The Crown was released on Netflix this week, and I binged its ten episodes this weekend. As a British period film, it was recommended for Downton Abbey fans, and that certainly includes me.
The first season of The Crown centers on post-war Great Britain and Queen Elizabeth II for the first ten years after her 1947 marriage. Five additional seasons covering approximately a decade each are already planned.
Because Downton Abbey is still fresh on my mind, it was impossible not to compare the two. Indeed, after watching the first episode, I made the following comment to a friend:
- I watched first episode, too, and although I like the King, Phillip, and Elizabeth, the cast of interesting people needs to be bigger. I saw 2 or 3 former Downton characters, like I usually do when watching a British show.
But subsequent episodes in Season One did not expand the cast significantly. Yes, we get to know Winston Churchill and Princess Margaret, but everything revolves around Elizabeth and her relationships with her father King George VI and his husband Prince Phillip. And her dominance among the cast is OK because this is not an ensemble movie; rather, it is about the crown that has fallen on Elizabeth’s head.
Elizabeth is played marvelously by Claire Foy. Although the modern world now knows the Queen as a dowdy, matronly woman, old photos reveal an attractive woman, and Foy is certainly that. And she projects warmth and good judgment. Those traits might seem to complement each other, and they would in a normal life of an English countrywoman, but because the crown fell on Elizabeth’s head so young, she is often torn between doing the right thing as a warm, sensible countrywoman (which she was) and the right thing for a monarch (which she is learning to be).
Of course, my nature is to question formality and tradition, so my inclination is to side with Elizabeth’s uncle King Edward VIII, who abdicated the crown for love, and her sister Princess Margaret, who had similar romantic issues. But I couldn’t help but admiring Elizabeth for deciding that a thriving Monarchy was sometimes more important than satisfying her personal preferences.
After my second day of viewing, I wrote the following to my friend:
- I watched five more episodes yesterday, and they kept me watching, despite the mundane, pedestrian content. I almost believe the life of a queen is a burden that the woman would prefer not to assume, although surely Lady Mary of Downton Abbey would have loved it. The Queen seems to be a bit like Forest Gump, always around the big events, and even plays a larger role than expected. Obviously, the Diana years in later seasons will be fascinating.
I’m sure that subsequent seasons will further present conflicts between common sense and thinking like a monarch. And examine how a monarch gets involved, but not too involved with the politicians. If the Earl of Grantham sometimes felt besieged in trying to keep Downton Abbey viable, I’m sure Elizabeth would say that is child’s play compared to saving the Monarchy.
As an American, I don’t really appreciate the Monarchy and I don’t know why Brits would want to subsidize the modern British Royal Family. Perhaps I will learn this in subsequent seasons. Can’t wait.