The Crown: A Pleb’s Review
As you’ve probably noticed by now, Netflix recently released a new show to add to it’s enormous roster; The Crown. The most expensive show the streaming service has backed to date, it promised to tell the story of British history from the nineteen-forties onward, all filtered through the eyes of the royal family and, particularly, Queen Elizabeth II. Trailers promised money-shitting lavishness, sweeping drama, quality acting, and more British history than you can shake a stick at. Even if they did cast an American as Winston Churchill. Whatever- the reviews came rolling in, and they were phenomenal, praising the cast, the direction, the writing, every little aspect they could get their grabby little pleb hands on.
And it wouldn’t be the Cutprice Guignol unless I came along with a big fat pot of “well, actually.” Look, I don’t want to claim that The Crown is a pile of unremitting shite, because that is patently untrue- it is sumptuous, it is lush, it is smattered with fantastic performances. But there’s something about The Crown that just doesn’t quite jive, and I’m having a hard time putting my finger on what it is.
As I say, it’s certainly not the spectacle of the thing. It cost an alleged one hundred million quid for this entire series to be put together, so I should bloody well hope that it at least looked nice. And it does- the costumes are stunning, the sweeping cinematography is gorgeous, and the sets are really pretty special, fantastic reconstructions of that stately homes that everyone has been to on a school trip at least once.
And the acting really doesn’t leave much to be desired- Jared Harris as the late King George is the obvious and widely-accepted standout, but Claire Foy as Elizabeth and Matt Smith as Philip have fantastic and fiery chemistry- though I can’t help but wonder what the actual Liz and Phil make of their portrayal. John Lithgow’s Churchill is one of the best I’ve ever seen while Vanessa Kirby puts in a standout performances as the deviant Margaret.
But…there’s still something missing. I think the big problem The Crown has is that it attempts to blend both the upper echelons of British politics with the goings-on in Buckingham Palace and beyond, and, as the series goes on, the thread between the two grows increasingly thin. After all, by this point in history, the role of the monarch in active politics is pretty much an ornamental one. Yes, Elizabeth and Churchill meet to discuss the goings-on of the state, but the show seems content to flit past those and focus on, I don’t know, the escapades of Churchill’s secretary during the Great Smog of 1952, or what Anthony Eden is up to as he tries to work up to unseating the prime minister. I appreciate the show’s attempts to explore a fallow period of British history that is too often lumped in with the wartime years in popular culture, but it feels as though this was not the best way to do it. The cynical part of me thinks that the British upper-classes and the monarchy in particular sell like hotcakes overseas, and slapping their name on it was a guarantee of getting in viewers; the Marxist historian part of me thinks this would have been a better show focusing in on the working classes in the odd post-war transition period. The Crown lurches awkwardly between historical drama and soap opera, and never seems to settle of which side of the equation it likes better.
Because, make no mistake, this is a soap opera. For all the budget and bluster, The Crown indulges itself in imagining the inner workings of the Royal Family, while neatly avoiding the less pleasant stuff like the potential Nazi sympathizings of some of the clan and making up other stuff wholesale. But even without the questions of historical accuracy- which really is a problem that plagues all dramas of this ilk, so I can’t hold it too much against The Crown specifically-the drama is quite…repetitive? For every compelling scene where Elizabeth and Philip fight about whether or not he’ll kneel in front of her at her coronation, there are five of Philip stomping around apparently cross that the heir to the throne he married has somehow become monarch. Margaret and Peter’s affair crawls along while the show spends ages revelling the admittedly great but also admittedly dead King George.
In trying to balance too much, The Crown delivers a relatively lightweight product. Yes, the peeps into the upper echelons of British society at this transitional time are interesting, but they’re lost amongst the swooning drama elements- and vice versa. Despite it’s lavishness, The Crown seems to have more in common with the actual royal family than it might have intended- pretty, popular, but more or less useless.