TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand.

The aim is to take through the rein of Elizabeth II – six series are planned in groups of two, so we have Claire Foy playing the young Princess Elizabeth and Matt Smith as Philip Mountbatten for this series and the next, and then they’ll be replaced by older actors. 

But for now, they’ll do just fine as they fit into the roles perfectly – Foy’s Elizabeth sparkling with hints of real personality longing to exert itself before the weight of statehood descends and Smith’s patient Philip showing signs of the roguish unpredictability, here explained as a coping mechanism to deal with the subservient role to which he had to adapt as the spouse of a monarch. 


And as befits a major period drama, there’s a cracking supporting cast around them. Dame Eileen Atkins and Victoria Hamilton as preceding Queens Mary and Elizabeth, John Lithgow’s redoubtable Churchill, Ben Miles’ faithful if flirtatious Peter Townsend and Harry Hadden-Paton’s faithful private secretary Martin Charteris. With sweeping cinematography from Adriano Goldman taking in sun-bleached Kenyan vistas with as much skill as the fog-haunted Scottish countryside, The Crown never looks never less than amazing, at least in these opening instalments.

It does however also suffer from some clunking moments of stodgy writing – exposition often dumped in the most ridiculous of ways, as in the man who has to explain to Elizabeth that her father’s real name was Albert and he took the name George on accession to the throne as if this might be news to her. And with the focus naturally on the Royal Family (and the government), the lack of social context – whether in exploring the declining imperial role of the UK or looking at post-war British society – lends a slightly too-glossy sheen thus far.

But there have been lovely moments too – Smith espousing the conflict between love and duty perfectly, Vanessa Kirby’s underused Margaret making an achingly beautiful case for a royal who’ll never take priority in that particular household, and Dame Harriet Walter doing volumes with approximately 5 lines of dialogue and a world of emotion in her face as Clementine Churchill. I’ll look forward to catching up with the rest of the series when I eventually find time…

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