I’ve long awaited to watch The Crown. But despite being British myself, my own lack of interest in the Royal Family in the newspapers always made me put it off. I don’t hate the royal lot or anything – although Andrew (no longer his royal magesty) seems as though he may have earned it, given his affiliation with Epstein – I just don’t have much affinity for them. It’s indifference rather than opposition. But alas, I needed a new show to watch and The Crown was there so, one day, I turned it on.
And what immediately surprised me was how much British history I was learning from it. Of course I understand the makers of the show can’t know every detail and that there are natural embellishments for the sake of drama and filling in the gaps, but even so I found myself learning about stuff I feel school should have taught me but simply didn’t. First and foremost was that the Suez crisis was a thing that happened. How could I not know my own country wrongfully orchestrated a war? If I had to guess, probably because it’s something the country would rather forget – learning that we’re not top of the food chain anymore, even with French and Israeli assistance. Sure teach me about slavery, and then brush it under the rug to tell me how big our old empire used to be, but miss out that one time in recent history where we rushed into a war that wasn’t entirely legal. I also didn’t know Winston Churchill was Primeminister twice in his lifetime, and found all that business about the fog over London to be interesting. The implications of Prince Philip maybe being involved in a sex scandal too were intriguing.
But don’t even get me started on the Duke of Winsor having frighteningly close ties to the Nazi’s both before and during the second world war, to the point where Churchill sent him to the Behamas to get him out of the picture. Look, I realise I can’t blame the schools for everything as some amount of responsibility to learn my country’s history should also rest on my own shoulders… But it seems MILDLY disingenuous of the education system to sweep the fact that a man once King was in those circles around the time of his reign.
And what makes all these fascinating learning experiences I underwent work is that I also bought into the well-written drama of the show – that is to say the parts the writers certainly had to take some artistic license on in order to make the whole narrative fit together. Of all things, I found myself particularly enjoying the episodes with Princess Margarett because the controversies surrounding her private love life were so ludicrous.
The writing isn’t the only thing to be praised here, because it would all fall flat if not bought to life by good actors, and I’m happy to say that if there’s one thing this show does undeniably well it is casting. If I’m being completely honest, I was unfamiliar with almost everyone in the show with exception of John Lithgow as Winston Churchill. He particularly surprised me because I was used to seeing him in comedic roles, and yet he does an excellent job here as the Primeminister. The only other actor I recognised was Matt Smith; I wasn’t a fan of his depiction of Doctor Who and my only other exposure to him was as a sentient AI who turned someone into a robot in Terminator Genysis. Because of this I was, admittedly, a bit set against him when I began watching but soon found myself captured just as much by his wit and enthusiasm as Prince Philip, as I was by the ever-changing needs of the performance required from Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II.
With all this in mind, I think The Crown’s biggest strength is its consistency in tone, pace and quality. Few shows pull it off; Even the last show I praised as much as this for similar reasons, Better Call Saul, fluctuates once in a blue moon. But, so far, The Crown’s reliability to deliver in the areas it knows how to is what has me dying to keep watching season 3, 4 and the eventual season 5.
There’s a lot of heavy subject matter here. Again, it’s not the sort of thing anyone looking for melodrama or something fast-paced should even consider, but it’s there. It asks a lot of patience from its audience and I realise that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve come to like slow-burns like this. It means when something happens, it feels all the more impactful.
The only thing I could criticise it for would be intertwining the true historical events and it’s artistic licence too well. Often it can be so hard to tell what the facts and drama are that the text in the credits seems to be for the benefit of separating those things more clearly, rather than merely providing an epilogue.
The final thing I should mention is it’s general depiction of the royal family. Here in the UK we have a weird relationship with them now days. Half of our news media wants their heads on pikes, and the other half wants to kiss the ground they walk on. If they pop up in the headline of a news article, you can bet there will be some heated debate about them regardless of what the article is actually about. With that in mind I like that the Crown, at least overtly, doesn’t pick a side. It’s just as happy to celebrate the accomplishments of the royal family and their service to the country as it is to scrutinise and criticise their increasing irrelevancy in the modern world, as well as some of their lesser-known choices. And the best thing about it is that it never feels like it’s trying to play both sides, but rather deliver the message that this sort of discussion can be a bit grey given all the centuries of history behind it.
So yes, I would highly recommend The Crown. It’s an excellent historical drama that grabbed my attention because of how fearlessly it approached the subject matter that was at the heart of why I, personally, feel so indifferent towards the Royal Family; How they can exist in a modern world.