You knew that when Netflix dropped $130 million on a new TV project to add to their already impressive line of original shows, The Crown was going to be good. But, let me tell you, as a snob for all things Netflix and all things royal, not even I was prepared for the big-budget blockbuster that rewrites the history we all thought we knew.
In the age of media, it seems the royal family is hounded now more than ever. We know their every move, every relationship, and every little secret that is breathed from within Buckingham Palace. But while much can be said about the saga of Charles and Diana, the controversy of Sarah Ferguson, and the every sartorial move of Ms. Middleton, the Queen seems to be well, off limits. Not much is known about her private life because she started her reign during a time when the lines between respect and reporting were not so blurred. The Crown offers its viewers the unique experience to be a fly on the wall of one of the most revered women in the world, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Claire Foy stars as the budding young monarch, joined by her cheeky husband Philip, played by Doctor Who alum Matt Smith. Their blossoming romance is captured in the first episode of the series, as the then-princess marries her prince in an elaborate ceremony fit for a future Queen. However, there is trouble in paradise as Philip struggles to give up the only life he’s ever known (and all the titles that come along with it) and conform to the cold and distant royal family. His transformation is somewhat melancholy, as the vigorous young man must adjust to the constraints of life in the public eye. To place further stress on the family, Elizabeth is torn between her duties as a mother and wife and the growing responsibility placed upon her as her father’s health worsens. Claire Foy tackles her reluctance and uncertainty with a poise the real Queen would surely appreciate.
But even the intriguing private life of the young monarch takes a backseat to the surprising key players in this period piece. John Lithgow commands the screen with his powerful and moving portrayal of the aging Winston Churchill. Lithgow underwent an unbelievable physical transformation to play the scowling and hunchbacked political figure and delivers as one of the most memorable and influential cast members. Regardless of the separation between the government and the monarchy, Churchill was undoubtedly one of Elizabeth’s closest and most respected guides during her unexpected and premature transition into her reign. But, she too was an advisor to him, calling him out when she realized it was time for him to throw in the towel and retire from parliament. Their professional relationship formed into a deep-rooted personal one.
The series doesn’t shy aways from Elizabeth’s more complicated personal relationships, either. Alex Jennings gives an unexpected life to the disgraced Edward, Duke of Windsor, who infamously abdicated the throne and thrust Elizabeth and her family into the spotlight. The Queen’s family holds a deep grudge against the “selfish” man, blaming him for the early death of his brother, the King, and banishing him and his American wife from his homeland. Though Edward wears a chip on his shoulder, his love for his country and family is all too clear. He acts as an advisor to his niece, understanding the sacrifices she has to make like no one else could. And though the spotlight is thrust upon Elizabeth, Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret has some of the most well-acted scenes and juicy storylines of any of the power players. Her forbidden romance with Group Captain Peter Townsend is one of the highlights of the whole show and tests both Elizabeth’s sisterly devotion and Parliament’s reluctance to change. Tradition runs deep in the family, and Margaret threatens to undo hundreds of years of precedent.
Aside from the talent, the exquisite attention to detail in both costume design and setting has to be applauded. Apart from the clear camera quality, it would be difficult to know the difference between an episode of this series and some actual footage of the time. Not a single tapestry, ballgown, or car was out of place, further validating the accuracy of the Netflix series.
Netflix has slated The Crown to run 60 episodes over six seasons, following the Queen from her 1947 wedding all the way to present day. It will surely be interesting to see how the strong-willed monarch conquers the scandals and hardships to come. Aren’t we all excited to see Princess Di on the small screen? But if anything, knowing what we know now about the future of the monarchy, it makes young Elizabeth’s bravery and determination that much more admirable. To take on such a monumental role as a young woman, to survive decades of change, and to emerge as one of the most respected figures in the modern world, well, I’d say that she deserves that crown, after all.
Season one of The Crown is streaming now on Netflix