Peter Morgan’s latest take on Queen Elizabeth II – The Crown – is a sumptuous and well acted awards contender.
Netflix’s latest prestige series, The Crown, comes to Netflix via the UK’s Peter Morgan. It lands with the dubious fanfare (much like The Get Down) of being a Very Expensive Series. The good news is that the money arrives onscreen backed by Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and his amazing talent for royal dialogue. The Crown is an ambitious project – an expected six seasons will follow Elizabeth’s 60+ year reign. Based on the pilot, it will be completely worth the ride. Morgan’s significant contributions are backed by a excellent cast and stunning visuals. At this point, this series looks to be Emmy’s cure for the Downton Abbey blues.
The Crown begins with stuttering King George VI (Mad Men‘s Jared Harris) and his persistent, nagging cough which, of course, develops into lung cancer. Unaware of his condition, Elizabeth (Claire Foy, Wolf Hall) marries Philip (Doctor Who‘s Matt Smith) with all the expected pageantry of a royal wedding – a great way to start the series, honestly. Finally, we’re introduced to Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) as he regains the position of Prime Minister.
Directed by Stephen Daldry, the pilot offers a stately, deliberate pacing that you admire more than love. It almost certainly by intent lacks the juicy, gossipy thrill that propelled many through Downton Abbey Season 1. That and Dame Maggie Smith. Still, The Crown has all the markings of a potently binge-worthy series. While the set design, costumes, etc., all provide top-notch period sensibilities, it’s the cast that really reels you in. Foy manages to balance charisma with Elizabeth’s inherent reserved nature and timidity. She has a very nice moment during her nuptials where you can hear her nerves in her quick, shallow breathing. It’s the kind of thing that goes a long way toward humanizing such a legendarily stoic figure. I can only imagine that, as Elizabeth ascends to the throne, Foy’s stamina in the role will push her to the upper ranks of Emmy’s dramatic actresses.
Matt Smith provides an amusingly robust Prince Philip. Again, his characterization opens a window to the man always seen just behind the Queen of England. Plus, we find out that he sleeps in the nude, which is both bizarre and provides a fairly hilarious quick scene. The rest of the production is peppered with something of a “who’s who” of the British acting class. Best, for me, is American actor John Lithgow’s Winston Churchill. Initially, I feared he was playing to the rafters, making Churchill a gross caricature rather than a fully realized character. He quickly erased those concerns, though, as he assumes a surprisingly large role within the pilot. He was so prominently featured that I’m starting to wonder if he would place in Best Supporting Actor or Best Actor at the 2017 Emmys. Make no mistake, though. He will be there.
As will many of The Crown‘s cast and crew, I suspect. This series feels like it could prove to be everything we wanted it to be – an intelligent and elegant (but still a little soapy) exploration of one of the more fascinating women of the post World War II era. This series will undoubtedly unfold in insightful and intelligent ways. Let’s just hope it continues to pull back the British stiff upper lip from time to time. It could prove to be a major threat in coming 2017 awards season.