“To do nothing is the hardest job of all”
It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.
That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out.
It helps that the cast is so good though, so that you don’t really mind. Matt Smith’s truculent Philip, bristling at the perceived slights on his masculinity and Vanessa Kirby’s flirtatious Margaret, unable to consider life without ‘commoner’ Peter Townsend both shine as the biggest two ‘victims’. And Claire Foy is brilliant as Elizabeth herself, navigating these vast responsibilities seemingly by herself, trying to respect the age-old institution but also those who would modernise it too. The strongest moments in the series come in the latter half though, when the writing dares to delve a little deeper.
Probing into the depths of sisterly jealousy, her struggles with her lack of formal education, looking at her previous relationships and daring to imagine her as a flirt, it’s these story strands that really make The Crown shine as far as QEII is concerned. The other marvel is John Lithgow’s performance as Churchill, very much in decline but in denial too as his health begins to slip away. The episode with his infamous portrait being done by Sutherland is just superb as it peels back his psyche and then lets it snap back around his gruffly composed exterior. That’s without mentioning Victoria Hamilton’s subtle grace as the Queen Mother struggling to find her place as the next generation moves in and Alex Jennings’ oleaginous Duke of Windsor with Lia Williams’ brilliantly waspish Wallis by his side. Take your time with it, and The Crown is likely to delight.