Costing no less than £100 million Netflix’s newest TV series The Crown is the most expensive one yet. Its subject matter, however, could hardly be described as new. For decades, various costume dramas, whether in the form of film or television, have provided us with many insights and stories regarding the British royal family. Yet The Crown, written and created by Peter Morgan (writer of film The Queen and theatre play The Audience), gives its own original take on the reign of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) and all the personal, public and political happenings involved.
The show does not only take the viewer inside the famous walls of Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street, but straight into the private issues of the royal family in post-war Britain. The first season, comprising of ten well-filled episodes, starts off with Princess Elizabeth’s marriage to Philip Mountbatten (Matt Smith) in 1947 and soon moves onto the sudden death of her father King George VI (Jared Harris), forcing her on the throne at the age of 25. The title of the series is chosen well since, despite Foy’s powerful performance, it is not necessarily Elizabeth who is at the centre. Rather, it is ‘The Crown’ itself and everyone affected by its power and weight. Forced upon Elizabeth, The Crown does not only represent her struggle to take a stand amidst a Kingdom and Ministry dominated by men, but also her internal disparity between duty and family, effectively described by a quite amusing Edward VIII (Alex Jennings) as “human and crown engaged in a fearful civil war.”
Despite spending more than two years on investigating the royal family, Morgan and his crew apparently never had any direct contact with them, which explains the boldness of the series as well as Morgan’s personal mark on his characters. Together with a great cast, he succeeded in creating characters that are not merely rounded and believable but also greatly sympathetic, from the unruly Philip and rebellious Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) to the often aggravating yet endearing Churchill (a glorious performance by John Lithgow). Even smaller roles like Professor Hogg (Alan Williams as Elizabeth’s tutor) add depth and humour to the series. When Hogg advises Elizabeth to summon the Prime Minister and Lord Salisbury for “a good dressing down like children”, she asks why they would stand for that. “They’re English, male and upper class. A good dressing down from Nanny is what they most want in life.”
Resembling Downton Abbey in the subject of royals battling the “dawn of a new era”, and epic dramas such as War & Peace in its grandeur, The Crown gives us a compelling and dramatic portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II and the beginnings of the modern monarchy. After all, it is fiction, a dramatic story intended to excite and engage, not to be confused with or critiqued as a documentary. Therefore the series, presenting a mixture of history, politics, love, intrigue, breath-taking imagery, and the most extraordinary costumes, is a treat for the period drama lover and a magnificent piece of cultural capital.