When I was home in Miami, FL over Thanksgiving my mother and my sister were raving about the new Netflix original series "The Crown." They had both devoured it within days. Personally, I was hesitant to watch because I don't usually enjoy those types of shows. I couldn't get into "Downton Abbey" or "The Tudors," not even with smoking hot Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
Despite my reservations, I decided to give "The Crown" a try during my trip to San Francisco last week. I knew I would have plenty of time on both plane rides (six hours each way), plus a bit of down time in the hotel.
I was skeptical during the first two episodes, but by episode three, I was hooked!
*SPOILER ALERT! Do not read on if you do not want to know anything about the plot or the characters in this series.*
For those who are not familiar, “The Crown” is the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne. Her father, King George VI, passed away at 56, leaving her next in line. This was 1952 and she was just 26 years old.
In my lifetime, I have only known Queen Elizabeth II as an elderly woman - mother to Prince Charles, mother-in-law to Princess Diana and grandmother to Princes William and Harry. It was fascinating to learn about her childhood, her marriage, her relationship with her sister, and of course, the challenges she faced adjusting to her role as monarch.
In the series, Queen Elizabeth II is played by British actress Claire Foy. She gives a multidimensional performance that shows true depth and range. She moves seamlessly from intense scenes where the Queen is going toe-to-toe with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, to softer scenes where she is consoling her ego-bruised husband.
Over the course of the series, it became clear to me that the Queen’s greatest struggle was balancing her two personas - the private one (wife, mother, sister, daughter) and the public one (head of church and state).
In recognition of her stellar performance, Foy has been nominated for a Golden Globe in the “Best Actress in a Television Drama” category. She is going up against Caitriona Balfe of “Outlander,” Keri Russell of “The Americans,” Winona Ryder of “Stranger Things” (another Netflix show) and Evan Rachel Wood of “Westworld.”
The Queen’s husband, Philip Mountbatten, is brought to life by British actor Matt Smith, who you may recognize from the BBC’s “Doctor Who.” I knew right away I didn’t like Philip. He seemed self-centered and like an Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald-type playboy. As Elizabeth is forced to transition from her everyday life (which was privileged, but not nearly as high profile) to her role as Queen, Philip feels dwarfed by her and their marriage begins to unravel.
In addition to her marital issues, the Queen is also in a constant power struggle with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who is played with unparalleled commitment by actor John Lithgow. Lithgow is most commonly recognized as a comedic actor, but he came alive in this dramatic role. He physically transformed into Winston (much like Eddie Redmayne when he played Stephen Hawking). Lithgow changed everything about himself - his walk, his posture, his breathing, the way he speaks and the way he eats (sloppily, apparently). He is also nominated for a Golden Globe in January for “Best Supporting Actor in a Television Drama.”
There were two particular storylines that really drew me in and made me wish I had been alive during those actual events, so I could have more context. The first, was the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936. Edward was King George VI’s older brother, and the rightful heir to the throne. When he fell in love with an American divorcé (very frowned upon by the monarchy), he decided he would rather be with the love of his life, than accept the crown (you can’t make this stuff up).
The second story that had me gripped was Princess Margaret (Elizabeth’s younger sister) and Group Captain Peter Townsend’s forbidden romance. It seemed that the public was rooting for the couple, but Elizabeth felt she couldn’t renounce the rules of the monarchy to grant them permission to marry. In the scene where Elizabeth has to break the news to Margaret, you can see the Queen’s painful struggle between her two worlds.
For those who did watch, I had two favorite episodes - “Windsor” (episode three) and “Act of God” (episode four). In “Windsor” it is the first time we see Elizabeth move out of a state of shock about her role as Queen and really embrace her newfound power. In that one episode she stands up to Prime Minister Churchill, her uncle (the abdicated King) and her husband (about whether or not they will move into Buckingham Palace). This was the episode that reeled me in!
In episode four, “Act of God,” a terrifying fog rolls into London for days and days. I love the script for this episode. The way it was written, each morning of the fog spell began with three or four main characters pushing open their bedroom curtains to discover the fog was still looming. That daily routine helped punctuate the events of each day during the frightening storm. I also loved the storyline with Prime Minister Churchill’s young assistant, even though it had a tragic ending.
Across all ten episodes I thought the cinematography, scenery and costumes were magnificent. This is rumored to be the most expensive original series Netflix has ever produced and it’s clear to see why. They really went the extra mile to make everything feel authentic. Check out this slideshow of images that put photos of the actors side by side with pictures of the real life royals they play on the show. The likeness is uncanny!
The show is nominated for a Golden Globe in the “Best Television Drama” category, which is so well deserved. They have super stiff competition - “Game of Thrones” and “This Is Us” just to name two - but if the Queen can lead a whole nation at 26, she can likely win a Golden Globe too.