TV review: The Crown – Netflix
- Henry Northmore
- 31 October 2016
Lavish new dramatization of the life of Queen Elizabeth II starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith
Netflix announced they will be spending a whopping $6 billion on original content next year (to provide context HBO spent just shy of $2 billion in 2016). And with a reputed $100 million price tag per season, The Crown is an integral part of this new offensive.
Retelling the life of Queen Elizabeth II, The Crown opens in 1947, on the eve of Elizabeth's (Claire Foy) marriage to Philip Mountbatten (Matt Smith). Five years later (do you really need a spoiler alert for well-documented recent history?), King George VI (Jared Harris) dies. As news of her father's death spreads around the world, Elizabeth is on safari in Africa, blissfully unaware. The young Princess is crowned the Queen of England at the age of 25.
Your opinion of The Crown will probably be determined by your feelings towards the monarchy. It's impossible to deny that it's beautifully made, the extensive budget dripping off the screen with lavish sets and costumes. After The Queen and The Audience, Peter Morgan has become the Royal Family's unofficial biographer. Despite their high profile, the Windsors are notoriously publicity-shy in relation to their private lives, and much like ITV's recent Victoria, The Crown cleverly blends history with fiction-disguised-as-fact.
The Royals should be flattered by the casting. Foy might not look like Queenie but she's got the accent down pat; prim and proper but revealing a hidden strength. Smith avoids the cheap, gaff-prone caricature of Philip, bringing a human edge to his struggle for identity in his wife's shadow.
This was a time when the monarchy held more sway over politics. John Lithgow brings just the right amount of cantankerous charm to Winston Churchill ('I can be a monster') as the two houses clash. The Crown can be a bit stuffy. There's some drama with an elephant in Kenya; Edward (Alex Jennings) and Mrs Simpson pop up from time to time; fog brings London to a standstill in episode four while Princess Margaret's (Vanessa Kirby) romance with Peter Townsend (Ben Miles) simmers in the background. However, most of the action is confined to meaningful discussions about duty and responsibility.
The Crown constantly reminds us that behind the pomp and circumstance these are real people, albeit closeted and detached from society, their lives defined by compromise and obligation. This humanising can make The Crown feel like a cosy PR exercise for the British Monarchy. However, if you can watch objectively, it's a fascinating portrayal of post-war Britain and the birth of the modern monarchy.
The Crown is available on Netflix from Fri 4 Nov.