In a £100 million gamble, Netflix presents The Crown, a highly anticipated series rumored to run six seasons and, with its budget, the most expensive series in TV history. The Crown follows the royal family, but in a way we haven’t been privy to before—behind closed doors. In this way, the show largely aims to deglamorize the life of the royal family and remind the show’s American audience that the royals are just like us.
Immediately, we’re immersed in a somber and gloomy color palette. The show makes an effort to destabilize any of our previously-held notions about the glitz and glamour of royal living. Not only does it make for a more humble picture of royalty, but it makes the intensity of the series’ soundtrack less alarming and, oddly enough, more quaint—in a word, cute. It’s entirely overdone and entirely underwhelming, perhaps because £100 million in production can only achieve so much.
Yet in all its intensity, the characters—not including King George, played by Jared Harris, who was previously known for his role as Lane Pryce in Mad Men—seem underdeveloped and overplayed—well, at least at the show’s start. As the plot develops it becomes clear that The Crown is an image of the House of Windsor under a fixed cultural microscope, analyzed with acute detail so that we might better acquire an accurate, psychological portrait of each character.
That said, the plot is meant to retain focus mainly on the private life of Elizabeth II (Claire Foy), the very woman who sits on the British throne today, as she dons the crow. Nevertheless, writer Peter Morgan, known for his work on the 2006 film The Queen, chooses to front load the drama of the show so that it weighs heavily on the health of the king and, as an extension, the well-being of the state. This has the effect of helping us understand the gravitas of his sudden death and the underpreparedness of Elizabeth II.
The Crown is likely to draw new subscribers to Netflix, arguably from an older demographic, exactly the sort of audience attracted to epic costume dramas much like the popular series Downton Abbey. According to The Telegraph, the royal family was anxious about the release of the series, as Morgan declines all offers from Buckingham Palace to assist with research for the script.
This is not to say that the show is historically inaccurate, but with this artistic freedom, Morgan was better able to humanize the royal family with compassion and a human quality that we all hold deep within us but prefer not to share. It’s an image of a family at its core, and we can’t help but imagine our lives as queen or king in such circumstances.
As we get past the initial feelings of fear and intimidation, we are able to set aside our own impressions of what it might be like as we watch Claire Foy give us a complex image of Princess Elizabeth, and then Queen Elizabeth. The acting is deeply satisfying to say the least. Each performance outdoes the last. Jared Harris’s King George seems an unlikely match to Colin Firth’s of the King’s Speech, though it works with all its quiet depth and affliction. We’re heartbroken by his demise and anxious for the rise of the queen, who consistently outplays Helen Mirren’s performance, as she achieves the image of the queen as girlish at worst but with an unexpecting grit at best.
The Crown is worthy of our attention and our binge-watching tendencies—the same psychotic compulsiveness we grant to our favorite shows.
Featured Image By Sony Pictures Television