, the transition from season 2 to season 3 is extremely smooth, not least because the actors playing the older versions of the Royals we got to know in the first two seasons resemble their predecessors enough to convince us they have aged. The only one that did nothing for me, unfortunately, was Helena Bonham Carter taking over from Vanessa Kirby in the role of Princess Margarete. Though a wonderful actress, Bonham's act is quite far away from Kirby's so that the character seemed like an entirely different one from season 3 onwards.
While a significant share of what we see in The Crown is manufactured by screenwriters and producers, the framework is history. And so, we not only learn about the history of the Royal Family and their shortcomings but also British politics of the last 100 years. The show itself is very well-produced with an amazing soundtrack and cinematography, and the mix between history lesson and drama makes it an entertaining and educational watch.