Having just turned ninety this year, Queen Elizabeth II is the longest-lived British monarch of all time and has had the most years as head of state out of all living world leaders. She has a total of 64 years in office, in which she has faced many challenges and led many achievements that have made her one of the most popular British monarchs of all time. The beginnings of this famous figure’s reign are the basis of the new Netflix original series: The Crown, which immerses viewers in the world of 1950s England and the political intrigue that accompanied it. Through the events of Elizabeth’s life, we are treated to England’s domestic and foreign issues alike, and are shown a variety of locations beyond Buckingham Palace.
Our story begins in 1947, a time in which Elizabeth is still princess and about to marry Philip Mountbatten, the duke of Edinburgh. Her country is still recovering from the tolls of World War II, and a great degree of uncertainty for the future is left, as Winston Churchill, a leading figure in Britain, has stepped down as prime minister. At the same time, we begin to see hints that Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, is suffering from declining health, and by the end of the first episode, we learn he has contracted a lung tumor that gives him little time live.
Everyone but Churchill and George’s doctors proceed under the impression that the king is on the road to recovery, with Phillip and Elizabeth carrying out a diplomatic tour in his place through the Commonwealth. It is while she is abroad in Kenya that Elizabeth receives news of her father’s sudden death and is unexpectedly thrown her into the position of monarch, putting the main plot of the series into action.
As with other Netflix original series, the production value of The Crown is very high and little expenses seem to have been spared in recreating the lavish backdrops inhabited by our characters. From the opening wedding between Elizabeth and Phillip to the hunting expeditions led by King George, many of the scenes feature a significant amount of characters in action, which lend energy and motion to these scenes. They remind the viewer not only of the importance of our main characters and the power they command, but also help make the world seem more believable and lived-in.
Another element that really stands out in this series’ presentation is the way in which it creates tone. The Crown uses lighting and sound to great effect in the first few episodes, contrasting the sunny, hopeful scenes featuring Elizabeth and Phillip to the cold grey scenes of King George and Buckingham Palace. Though at first these two realities are about as distant as can be, they quickly blend together when Elizabeth comes into power. Along these same lines, the series manages to infuse the plot with a real sense of emotion and stakes, which is very commendable considering it is based on historical events the viewer may already be acquainted with.
Though you as a viewer know from the very beginning that Elizabeth will succeed her father and continue to be queen for many more decades, you still feel a sense of suspense and uncertainty as she navigates the political landscape and issues set before her, which highlights the strength of the writing and production behind the series.
Even with the heart of the series being about Elizabeth, it does follow various other characters which helps flesh out the viewer’s image of England beyond the royalty. As such, we not only see the higher-ups creating and promoting policy in England, but also the people affected by these changes and even those that oppose them. The use of multiple perspectives in the series really creates a sense of factions and political drama, not unlike series such as House of Cards and Game of Thrones.
My one complaint about the series is that it gives very little attention to the person Elizabeth was before having a family and becoming queen, despite the importance of these early years. At the age of 16, during World War II, she trained as both a driver and mechanic for the army, which reveals her dedication and talent, but is only given a passing mention.
The first season of The Crown, consisting of ten hour-long episodes, is available to view exclusively on Netflix.
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