The Crown Series Premiere Plot Summary:
As Princess Elizabeth (Claire Foy) marries and starts a family with Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh (Matt Smith), her father, King George VI’s (Jared Harris) health deteriorates. In response, a newly re-elected Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) discusses familiarizing Elizabeth with the duties of the monarch with George.
Certainly this show has been in the works for a while now, I imagine, but I do wonder what inspired the producers to make The Crown. It could, I suppose, have something to do with Queen Elizabeth II becoming the longest reigning monarch in British history, surpassing Queen Victoria. Certainly, the United Kingdom loves the Queen and the Royal Family, as does much of the world. Even here in the States, the Royals hold a special interest for us, even though our republic was founded on bucking the British monarch. We’ve also retained romantic notions of royalty in our entertainment and literature (referring to Michael Jackson as the King of Pop; hailing Simba as the rightful king of Pride Rock; rooting for a certain character to ascend the Iron Throne). But what does The Crown serve as besides simple reverence for Her Majesty?
From the first episode, I couldn’t exactly tell you what else The Crown offers. It’s clear that the early episodes deal with Elizabeth transitioning from princess to queen as her father’s lung disease continues to chip away at him. Not to sound disrespectful to what I’m sure was a heartbreaking experience for Elizabeth and her family, but the passing of the torch from one generation to the next is inherent to monarchy. Of course, it’s hard not to sympathize, especially when it comes to cancer.
Elizabeth might be the protagonist of The Crown as a whole, but for this first episode the focus is on King George. For reference, if you’ve seen The King’s Speech, you might remember him as “Bertie,” the king with the debilitating speech impediment. He seems to have retained it to a degree, and it’s still sad to see him go through it, but he has improved. It’s more tragic to see him suffer the consequences of years of smoking and realize this isn’t just a beloved character but what happened to the actual person. Seeing him still puff away after just having had a lung removed is both amusing and depressing; he’s so far gone it doesn’t really matter.
If King George is the initial main character, then Prime Minister Winston Churchill is the most important supporting character. I’m surprised that an American is playing such a respected figure in UK history, but John Lithgow does a nice job. I can’t say I have an expansive knowledge of Churchill’s radio and newsreel speeches, but I would say he assumes the role without overdoing the mannerisms or voice. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were a nominee for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series at next year’s Emmys.
Ironically, I’ve spent most of this review talking about people other than Claire Foy’s Elizabeth. She’s good but Elizabeth is a reserved character who’s more in the background of the important events. This is no doubt just part of her evolution from quiet princess to great-grandmother surrounded by corgis. Matt Smith, most famous for Doctor Who, is equally admirable as her husband and loving father of her children, Phillip. It is strange to see Prince Charles (Billy Jenkins) as a small child though.
Despite my appreciation for all the craftsmanship that surely when into The Crown, it’s hard to get a good read of what exactly the series is going to be like, especially since I know figures from British history but, as a foreigner, I’m fuzzy on in-between details. The first episode is largely people talking in extravagant settings and it does get dull at times, even with the writing and acting going for it. It would be nice if it shows what the Queen does behind the scenes, considering her position in the constitutional monarchy is largely ceremonial. Hopefully it doesn’t devolve into plain hero worship. That’s not to say it should deface the Queen. It should treat her as a real person.
If you like series where wealthy people sit down and talk (Downton Abbey comes to mind), I have a feeling you will enjoy The Crown. It might simply not be my cup of tea. And that’s fine. Not everybody has the same tastes. Then again, apparently “Assassins” is the title of one of the season’s episodes, so maybe there’s some excitement to be had.
RATING: 7 OUT OF 10 (GOOD)
The Crown Season 1 Is Streaming Now on Netflix
Aaron Sarnecky is Pop-Break’s television editor and covers Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., among other things. He is a graduate of Rowan University with a degree in television and film. He probably remembers that show you forgot existed. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronSarnecky