Strangely, even though I love history and learning things about our great nations rich heritage, I do not watch a lot of shows like Victoria and other BBC period pieces detailing historical events throughout the United Kingdom. I think the problem with that is that I watch a lot of American shows that have flown over the pond and infected our networks.
I rarely watch anything on the BBC, other than something like Blue Planet or some other David Attenborough documentary, which is why I think I miss a lot of the good quality British shows that come out. There is actually quite a lot of these to enjoy, but I fear I am a little too buried in the vast expanse of Hollywood produced and styled TV shows.
I have been know to watch these shows from time to time, but most of these have that same US style and are attempting to recreate the same magic, so period pieces are often left unwatched.
So when my wife said she was thinking of watching The Crown; a Neflix exclusive about the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II, I kind of gave it a miss and thought it would be a good thing for her to watch while I was out down the pub, or round a friend’s house, in order to keep her occupied without me. We have difficulties at times with regards to TV shows, as we might both want to watch something, and it doubles up as spending time together, so we tend to keep shows aside for “quality time”, and each have our own separate programs for as and when.
However, I kept catching glimpses of The Crown, staggering into bed drunk, or retiring to bed following a gaming session downstairs, and every time I did, I found myself more and more intrigued.
It was little things such as John Lithgow playing Winston Churchill,or Matt Smith’s engrossing portrayal of the Duke of Edinburgh; Prince Philip, but whenever it was on, I found myself asking my wife questions about what had previous happened and what was going on.
So she offered to rewatch it with, and I was more than happy to agree.
The Crown is currently two seasons on Netflix, with the second only coming out in December 2017, and follows the history of Queen Elizabeth II from her marriage, supposedly, all the way up to the present day.
Season 1 comprised of her father; King George VI’s death and Elizabeth being made Queen at the young age of 26, at the start of her life with Philip, when they were suddenly thrown into this position of great power (well Elizabeth was, Philip had to kind of give up everything and was forced to live in her shadow – which he does often use against her). It also followed various members of the Royal Family dealing with their own personal situations, such as Princess Margaret not being able to marry the man that she loved because he was a divorcee, and it dealt with Winston Churchill, after he became Prime Minister again after being voted out a few years after the second world war and his struggles with the world changing around him.
This was the first season though, and if you want a mini-review of that, I personally loved it. While I was a bit disappointed as each is kind of its own separate story, rather than one continuous story, which it did do from time to time, but mostly the season covered different events throughout the first ten or so years of her reign, such as the Great Smog, and making her husband (who has had to give up his surname, titles, house, life, hobbies) a Duke.
It did, however, feature the best episode out of entire series. It is an episode called ‘Assassins’ and it was so good that it is worth taking a little time to talk about it. The episode is centred around the build up to Winston Churchill’s 80th birthday and how the government and Royals have commissioned a painting of him in celebration for everything that he has done. Now, Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones) plays Graham Sutherland who is the artist who painted it, and he spends some time with Churchill painting him in the flesh and the two learn lots about one another. While nothing overly notable happens, the episode is just beautifully written and there is this amazing moment when Churchill realises why he spent so much time painting the duck pond, and it is probably one of my favourite scenes is anything! Which is pretty bold to say. The two actors are just fantastic together and the story is really deep and meaningful. I would recommend it to anyone.
Anyway, on to season 2 of The Crown.
When we left off at the end of season 1, Philip is just about to be shipped off on a tour around the southern hemisphere, mainly to keep him out of the way and doubling up with making him feel important, but he sees it as the former and the two of them have a massive row, showing us, what the entire series is all about, that uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
The first two episodes are all centred around this, as while Philip is off on his tour (which is actually just a massive naval jolly up! I never realised that Prince Philip was such a lad!), Elizabeth discovers a photo of a ballerina that Philip apparently had an affair with, as well as it is all coming out about various people in Prince Philip’s Thursday Lunch Club (a boys only club where various scandalous activities go down) and everyone tries to keep it as contained as possible before it is linked to Philip and the Royal family are marked for it.
It was a really good opening to the season, and it made me believe that the season was going to be one continuous storyline, rather than each episode being self contained plots, but alas this was not the case. After the end of the second episode and this Lunch Club story ends, the rest of the season are all individual and continue the same layout as the first season, which is not in anyway a bad thing, as each episode holds their own and some of them are fantastically written. One example of this is the episode that deals with Prince Charles going to Gordonstoun, the same school that Philip attended at the beginning of World War 2, and covers both Charles’ experiences there, and Philip’s past. The sections in the “present” show how difficult it was for Charles given how Philip was as a father, but it does not make the future King look that great, bless him, but the most interesting part of this episode is Philip’s past and how he was sent to Scotland just at the height of the Nazi’s power over Europe and how his sisters death affected him, showing us that the people of the school really became his family.
Now, just a little side note here. Philip mentions how his sister died, along with who died with her, in season 1, and I personally found it horrifying. It is not like she was tortured or anything, but it is the fact that her children, along with her unborn/recently birth child, was with her at the time, resulting in them all perishing in the plane crash, but the whole thing really did play on my mind and I ended up reading up about it. I was gutted that they actually decided to show it in season 2, as we get to see this crash in, reasonably most detail, and it was just as sad for me the second time around.
This alone goes to show what an impact The Crown has had on me since watching it. I have become heavily invested into the actual story, seeing it as historic events, even though some of it is dramatised and maybe some of it did not happen, at least exactly how the show portrays it, I was pretty much hooked for the entirety of the series.
You may notice that I actually have not mention anything about the main cast. Well Claire Foy does Lizzie brilliantly. Her voice is spot on, and watching her portrayal of the Queen makes you really sympathetic to her Majesty, making me realise that she is just a public figure, rather than someone who has power, however, she does have the final say. In the first season she is pushed in various directions by her Prime Minister and the government, but this season she is really taking on the role of Queen for herself. One episode centred around a shady incident with the Soviets and Ghana during the height of the Cold War, where the Queen goes against their wishes and does what she thinks is best, thankfully working out in her favour, is fantastic. In fact this is the best episode of the season. It is called “Dear Mrs. Kennedy” and it focuses on Elizabeth feeling old and useless in the face of Jacqueline Kennedy, who has suddenly become a well beloved political figure during JFK’s Presidency (played by Michael C. Hall), and the Queen’s reckless behaviour is to show the world that she is more than just a face on a coin.
There is a brilliant scene when the Queen invites Jackie over for some tea after hearing rumours that the first lady was saying a few mean things about her, and the Queen shows her just how important and powerful she truly is. While it is not at the same level as Cersi on Game of Thrones, it was still impressive and a great scene to watch.
Matt Smith as Prince Philip is another fantastic member of the cast and actually does become the main focus for a number of episodes. He is often seen as a spoilt selfish “lad”, and Matt does so well to portray this, as well as showing us his descent side, like he does in the season finale.
It is worth noting that the Queen, in real life, loves The Crown, however, Prince Philip does not, probably because the show makes him look bad from time to time.
A couple of other noteworthy mentions is Vanessa Kirby, as Princess Margaret, who is great in her role as she has the most amazing eyes that show us all kinds of emotions, which is a trait not a lot of actors and actresses can truly do, but Vanessa does this beautifully, playing the spoilt, but overshadowed Princess, who has no real power of her own, not even who she falls in love with.
Another is Alex Jennings as Edward, Duke of Windsor, who was the former King who gave up the crown for love. His sorrowful acting is always engaging and we find ourselves hanging on his every word. He has some great moments when he tries to come back into the fold of the Royal household, only for more revelations to come out of the woodwork.
And Pip Torrens deserves a mention as Tommy Lascelles, the kind of Little Finger of The Crown, only he has the best interests of her Royal Majesty in mind. While he is more in season 1, they find great reasons to bring Tommy back into the fold whenever they can, and I for one am grateful.
I think the main season I am focusing on the stories, rather than the people who play the characters, is because the third season of The Crown apparently will have a completely different cast to play the roles we now have associated with the likes of Matt Smith and Claire Foy, which is a bit of a shame, but so long as the writing is just as good, then it will hopefully be just as enjoyable.
Overall, the second season of The Crown is more of what the first season gave us. I would recommend it to anyone as it is an eye-opening window into the lives of our Queen. If you are a British citizen and have a fondness of historical knowledge, then this is for you. Even if you are not British and you are interested in similar pieces of work, then The Crown is a great show for learning about the lives of the Royal family during the early years of Queen Elizabeth II.
It is brilliantly written and acted, and while nothing action packed happens, there are tense and intriguing moments that are as good as any some of the most beloved television shows out there.
It’s only downfall, for me, is that that most of the episodes are individual and do not run as one concurrent story, regardless of the few aspects that come back into it now and again, but other than this, The Crown is probably one of the best things I have watched on TV this year (it is only the beginning of March to be fair though).