I just binge watched The Crown. One word description? Lush. The most interesting performance? As Queen Elizabeth II, Claire Foy appears in all the episodes, so her performance has to be ground-zero spectacular to drive this gargantuan series…and it is; the Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings) emanates that he is born and bred to wear The Crown while suggesting his style and sartorial magnificence are louche…his Duchess (Lia Williams) is so soignée and glacial that her majestic splendor functions as haute couture, mid-century set decoration among The Crown’s lavish production design. On the other hand, Prince Philip (Matt Smith) is on screen throughout the episodes, but not yet out of the gate as a character. So far, he has been required to play a one-trick-pony plot device. Who the hell could look dangerous, petulant, and sexy, yet entirely redeemable, for ten hours of redundant scripted “bad-boying?” Smith is an interesting actor who well essayed both Doctor Who and London’s musical American Psycho; The Crown has 50 hours running time and five decades of plot to go, and I am pulling for him.
No such hope for Winston Churchill (John Lithgow). Ironically, this portrayal of Churchill has already been an awarded “Acting” tour de force. Churchill is such high “Acting” that by the time he disguised his first stroke, “enough already.” And by Episode Nine, “too much already.” By the time Churchill sits for his portrait, you hope that a dingo will steal his baby, and welcome him to over-acting heaven. But this series already featured many, too many, touching flashbacks, so I’m scared. Jared Harris, Richard’s son, who was excellent as Lane Pryce in Mad Men, created a memorable King George VI. But then after his untimely demise, George was back on screen so often in the first season flashbacks that he overstayed his welcome—and unwelcome already in life, Winston could be…
There is the gnawing question of historical accuracy. Bottom Line: accepting that The Crown is not history, but television—there is much to say about it as visual storytelling. The smog episode including the death of an invented, spunky secretary, rings as overwrought political agenda. The car chase of Princess Margaret by reporters too blatantly echoes that tragic, final car chase of Princess Diana by the paparazzi. The Queen Mother’s idyllic romantic misadventure buying a Scottish castle misfires. The Commonwealth Tour looks too much like a montage from the “Rainbow High” musical roadshow in Evita (1996). The Crown evidenced some editing glitches. The editing disintegrated by mid-series into repetitive jump cuts among ominous events to keep our interest: Philip is up to something—cut—Margaret is on the prowl—cut—Anthony Eden is injecting himself (again)—cut—Egypt’s Nasser is threatening—cut! The editing device of morphing reality in and out of black-and-white news coverage also got old midstream.
OK, first season of The Crown was not perfect.
But it was definitely impressive. The series looks glamorous-elegant and sophisticated from the first shot. The costumes and production design are perfect in every detail. The editing (if overdone) is stylized throughout the episodes. The screenplay’s refrain of Tradition vs Happiness (other side of that same coin: Duty vs Indulgence) is head and shoulders above other episodic television themes.
TV’s aesthetic heretofore was to insure ratings. As the Netflix series was conceived with a two-year commitment, The Crown was already renewed for a second season before the opening credits. The first season, budgeted at $130 million, ran ten hours, but with one season for each decade of Elizabeth II’s reign, there are 50 projected hours more to screen. Furthermore, with Netflix’s method of delivery, the audience was no longer solely week-to-week installment viewers; the audience has been expanded into myriad individual 24/7 viewers. The series need neither abide by any previous code of conduct nor process of production. Thus, the massiveness of the series and its place in television history is, in its own right, exhilarating.