My wife and I just finished binge-watching “The Crown,” Netflix’s new high-budget look at the early years (and maybe more?) of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign as England’s longest-serving monarch. I reached out to my facebook community in search of a fellow viewer who also took to the show, and was most pleased that my friend and fellow University of Richmond classmate Andrea Shultz was interested in discussing it.
Hello, Andrea! We’ve communicated about politics over the years, but this is (I hope only) our first foray into looking at scripted entertainment. And I must say that for both of us, an enjoyable distraction like “The Crown” could not have come at a better time as we brace for the “Bizarro America” scheduled to begin on January 20, 2017.
I’ll say the following to get us going. I’m naturally most curious about your views, as I know you stated on facebook that the show could be “excruciating.”
- I am not a “Royal watcher.” I quite frankly held off of the show for several weeks because I am not really THAT interested in this family… but I am a huge fan of history, and I was hooked almost immediately! Now I care about them a great deal, and am really feeling for poor Princess Margaret
- The casting has been brilliant (we need to use as many popular British superlatives as we can!).
- I saw Claire Foy and Matt Smith interviewed on the Graham Norton Show (late night English Talk show that invented the multiple guests at once approach adopted by James Corden) and their friendship and chemistry was quite clear. And the performances were marvelous (again, British words!!). I was frustrated with them both, which means they were clearly doing their jobs. I’m sure we could go all day breaking down creator Peter Morgan’s certainty that Prince Philip is just a stuck-up jerk (which Morgan clearly also demonstrated in his script for “The Queen.”)
- Jared Harris is a solid King George VI, just as he’s solid in every role he plays. Although I’m not sure the show has been too honest about the stuttering, unless we are to believe he really got rid of most of it in his late years? I think we see/hear him stammer only once if memory serves?
- The actor who plays Tommy (Pip Torrens, because of course that’s his name!) is wonderfully plotting, and that mustachioed / no smile face he makes is just too good. This is the guy people think about when they think “upper crust England.”
- And young Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret is both stunning and intriguing. And she looks so much like her!
- Apparently there wasn’t enough British talent to fill the Churchill role, but our fellow American John Lithgow certainly proves he was the right person for the job this time around (though Albert Finney remains my favorite Churchill, from “The Gathering Storm”).
- Speaking of, I really like that the show covers the politics of the time almost as much as it does the Royal Family. There was so much going on at that time, and I sense the Queen may familiarize herself a bit more with the Cold War in Season 2, depending on what decade they cover. I sure hope Churchill’s retirement doesn’t veer us off of the course taken by various Prime Ministers throughout her reign.
What say you?!
When I said the show could be excruciating, I was referring to a few things. Most glaringly, the handling of the relationship between Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend. The simple fact that they couldn’t be together was painful… but what I found “excruciating” was how Elizabeth promised one thing, waffled and ultimately caved… especially after King George had made the girls promise to put their relationship first. I have two sisters and if any one of us had to make a decision that affected another’s life so negatively, it would be devastating. Second, I found the exile of King Edward/Wallis Simpson ridiculous. After Henry VIII had six wives and killed several, kicking them out of the country seemed downright silly. Granted, I’m no expert on British history but it did make me shake my head. Finally, I found Winston Churchill’s attempt to hang on to power while he was so sick (and keeping the Queen in the dark) difficult to watch. That said, I agree that John Lithgow is a stellar Churchill.
Jared Harris is a good King George. Of course, I loved Colin Firth’s version in The King. If that story is to be believed, he did work on his stutter and get it under control. Agreed that it was glossed over in the scenes earlier on.
I enjoy the political part of the show as well — being a political junkie and all. It adds great context for Elizabeth’s incredible learning curve. Speaking of her inexperience, it made me sad to learn how truly uneducated she and Margaret were. I know that very few of the royals (if any?!) went to University but it really hurt her. Her self-doubt was tied not only to her gender but her dearth of knowledge. The education she received at Eton was important – she really knew the constitution better than anyone else – and it served her well, but a little more liberal arts would’ve helped her!
It’s interesting that you mention Queen Elizabeth caving so frequently. It reminds me of Elizabeth I, who always acted out of fear and survival, protecting what was then, in the latter half of the 1500s, an honestly fragile crown. Sure, like “E-1,” our modern Elizabeth is young, and I can imagine the pressure one would feel sitting across from Winston Churchill or even one’s own mother, explaining to you how things “have to be.” But it’s absolute madness to think the Windsor crown was anywhere near as fragile as she makes out. Sure, they had lost India (thanks to that pesky, persistent peaceful demonstrator), and the Empire was weakening. But I would think that if I were a moderate British citizen of the time, I would hang on to the crown and the Royals deeply as the world changed around me and England grew smaller. No? In any case, Elizabeth’s father had helped guide the nation through WWII and was very popular. They had nothing to fear but acted as if the peasants were storming the castle!!
I too was saddened to see just how little higher education was valued for a woman the crown KNEW would grow to be Queen (and Margaret, too). But at the same time, aren’t we glad the show made this statement, at a time when we’re going to have to fight for every piece of social progress and respect women have gained in the last 60 years? Don’t you think it will come up again?
As for David/King Edward and Mrs. Simpson, I am really torn. First, I think Alex Jennings, the actor that plays him (and also played Prince Charles in The Queen! [you may or may not remember]) is fantastic. He toes the line well between evoking sympathy but also showing his fangs with his insults and belittling nicknames toward his family. But maybe they were quite cold… there’s nothing really giving me any indication that they WEREN’T. Everything everyone around government and the Royals says seem to suggest they see him as a wimp for abdicating. Only the public seemed to sympathize his choice of love over power. At the same time, he seems to take “the life” of leisure for granted and you would think would find a way to apply himself. They didn’t do money for guest appearances in the 1950s? …perhaps not.
So — let me know your additional thoughts. And if you would, I would love to know where you think Season 2 will go. Have you read anything on the show? Will each season be a different decade, working our way toward the present? (As Mad Men was long expected to do), or do they pick up where they left off, do you think?
Also — tell me if you think we’ll ever truly warm to Elizabeth and Philip as an audience, or are they meant to be foils of dramatic irony?
I don’t necessarily feel that the audience hasn’t already warmed in some small ways to Elizabeth and Phillip. I sympathized with him having to give up his career and his name… even though the House of Windsor’s descendants did have the Mountbatten name added to theirs in 1960. I guess the fear of the weakening of the crown had subsided by then? I also have a lot of sympathy for having been put in a role she was so unprepared to perform. I’m also a huge dog person (Cavalier King Charles spaniels – ha!) so I like that aspect of her life.
Not sure about Season 2. I had assumed it would just pick up where it had left off… but if they jump to 1960, it’d be interesting. I, too, think that weaving the Prime Ministers into the story as it moves forward, would give good perspective. I haven’t read anything b/c I fear spoilers!
About education of women and social progress… Yes, it is rather ironic that we are going through a time where social progress may be turned back. I don’t believe Princess Anne went to college/university so Queen Elizabeth didn’t make education a priority for her only daughter. I believe Kate Middleton is the first future Queen who has a college degree.
Perhaps you are correct about the public audience already accepting Elizabeth and Phillip as they are. As viewers, we do already have an advantage of knowing what happens from here, and the fact that they are still in power all these years later. I think we can watch the show with some comfort that no matter what challenges befall them, they continue to grow their family and rule.
I didn’t know that about Princess Anne. That does seem a bit hypocritical… and also kinda cheap! Nor did I know they added the Mountbatten name in a few years’ time — you clearly know more about these folks than I do! It will be interesting to see what comes next. Speaking of — if we had a list of moments in history we hope the show covers over _____ number of seasons, mine would be:
- A humorous chapter on The Beatles and who in the Royalty were fans
- “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland
- The strikes and financial strife of the 1970s and the punk rock scene
- The rise of Thatcher and the Tories
- The happenings around why Charles marries Diana and not Camilla in the first place
- The Falklands war
Anything particular for you? I’ll give you the last word overall.
While I enjoy my fair share of pop culture, I’m not all that interested in the royal family in relation to The Beatles or the punk rock scene. Other periods you mentioned might be entertaining.
I think the relationship between Margaret Thatcher as the first female PM and the Queen would be intriguing. I think the Iron Lady would give Elizabeth a run for her money when it comes to callousness. [Side note: did you know that Margaret Thatcher’s only granddaughter is a Richmond Spider? And a Pi Phi. ha!]
As someone who was raised by a Catholic mother and an Episcopalian father, I’d love to see the show cover the “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. I know it is more than just Catholic/Protestant but that is how it has always been portrayed here. It would be great fodder for the show.
About Charles/Diana/Camilla… the reason he married Diana was b/c he had to marry a virgin. At least that is how I understand it. I think he would’ve married Camilla if he could have. If the show gets that far (to the late 70’s/early 80’s), I’d like to see how they portray that “conflict” – especially between the Queen and Charles. Awkward!
Beyond these possible plot lines, I’m just looking forward to Season 2 and wherever the show takes us. The acting is brilliant and the scripts are well written. Oh and hopefully Philip will come back from Australia a bit more mature!
(Fans of various “British Invasions” or not, I sure hope I can coax Andrea back to discuss Season 2 next year! Thanks for reading)