By Sandra J. Hutchinson
One thing that has saved my sanity during election week came from an unexpected place—the online streaming platform Netflix. When I had had enough of Anderson, Megyn and all their ilk, I could go to my Roku and disappear in to the intrigue of 20th century British monarchy.
Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II; John Lithgow as Winston Churchill; Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret; Matt Smith as Prince Philip
On November 4, Netflix released the first season of The Crown, a biographical epic of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest ever reigning English monarch. I had never “binge-watched” anything until getting hooked on The Crown. I just couldn’t get enough of it.
The first of ten episodes (one hour each) begins in 1947 with Prince Philip of Denmark and Greece renouncing his royal titles and becoming a British subject, in order to marry Princess Elizabeth, heir to King George VI (known popularly as the King with the speech impediment depicted in the film The King’s Speech.) After the King dies, Elizabeth becomes the monarch, as well as the head of the Church of England, at the young age of 25.
The series focuses on personal relationships both within the royal family and between the family and prominent members of the government, like Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Throughout the episodes, we see Elizabeth struggle as she learns how to separate her personal feelings and desires from her the actions she must take as constitutional monarch.
The casting is eerily realistic— I googled various names and found the resemblance striking between many of the actors and the real people they portray (for example, Group Captain Peter Townsend and actor Ben Miles). The reserved but firm Elizabeth is depicted by Claire Foy (Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall), and the blustery Churchill is played well by a bulked-up (courtesy of a “fat suit”) John Lithgow. Prince Philip is played by Matt Smith, known as the eleventh doctor in BBC’s Doctor Who.
John Lithgow donned a “fat suit” and placed “plumpers” in his mouth to round out his face to play Winston Churchill.
Flashbacks in the show show us the tumultuous time when Elizabeth’s uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in 1936, in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. This marriage was not permitted by the church. Likewise, Elizabeth’s brash younger sister Margaret wished to married divorced Peter Townsend. After the Queen first pledged her support as long as the couple waited until Margaret turned 25, she then regrettably learned that if they married, Margaret would have to forfeit all her royal rights and income and live in exile, much like her disgraced uncle Edward VII. Margaret and Townsend elected not to marry.
Alex Jennings, as Edward, the Duke of Windsor, who abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson. Here he holds a bar of Floris soap.
Of course, the relationship between Elizabeth and Prince Philip is central to the series. Philip is forced to give up his naval career and take second seat to his wife, resulting in resentment and some tension. After all, he couldn’t even give his two children his own surname— Mountbatten. While you feel a bit sorry for him at times, you basically expect him to get with the program— the royal program, that is. After all, he lives in some pretty nice digs, gets to fly aerobatic loops in little open-cockpit planes, and hangs out at the gentlemen’s luncheon club.
The filming locations do a good job of placing the viewer inside what appear to be, but are not in fact, Buckingham Palace and other royal residences like Clarence House and the Scottish castles. Ely and Southwark Cathedrals substitute for Westminster.
Word is that the second season of The Crown is in pre-production and won’t be released until late next year. What a long, long wait that will be.