On my birthday, the only thing I felt like doing was to chillax in front of the TV with Matt. So I thought of choosing something completely new to watch, some genre that I’ve been longing to try out, i.e. period dramas.
My first choice fell on The Crown, a Netflix biopic drama. Yes, because what’s better than a period drama, if not a biographical period drama! Created by Peter Morgan – known for writing biopics such as The Queen, Frost/Nixon, and Rush – this series is about Queen Elizabeth II.
Duty vs personal freedom
It starts with Elizabeth’s (played by Claire Foy) engagement and then marriage to Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (Matt Smith), in 1947. While she’s slowly eased into royal duties – such as the Commonwealth tour – Lilibet’s (that’s her nickname) life as a ‘normal’ young woman is turned upside down when her ailing father, King George VI (Jared Harris), passes away.
Elizabeth, now Queen, needs to adapt herself to the role with the help of her reluctant husband, her demanding family, and the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill (John Lithgow). With the advice she receives, she starts turning into the reserved Queen we know today.
Once she’s Queen, her personal freedom starts diminishing. She’s obliged to choose between her duty as a monarch and her role as a wife, mother, daughter and sister; between her public position, with all the rules it entails, and her individuality. It’s Queen Elizabeth against Lilibet.
However, Elizabeth is not the only one who has to forsake her freedom. Prince Philip is forced to give up his titles and relations before his marriage with Elizabeth, and then he finds opposition to his requests of staying at Clarence House and giving his surname to his children. The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby), is encouraged to halt her relationship with Royal aide Peter Townsend (Ben Miles), for fear of derailing the monarchy. It’s up to Elizabeth to manage the situation, with the risk of ruining the bond with her sister.
Conservatives vs rebels
I divided the characters into two categories, with Elizabeth roaming in between. On one side are the conservatives, such as Churchill, the Queen Mother (Victoria Hamilton) and Queen Mary (Eileen Atkins), Elizabeth’s grandmother. These, along with their aides, are keen to preserve the status quo and are wary of the younger generation’s behaviour. On the other side are the ‘rebels’, such as Philip, Margaret and Edward, Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings), the former King Edward VIII who had abdicated to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Lia Williams). Edward returns on a couple of occasions, to the dismay of the Royal family, with whom relations remain strained. I thought Jennings’ interpretation was great; Edward is an arrogant antagonist, but at the same time, you end up admiring him a little for his gutsy decision to step down from the throne for love.
Despite all the likeable royals, my favourite character turned out to be Churchill. In reality, I have a deep dislike for politicians who cling to their seat. That’s how the PM is portrayed here, desperate to stay in power while others – including members of his own party – want him out. Yet, towards the end of the season, it becomes clearer that he is afraid of old age and of becoming irrelevant. Lithgow’s performance makes this character appear more endearing.
A “believable” story
From what I’ve read, The Crown is mostly “believable”, which is amazing considering that Peter Morgan based it on extensive research without the help of insiders. Nevertheless, it apparently still plays a bit on rumours, such as with Margaret and Townsend’s affair. But how important is historical accuracy in such productions? To an extent, it is essential because otherwise, it loses some credibility. However, a bit of twisting and adorning are also necessary to make the product more attractive. Let’s face it: the public doesn’t watch such shows or films to get all the facts (there are documentaries for that) but to enjoy the feeling of peeking into the private life of a well-known figure. In this sense, The Crown satisfies the audience’s curiosity.
I’m one of those who doesn’t understand the purpose of a monarchy in today’s world. I only love to learn about royal families from a historical perspective; I prefer having that temporal distance. So, I was a little afraid of viewing a show based on a current sovereign. However, my doubts cleared upon watching, and I liked learning about the role of the monarch (just one lingering disappointment: too little of my country, Malta, in it and that little wasn’t filmed on location).
A feast for the eyes
It’s a lavish production (with a whopping £100m budget) with fabulous clothes, hair and makeup, to the joy of vintage fashion fans. The actors are all excellent, and many of them bear a striking resemblance to the real persons they’re interpreting. And everything is enhanced by Hans Zimmer’s outstanding theme music.
I encourage you to give The Crown a try – even if you’re not a monarchy fan – for its amazing actors, appealing visuals and the story of an interesting public figure. If you love period dramas, you won’t be disappointed. Netflix is set to release Season 2 on the 8th of December, so make sure you book a weekend off to catch up with the first season pretty soon.