Elizabeth’s father, King George VI (Jared Harris), has died and Elizabeth, at 25 years old, is being prepped for ascendancy to take the monarchial reigns with an upcoming coronation.
The thing is, nobody expected the King to die this soon and the new power dynamic in the marriage of Elizabeth and her husband Philip Mountbatten (Matt Smith), the Duke of Edinburgh, comes to a head when he expresses how he doesn't want to kneel to his wife, who’ll soon be the figurehead of the government. Philip asks, incredulous and entitled: "Are you my wife or my queen?"
Claire Foy’s Elizabeth Alexandra Marie Windsor, now Elizabeth II, uses her first aspect of queenly mien to respond with good grace and authority: "I am both. And a strong man would be able to kneel to both."
This don’t-give-me-no-sass intensity fuels an entertaining and complex narrative of a young woman thrust into a world of high drama and low cunning who transcends the expectations set for her as just another empty headed, privileged monarch who’ll sign anything, to a symbol of hope and 20th century empowerment.
The rich costumes, lush cinematography, and the high caliber of actors, like the always on-point John Lithgow as the eccentric, bullying wartime hero Winston Churchill, and Vanessa Kirby as the beautiful and frustrated Princess Margaret, Elizabeth’s sister, make this a potent stew that is worth the attention of any guy.
If you like your on-screen women powerful and perceptive, but also want a crash course on the history and context of UK politics— fascinating insight on why the state of affairs over there is how it stands today, BrExit and all—then this is well worth your time. The directors of each episode don’t try to exaggerate the weight of the events, but do give important points their due.
Season 1’s depiction of London’s killer Great Smog of 1952, that potent mix of really bad air pollution and weather conditions that killed thousands in the city, is aptly chilling. Minor issues in Elizabeth’s daily duties humanize her, like her sudden attacks of facial muscle spasms, so strong that doctors advise her not to smile for the cameras, rendering the problem of a woman’s RBF (Resting Bitch Face) into sharp focus.
But it’s the major call to heroism moments that make this one compelling, like the tension-filled confrontation with the Prime Minister Churchill, when she discovers that his family has been hiding his health woes, to the detriment of UK politics.
Claire Foy (you may remember her as Anne Boleyn in the BBC’s Wolf Hall mini-series) in season 1 carries the series on her mighty acting shoulders—big eyes, quirky lips, and alabaster features breathing life into a 25-year-old Princess who must quickly turn into a Queen, faced with the task of leading the English monarchy, the 52 nations of the Commonwealth, and forging a working relationship with the war-hardened, aging Winston Churchill.
Season 1 netted the series Best Drama at the Golden Globes and also a Globe for Foy and an Emmy for John Lithgow. But it’s in season 2 that we see how Elizabeth becomes the ossified, almost archaic, and in many places despised representation of a vestigial era we know now, something that’s resistant to change and thus has no place in the modern world.
The most recent season begins with the volatile and literally explosive 1956 Suez Canal Crisis, where territories like Egypt, the many places where Pax Brittania used to hold sway, are now in almost open revolt. Exploring the political rivalries and personal intrigues across a new decade of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign from that first episode up through to 1963’s Profumo scandal, where her husband Philip is entangled in an underground high-class mix of indecency and political intrigue, season 2 mostly meanders and investigates the various characters around Elizabeth and how they, in turn, see her.
Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street steadily become antiquated representations as a new era begins and the great hippie explosion of the '60s fast approaches. Queen Elizabeth, already surging into middle age, struggles to navigate a world that's changing.
Between the revelation of Philip’s sisters’ Nazi ties, Princess Margaret’s lovelorn woes and poor choice in men, and Elizabeth’s hard pregnancies, the Queen’s story is relegated to an anchor point as we take a peek into the other royal lives, rambling and mostly oblique in its narrative.
Elizabeth II is now the longest reigning Brit monarch at 65 years of tenure, having seen 12 American presidents come and go, and a life benchmarked by many of history’s worst moments—including the recent London and Manchester terror attacks.
This is the last season of the current cast, with season 3 featuring much older actors seeing the Windsors into the next era that tackles a bad divorce for Princess Margaret, an introduction to the controversial Camilla Parker Bowles, and likely (it’s rumored) a cameo of when Diana Spencer (you know who) first met Prince Charles. Dude, you don’t want to miss that.
“The Crown” seasons 1 and 2 are available for streaming on Netflix.