‘THE Crown’ is one of the classiest shows we’ve seen on television. We saw the first two seasons on Netlfix and the production values are truly elegant, with Claire Foy delivering a truly winning performance as the young Queen Elizabeth (who is now 94 years old). Each season has 10 well produced episodes each.
The first season starts with the young Elizabeth’s wedding to Prince Philip (Matt Smith) in 1947 and depicts the early part of her reign until 1955. Philip is prince of Greece and Denmark, but he has to renounce his titles and take the name of Philip Mountbatten to marry Elizabeth, heiress to King George VI.
After the wedding, they move to Malta where Philip joins the British Royal Navy and Elizabeth gives birth to son Charles and later, to daughter Anne. They have to return to England four years later when King George is afflicted with terminal illness and dies on Feb. 6, 1952.
Elizabeth is formally crowned as the new sovereign at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953. Her younger sister, Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) falls in love with a divorced pilot, Peter Townsend (Ben Miles), and asks the queen’s permission to get married. Their law on royal marriages forbids Margaret to get marry without the queen’s blessing until she’s 25 years old. But both Elizabeth and their Queen Mother (Victoria Hamilton) are against it.
After learning that Prime Minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) has been hiding vital things from her, Elizabeth realizes that while growing up, she didn’t really get a proper education as a princess, so she gets a private tutor for further studies and improve herself. Meantime, Philip grows dissatisfied being a mere ornament by his wife’s side and his frustration results in a heated conflict witnessed by some press people. Philip later apologizes. Season 1 ends with Churchill resigning as prime minister (PM) and being replaced by Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam.)
Season 2 starts with the Suez Canal crisis which the new PM fails to handle well with military intervention. He eventually resigns and Harold Macmillan becomes the new PM. Elizabeth and Philip are in Portugal when they discuss their marriage and both acknowledge that separation is not an option, even after the queen got jealous when Philip is linked to a Russian ballerina.
Philip makes it clear that he is sore that their son Charles outranked him in court, so his wife humors him and gives him the title Prince of the United Kingdom, His Royal Highness Duke of Edinburgh.
One of the best episodes in Season 2 shows Lord Altrincham criticizing the queen’s style of public speaking and the monarchy’s uppity attitude. The queen secretly arranges a meeting with him and later on heeds his advice to bring the monarchy closer to the public. She agrees that her Royal Christmas message be televised and the Debutante Ball be open to her subjects.
Margaret is disheartened when she learns that Townsend is now engaged to a younger woman and she falls in love with a handsome photographer, Tony Armstrong Jones (Matthew Goode), a playboy, and marries him to become Lord Snowdon.
Elizabeth gives birth to her third child, Prince Andrew in 1960. U.S. Pres. John F. Kennedy (Michael C. Hall) and his enormously popular wife, Jackie (Jodi Balfour), visit Buckingham Palace. The queen treats Jackie well but later learns the U.S. First Lady insulted her and the palace in another gathering.
This prompts her to be more active politically and meets Ghana Pres. Kwame Krumah and even dances with him to persuade him to renew his friendship with the U.K. and not Russia. Jackie is later shown visiting the queen at Windsor Castle and apologizes to her as she claimed not to be herself when she insulted the queen. This episode ends with the assassination of JFK (who’s portrayed as a real womanizer here) and with the queen writing a personal letter to Mrs. Kennedy.
Season 2 also focuses on the harsh education Prince Charles got from Gordonstoun, the boarding school in Scotland, where his father also studied. In March 1963, the Christine Keeler-John Profumo scandal made headlines worldwide. Profumo is the secretary of state and Keeler is a high class call girl. Prince Philip is implicated as the mystery man who attends the parties hosted by Dr. Stephen Ward where party girls are invited.
The doctor later commits suicide. The queen confronts Philip if he’s the mystery man and he denies it, affirming his love for her. The queen gets pregnant again with their fourth child, Prince Edward.
Season 3 is now available but we haven’t watched it yet. The queen is now played by Olivia Colman, Oscar best actress for “The Favourite”. We don’t know if she’s as good as Claire Foy, whose very persuasive performance is difficult to top. Foy gives an astonishingly classy, controlled portrayal of the queen, giving it so much star power. We just wish she was given a better looking husband who is not just a whining man who didn’t really grow up.
Each episode of Seasons 1 and 2 hits its mark and succeeds in telling its own complete narrative, full of life and humor. It’s a painless way of learning some history. The cinematography gives gorgeously shot visuals with seamless, lavish production design that recreates the Throne Room in Buckingham Palace and all its 1950s locales.
The show gets excellent support from Vanessa Kirby as Margaret, she truly smolders and sizzles as the recalcitrant princess, showing that royal princesses are mere mortals like us, not divine. She’s replaced by Helena Bonham Carter in Season 3 and they most certainly don’t look alike at all.