‘The Crown’ Season 1 Review: Reimagining Elizabeth

November 21, 2016 at 5:33 PM | Posted in TV | Leave a comment
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SPOILER WARNING: This review contains spoilers of The Crown season 1. Read at your own risk!

After Downton Abbey ended its run, there wasn’t anything on television that was at par with the British period drama that would catch my attention. That is, until The Crown came along. The Crown is Netflix’s latest period drama that explores the personal life of Queen Elizabeth II during her younger years.

The series might look as splendid and glamorous as Downton Abbey, but the similarities end there. Sure, a few familiar faces from Downton can be seen in The Crown and footmen, personal valets and ladies in waiting pepper some of the scenes here and there, but the series varies greatly as it is based on true events unlike Downton which was mostly fiction.

Most of the action in The Crown season 1 center on a young Queen Elizabeth II and her relationship with her husband Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, her sister Princess Margaret, and the power struggle between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Cabinet.

Photo credit: imdb.com

The Crown is basically a reimagining of what might have transpired in Elizabeth II’s personal life as she copes with her position as the reigning monarch while balancing her role as a wife, mother and sister. It is an ambitious project for series creator Peter Morgan as the public knows that the British royal family is very tight-lipped about their personal lives.

The pilot episode starts in 1947 when a young Princess Elizabeth (played by Claire Foy) married Philip (played by Matt Smith) against the initial wishes of her family. King George VI is presented as a loving but ailing monarch who is suffering from tumor. Actor Jared Harris played the role of a doting father and well-loved king perfectly well, with a just a tinge of that well-known stutter.

Shortly after King George VI’s death, Elizabeth is thrust into the limelight as she inherits the crown. She is only 25 years old when the king died. This is where the high point of drama starts – when news of the king’s death spread throughout Buckingham Palace while Elizabeth is away on a Commonwealth tour in Kenya with Philip.

The following episodes attempt to explore how the royal family cope with the death of the king, particularly on how Elizabeth grieves her father’s death and her struggle to keep her personal life as normal as possible after her ascension to the throne. The episodes show how the family is left embittered with Edward’s abdication from the throne as well.

The fifth episode titled “Smoke and Mirrors” takes viewers to an inside look of how a transition to a new monarch looks like. The coronation scene, however, seems anti-climactic as most of it can be seen only through a televised footage of the event and through a distracting narration from Edward.

For the most part of the series, Elizabeth is presented as indecisive and quite still naïve of how things run at the Palace despite being the reigning monarch. She relies on the advice of her mother, her private secretary, from Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and other people. She is also adamant in following her husband’s wishes but for the most part she fails. I’m surprised to learn that she doesn’t have a college degree as she is educated only by a private tutor. She also seems detached from her children. Her husband seems to be the one spending more time with their kids.

Photo credit: engadget.com

Philip, on the other hand, is relegated to the sidelines. Apart from being with their children, he spends most of his time learning how to fly a plane, complaining and sulking about his position and being emasculated, and going out with his male friends. He doesn’t do much until he is given tasks to do, such as heading the coronation committee or accompanying Elizabeth in her diplomatic tours. He looks bored for the most part.

But perhaps the most notable of all these characters is Winston Churchill, played by John Lithgow. Lithgow presents Churchill as a grumpy old man desperate to cling on to power while a much younger and able protégé is eager for him to step down. With Churchill looking ever so frail, I thought he might drop dead at any moment. While the “Assassins” episode focuses more on him, it lacks the tension and drama needed to grab the viewers’ attention. His decision to step down as prime minister after the realization that he’s too frail and old for the position is not as emotional as I expected it to be.

The Crown Season 1 (Photo credit: vox.com)

Which brings me to the 10th and last episode of the season titled “Gloriana.” The season ended on a weak note as it veers away from Elizabeth and focuses on Princess Margaret and her doomed love affair with Peter Townsend. Throughout the later part of the series, Elizabeth’s sister tries to defy the monarchy by wanting to marry a divorcé who is also a member of staff at the Palace. But this final episode shows Elizabeth putting her foot down and forbidding the marriage – after she sought advice from the Church of England and the new prime minister.

The final scene looks uncertain as it only shows Elizabeth decked in her lavish white gown with the crown on top of her head. It doesn’t seem to hint on what lies ahead for her, or what the series will tackle in the next season.

For me, The Crown is likable enough but still lacking the depth and oomph of Downton Abbey. But perhaps this is because The Crown is merely a speculative story on what might have transpired behind closed doors of the Buckingham Palace during that period. The Crown might be based on real events, but the characters suffer from becoming fictionalized as it attempts to humanize Elizabeth and most of the royal family. In reality, they are a family notorious for keeping their private lives just that – private. We never know how they feel about certain things or events. And I think it’s better that way – that we don’t know about or pry on their private matters.

I know it might seem unfair to compare the two shows, but part of the appeal of Downton was because of its larger than life characters like Lady Violet and Mr. Bates. And even though some of its story arcs were based on real life, it was mostly fiction. Thus, its creator was given more freedom to take the characters to wherever he wanted, with a humor or two thrown in.


(NOTE: This article originally appeared on creators.co)

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