“The Crown”: Netflix offers a sumptuous portrait of Queen Elizabeth II


Queen Elizabeth II has been Queen of England for 64 years. Despite the beloved queen being an intensely private person, those 64 years certainly are full of interesting stories. I assume that an interest in those stories is what lead to the creation of “The Crown.” The first season deals with the years 1947 to 1955, when Elizabeth (played here by Claire Foy) was first on the throne.

When we first see Elizabeth, she is a bright and lovely 25-year-old, preparing to marry Philip (Matt Smith). Although he tries to hide it, her father King George VI is getting sicker and weaker. In the second episode, George dies, making Elizabeth the Queen and sending her life into a tailspin.

Like lots of British television set in the past, like “Downton Abbey” or “Pride & Prejudice,” the best parts of “The Crown” are its production values and its cast. It is one of Netflix’s most expensive shows, with the whole season costing over $100 million. The money is all on the screen. From interiors and clothing to the cinematography, “The Crown” is a visually beautiful show. It also has great performances to balance out all the eye candy.

Foy, an actress who is virtually unknown in America, is excellent as Elizabeth, and was easily my favorite part of the show. Even though Foy plays Elizabeth with all poise and polish, she also shows the fire in the Queen’s eyes, making “Lilibet,” as she is often called, seem like a real person. Smith, best known as the 11th doctor on the TV show “Doctor Who,” is very good as Philip. Although Philip gets a bit more pig-headed as the series goes on, Smith makes his behavior believable. Vanessa Kirby is lively and exciting as Elizabeth’s younger sister Princess Margaret, who is carrying on an affair with someone in the palace over the course of the season. John Lithgow, the last person anyone would look to for the role of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, is fantastic, transforming himself completely. Victoria Hamilton, as The Queen Mother, brings large amounts of depth and melancholy to the older Elizabeth in the last episodes of the season. Alex Jennings clearly relishes in the role of the snake-like Edward, Duke of Windsor, Elizabeth’s uncle and former King of England who gave up the throne to marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson (played by Lia Williams).

What I liked the best about “The Crown” (aside from Foy’s performance) is the way each episode is almost a mini-movie. Although there are plot threads that carry over many episodes, like Margaret’s affair and the increasing tension in Elizabeth and Philip’s marriage, many episodes are contained within the story they tell. Episode four, titled “Act of God”, dramatizes The Great Smog, a period of five days in which a cloud of poisonous fog, caused by cold weather, windless conditions and an anticyclone, descended on London, killing thousands of people. I had never even heard of this event until watching the show, which made the episode all the more compelling.

Even with all these things going for it, “The Crown” is not a perfect show. The first season spans eight years, meaning that the story skips ahead years in time without alerting the audience. Characters come and go without one having the chance to find out who they were. Another small pet peeve for me is that Elizabeth’s first two children Charles (future father of Princes William and Harry) and Anne do not seem to age over the course of eight years.

Even so, the merits of “The Crown” greatly outweigh its flaws. It is a skillfully crafted, and wonderfully written and acted. For people who love period dramas, like myself, “The Crown” is a visually and dramatically rich show. It is great to see Queen Elizabeth II not a quiet elderly woman, but as the resilient and cool young lady she surely once was.

Final Verdict: 9 out of 1o

All 10 episodes of “The Crown” are currently available to watch on Netflix.

Created and written by Peter Morgan.

Cast: Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby, Eileen Atkins, Jeremy Northam, Victoria Hamilton, Ben Miles, Greg Wise, Jared Harris, Stephen Dillane, John Lithgow, Harriet Walter, Alex Jennings, Lia Williams.