Last March when I finally took the Netflix plunge, one of the reasons to do so was to watch season two of The Crown, season one of which had wowed me on blu-ray several weeks earlier. Here we are almost a year later, and I’ve only now gotten around to watching its second season. Partly this is an indication of all the other content on there distracting me, but also the strange thing about The Crown; it isn’t the most enticing thing to me in prospect, but when watching it, it gets its hooks into you and is surprisingly brilliant. On paper it should be a fairly horrid soap opera about a dysfunctional family in a modern open society paradoxically plagued by class and entitlement, and of course that’s exactly what it is, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.
Its a curious dichotomy- I am no Royalist and hate celebrity culture etc and see no reason for someone to be revered simply from chance of birth and certainly have no belief in any divine right to a life of privilege etc. So watching this I’m always as likely to cheer Lizzie’s moral fortitude as boo and hiss at her inability to dress herself or open doors, grimace at her oaf of her husband’s self-entitled behavior or sneer at the cowering sycophants that are her aides. Its like a love/hate relationship and no show gets me grumbling/shouting at the screen as much as this one does- it’s clearly an ideal candidate for Gogglebox (I suppose it’s been a subject, but I hate reality tv with a passion too so have no idea).
But as an historical drama, mapping out, from her perspective, the events of the second half of the 20th Century, its utterly captivating and enthralling. Season two continues the series account of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and the family and politics surrounding her and it’s a vividly convincing depiction of 1950s/1960s Britain and its place in the world. Indeed, it’s those times and those key events that are the real draw, and far more interesting than the family themselves- although, mind, there is no doubt a morbid interest in its dysfunctional machinations.
Its exquisitely made. The cast are very good, the art direction impeccable, the costumes, the sets, the visual effects hugely impressive, the music very fine (including some brilliant choices in classical music to support the very ‘School of Zimmer’ score). Its brilliant, enthralling television on a subject that should really leave me cold, and that’s the genuine magic of this show. If Netflix manage to see it through to its six-season plan, it should be a major benchmark for period drama; the recasting every two seasons of (I assume) all the cast is a brave and challenging move, mind. I’ve grown quite attached to Claire Foy’s depiction of the young Queen and will be fascinated by any issues reconnecting to the character when played by Olivia Coleman from season three onwards. Afterall, is it the character or the actress playing her that demands the most credit? Our connections to characters and the actors playing them is a curious amalgam of talent and chemistry, and just as our relationships with various incarnations of Dr Who or Batman will testify, some run hot some cold and it’s going to be interesting to see if the format and creative team behind the show is the real pull or if some viewers will turn away. For my part, I do have a particular fascination with the Britain of the 1950s and 1960s, in some ways it all seeming like some magical other planet, so strange and yet also familiar, and do wonder if the 1970s will hold the same interest.
Historical accuracy, particularly regards the intimate details of the Royal family, will always be subject to some debate, but the scripts are very well written, each individual episode very often a brilliantly constructed story all of its own, and I look forward to season three with great interest. In some ways, The Crown seems just as much a creative juggernaut as Game of Thrones, as if obeying and subject to a whole different set of rules to other television.