Last November, I was as depressed as could be over Our National Embarrassment, and slow to give Netflix’s “The Crown” a chance. But, despite my ambivalence over the British Royal family, positive word-of-mouth got to me and my wife Erin. We decided to give it a chance, and were soon won over by the drama’s combination of elements, including, but not limited to:
- Quality production factors, from authentic cars, costumes, and well-manicured sets. Only Netflix or Amazon money could have met budget to develop a drama this visually stunning
- The casting and acting. Never again will we not know the names of Claire Foy, Matt Smith, or Victoria Kirby (Margaret). John Lithgow did Americans proud with his award-winning role as late-career Winston Churchill. The performances and even resemblance to historical figures was a revelation
- The history above all. I love history, and The Crown – while filled with soap opera – brilliantly connected the Royal Family to key historical moments and their place in them. What’s more, it effectively illustrated just how some “soap opera” moments themselves had a noticeable, if lasting, effect on history
Therefore, when Season 2 of The Crown began streaming on Netflix on Friday, Dec. 8, Erin and I immediately took in several episodes over the course of the Dec. 8-10 weekend, continuing to chip away at the gripping drama throughout the week.
Knowing The Crown was on its way back, I checked in with my friend and fellow University of Richmond classmate (Go Spiders!), Andrea Shultz, to see if she would once again like to discuss the series for a piece here at Todd Flora’s America (Our discussion of Season 1 can be found here: https://toddflora.com/todd-and-andrea-discuss-netflixs-the-crown/)
I’m delighted to say Andrea and I are teaming again to discuss The Crown. For starters, I adore her. Further, and more importantly for the readers, she knows her stuff! I’ll start with just a few items that struck me about Season 2 in the hopes that within Andrea’s responses will be some questions for which I can also provide a reaction.
TODD: Andrea – here we are again. Shall we make this an annual review?! I must say, I loved Season 2. I won’t say the sequel was “better” than the original, but I would describe it as a bit “different” and certainly more “nuanced” at times than Season 1. While the Season may have appeared choppy, due, I think, to the stuttered flow of several “one-off” episodes that seemed to cover a moment of history and then move on, it is hard to argue that those moments weren’t equally if not more compelling than those facing Elizabeth in the earlier 1950s/Season 1. So, on balance, the nuance and change as the times changed balance out comparisons between the seasons I think.
Several moments, topics, and events of Season 2 stick out for me, and in an attempt at chronological order, they are (Todd’s in Bullets):
- I absolutely loathe Prince Philip. His representation on The Crown piqued my curiosity to research him a bit, and some of the stories throughout the ages are like out of a bad movie. I realize he had a tough upbringing (for a rich person) and his mother’s mental state is certainly something for which to greatly sympathize. But the man was and is such an entitled, whiny little asshole I just want to punch him repeatedly. His pleadings with Elizabeth at the end of Season 2 that he’s complicated but reliable ring hollow to me.
ANDREA: I am not a fan of Prince Philip either. He’s a cad. That said, the back story on his upbringing, tragic family – especially his mother’s mental illness and his sister’s death – and his experience at Gordonstoun do shed some light on his lack of identity and self-esteem. I’m not offering excuses but better understanding of his background added context.
- The actor who plays Mike, Prince Philip’s private secretary and cad-like brother-in-arms, is a fantastic cross between Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck. While he plays a horrible adulterer and otherwise sotted prick in The Crown, the actor, Daniel Ings, is quite a pleasure and hysterical fun on another British program that made it to Netflix, “Lovesick.” I encourage anyone to check it out for his antics alone.
ANDREA: Before The Crown I wasn’t familiar with Daniel Ings. His portrayal of Prince Philip’s sidekick was well done even though I loathed the character.
- Jeremy Northam, who I would certainly welcome seeing more on screen, plays Prime Minister Anthony Eden exceptionally well. The blue-blooded Tory had a history opposing appeasement, so his eagerness to jump to defense of England’s position at the Suez shouldn’t have come as a surprise. However, his lust for comparisons to Churchill through his reckless handling of the Suez escalation and response come off as self-serving acts that cost lives and respect for British governance. It’s no wonder he’s considered one of the most failed Prime Ministers in Modern British history
ANDREA: I agree that Eden’s handling of the Suez Canal was self-serving. The idea that he could be considered on par with Winston Churchill is laughable. From a cinematic perspective, the scene of the lone Israeli tank invading Egypt was striking. It was a harbinger of the French and British not immediately joining the conflict. The result of Eden’s reckless decision was an Egypt/Zionist and Cold War quagmire. The troops eventually withdrew due to outside pressure by both the US and the USSR. Clearly, Eden’s ego got the better of him.
- I continue to be wowed by Victoria Kirby, who plays Margaret. One wonders how the truth of history matches Peter Morgan’s incredibly sympathetic portrayal of Princess Margaret, but if even half of it is true, she certainly warrants the attention her character receives on the show
ANDREA: I couldn’t agree more. Victoria Kirby is one talented actress. The story is so sad. The fact that she couldn’t marry Peter Townsend whose only “fault” was being divorced but then married a serial philanderer whose main reason for marrying her was to impress his mother, makes me sick. Princess Margaret (much like Diana) was a victim of the royal family’s rigidness. I believe the tragedy of Princess Margaret and subsequently Diana has influenced how the royal family operates today. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement is an example of that change (for the better!).
- I hinted at this with you through an email earlier last week, but we must talk about the buck! I really don’t think there is any doubt that Queen Elizabeth’s hunting the multi-pointed buck, and later inspecting his dead carcass, has symbolism tied to Helen Mirren’s admiration of the 14-point buck in 2006’s “The Queen” (Which we must remember was also brought to us by writer/creator Peter Morgan).
ANDREA: This story line (true or not) also made me think of “The Queen” immediately. I thought it was interesting that she killed the buck in The Crown but was disappointed when the buck was killed in The Queen. She was admiring her accomplishment when inspecting the dead deer in The Crown whilst (see what I did there) in The Queen she was admiring the animal. It was clear to me that she was much more mature and confident in her other accomplishments in The Queen. She didn’t need to kill an animal to feel she had done something important.
- I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that Episode 6 gave us “House of Crown” through actor Paul Sparks casting as the Reverend Billy Graham, and “The Man in the High Crown” through the creepy unfolding of the Duke of Windsor’s relationships to Nazi High Command and sympathy with the Nazis. Can you image had he kept the Crown how World War II may have turned out? It’s somewhat sad that he actually trusted the Nazi’s to “reinstate him to power” if he were able to broker peace at any price. They of course would have never honored such a promise.
ANDREA: Honestly, these two story lines only intersected for me when it came to the idea of forgiveness. Queen Elizabeth’s conflict between her Christian faith and loyalty to country caused her to think long and hard about forgiving the Duke of Windsor. She definitely made the right choice. The Duke of Windsor was a sycophant when it came to his relationship with Hitler. Thankfully the Queen learned of his betrayal before she officially let him back in the country.
- The Kennedy episode was interesting. I’m a huge Michael C. Hall fan, but can’t claim that was his best work as JFK. I had no idea about that history of Jackie Kennedy’s trash talk and of course hope it isn’t true. But the source material all does seem to have some lore behind it. What do we think the Queen was writing to tell the mourning Mrs. Kennedy? Did it have something to do with her not changing out of the pink dress after the assassination, which may mean that the Queen figured out it was her way of saying that “Camelot” had been killed too?
ANDREA: All I can say about Michael C. Hall’s portrayal of Kennedy is that it was…not…good. Jodi Balfour did an acceptable job as Jackie. Her attempt at Jackie’s accent failed. I, too, had no idea that the Queen and Jackie Kennedy had a relationship. I loved that they bonded over their love of animals and was surprised by the trash talk twist. When that was revealed to the Queen, I actually said out loud “Jackie Kennedy would never have done that.” Jackie’s apology was touching and obviously affected the Queen a great deal. The Queen’s reaction to JFK’s death showed that she had softened toward Jackie and respected JFK. I looked into whether the tolling of the bells was true and it was! Also, the British government created the Kennedy Memorial Trust which includes a physical memorial. It also provides scholarships to British citizens who do post-graduate work at MIT and Harvard. All of this was so out of character for the monarch and the British government.
My take on the letter is that the Queen was offering her condolences from one wife to another. I can’t imagine she commented on the bloody pink suit even though the Queen told her mother that Jackie did it on purpose. The supposed message Jackie was sending by not changing is far-fetched. No wife who just saw her husband killed is in her right mind, let alone able to make a political statement.
TODD: No, of course I’m not suggesting the Queen would have written her saying something like, “nice move not changing clothes. What a message!” I’m not heartless nor do I think the Queen would have even raised such a topic!! I very much should have worded that question better. I was trying to ask whether you thought she was motivated to write so quickly – as depicted on the show – once she saw the lack of wardrobe change? As in, “whoa, she hasn’t even changed clothes. She must be beyond out of sorts, and I feel such an urge to reach out to her without another second passing.” … that’s what I meant.
ANDREA: I agree that the suit struck both the Queen and the Queen Mother hard. Of course, the Queen Mother thought it was pitiful that Jackie was walking around in bloody clothes. The Queen reacted in a more supportive way. Yes, I think the visual drove the Queen to write the letter immediately and to react the way she did in honoring JFK.
TODD: Now, a new issue I think worth tackling is fresh from the Season 2 finale which Erin and I finished watching on Sunday night. There is a tipping point vocalized by the Queen that I found absolutely fantastic, and really made me come to better appreciate the weight of the world she feels she has on her shoulders. When she visits P.M. Macmillan as he’s convalescing in the hospital, dead set on resignation, she hears his pleas with a stern look on her face. And then… she pounces. She reminds him that she’s barely been on the throne 10 years, and in that time, has worked with 3 Prime Ministers, all of whom either grew too old, too sick, or too weak to continue. OUCH. She then claims they are all something like a bunch of “elected quitters” and just leaves him there.
What she does so effectively with this scene isn’t merely remind one prime minister that they too easily come and go. No. Instead, she reminds the entire audience that she can never quit. She can’t simply, one day, “no longer have the stomach for it.” She’s in her early 30s, and will hold this position until she dies. It really got me thinking. I would never feel “sorry” for a Monarch. But I also understand that they aren’t all born into a role that they want, or certainly want forever. Now, she is very old now, and hasn’t exactly abdicated so she can retire in peace and give Charles his due. But at 32, 33, looking that far ahead, I can see why she thought Macmillan a weak quitter given the circumstances. She must do this her entire life!
ANDREA: Queen Elizabeth’s longevity has now surpassed Queen Victoria’s. While it has been celebrated, she reminds people that her father’s early death is why she took the thrown in her mid-20’s. Having been thrown into the role while young and vastly unprepared, I can understand why she feels like these PMs were all a bunch of “elected quitters”. Her challenges – both emotional and political – far outweigh theirs. They have an out. She does not. As you said, she can never quit. While the length of her reign is historical, there’s no doubt that she would have chosen differently. If she’d had a choice.
And while you are pondering a response to this, I would also love to get your reflections on the following “speed round:”
- If you had to pick only one, what do you think was the main theme of Season 2? Continuity? Trust? Love? Sacrifice? Another I haven’t mentioned?
ANDREA: Sacrifice – QEII, Margaret, even Philip made significant sacrifices during Season 2.
TODD: All true. But I’m going with continuity. Prime ministers go, the Queen stays. Philip disappears, but then he stays. Troubled young princes bristle at fitting in at school, but they stick it out. Everyone smokes, but we know they’ll be there tomorrow! (we didn’t even get to joke about all of the smoking!!)
- Why no Beatles – especially given they hit it big in England before the U.S. “invasion” in 1964? Are they “saving them” for a few “wild ‘60s” episodes in Season 3 perhaps? Curious if you read anything about this or just have a theory
ANDREA: Pop culture isn’t the Crown’s “thing.” That said, this season ended in 1963 so there’s still time.
TODD: This may be true, but how great would an Elizabeth and Margaret “Beatles v. Stones” debate scene be?! If only Peter Morgan could uncover some evidence one transpired!
- Will Tommy have to literally die to be fully retired? Every time he thinks he’s out… they suck him back in!
ANDREA: I hope they give him a rest. He gets under my skin even though he’s usually helpful.
- Who would be your dream cast for the main players for the next couple of seasons? We know Olivia Coleman will play Queen Elizabeth II. But I haven’t heard any announcements about any others. Who does Andrea cast as Philip? Margaret? Tony? Prime Minister Harold Wilson?
ANDREA: Philip – Paul Bettany. Margaret – Minnie Driver. Tony – ????. Harold Wilson – Martin Clunes.
TODD: Good ones! I would go with Toby Jones as P.M. Wilson, and Olivia Williams as Margaret. Williams usually plays “sad,” but I would love to see her try and pull off Margaret (and there is plenty coming to be sad about). Casting Tony is a bit of a pickle. I would love Daniel Craig to do it, but his ego may be slow to realize “Prestige TV” is no slouch gig.
One thing is for sure. I think we’ve got PLENTY to look forward to in the Seasons ahead. Even if we don’t get any Beatle mania, we’ve got “The Troubles,” a slew of strikes, financial strife, and the Iron Lady to look forward to.
Andrea, thank you! I can’t wait to join you to write about how these and other future events are portrayed on “The Crown,” streaming now on Netflix.