‘The Crown’

An augmented docu-drama about the Windsors is legitimate and believable enough for you to be convinced it’s not a work of fiction.

Inbred German, descended from the insane and related to Nazis; looks good in a frock.
Inbred German, descended from the insane and related to Nazis; looks good in a frock.

The Netflix series The Crown has a couple of aces up its sleeve: one is the fact that it’s a narrative based on real-life events that continue to transpire more than six decades after the ‘start’ of the story, so they have a lot of material to work with; and, two is the fact that whoever ponied up the dough for this thing ponied up a whole mess of it, so the series is lavish, immaculately staged, and impeccably cast and written. It really is amazing what one can achieve with a spare hundred million dollars at one’s disposal, if one is so inclined.

The Crown really hits all the right notes. You don’t, for a second think that this was shot on the cheap on some backlot; they employ enough digital effects to alter the landscapes and sets to make it look as if it was shot on location at Buckingham Palace, or Sandringham, Number 10, or wherever. Sets, costumes, photography, music, sound – it’s a stunning production.

Peter Morgan’s writing has always erred to the speculative when it comes to these true life pieces of his, from his Tony Blair trilogy (The Deal, The Queen, The Special Relationship), to Frost/Nixon and now this – it comes down to what you can only assume is immaculate research and dialogue… which by its very nature has to be speculative, but is still plausible. The thing could be wall-to-wall fiction, but the way its constructed and played out makes it look nothing but believable.

It’s a rare actors’ showcase to boot. Claire Foy – for whom I had zero frame of reference – is stunning as Elizabeth II, a woman thrust into the limelight earlier than expected when her father clocks out significantly earlier than was ideal (chain smoking with one lung will do that). It’s the little things Foy uses, the slight gestures, and how the Queen’s voice changes from those private conversations to public engagements (I’m also quietly tickled that her pronunciation of ‘Phillip’ seems to have twice as many Is as Ls… ‘Fiiliiip’).

Former Dr Who Matt Smith plays the Duke of Edinburgh essentially as most of us would have understood him to be – a blustering, entitled brat who became an emasculated and sour arsehole the minute his wife got herself a job of note. This is also a great showcase for the amazing screen presence of Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret. She’s perfect in this – capturing Margaret’s constant verging-on-a-tantrum demeanour, as well as the full gamut of emotions the character may very well have experienced (although I’m not sure how many actual emotions the over-privileged genuinely feel) and will doubtlessly be huge one day. Huge.

Jared Harris looks nothing like George VI, but informs the role with sympathy and gravitas; same too for Alex Jennings as Edward VIII, feckless prick that he was. Even when you have someone like John Lithgow inhabiting Winston Churchill, you have to admire the craft, the technique that the man employs to being this figure to life. How easily he could have slipped into caricature; relied on well-mined tropes of bluster and jowls. But Lithgow does a lot more; disguising his distinct east coast US accent in brandy and cigars; inhabiting a fat suit and somehow finding humanity and vulnerability among Churchill’s bombast and pomposity. Amazing work, there.

There’s nothing not to admire in the piece, and bless the Netflix folk for streaming all ten episodes of the first season at once for the binge watching experience. Here’s to it, and to the next 50 seasons they’ll be able to mine out of this long standing golden goose.

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