The Crown Season 1 Reviewed: Surprisingly Episodic Binge Watching


Netflix’s latest offering, The Crown, is old fashioned to the extreme, from the depth of historical recreation to the structure of the season itself.

There was a time when the words “period drama” condemned a certain type of show to the the low ratings pile. Such sumptuous fare, with meticulously costumed and propped mini series were confined to PBS, where only the esoteric bothered to tune in. But, with the one two punch of Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey at the turn of the decade, that’s gone out the window.

No longer are such shows considered too dull for the masses. With the BBC rebooting Poldark, and ITV doing a multi-season epic on the life and reign of Queen Victoria, not to mention all the fantasy shows focused on non-historical royalty populating basic cable, it seems only natural that one of these would be created looking back on the very era that spawned such television to begin with: the mid to late 20th century, England, and the reign of the UK’s now longest living monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.

But though this is a modern tale produced by the most modern of television production companies, Netflix, and their “bingewatch” method of releasing seasons, it is no modern show. Yes, the pacing is sped up for modern times (no long shots of still silence, no lingering over panache of times gone by), but as a binge watch it is a curious beast. Unlike some of Netflix offerings, each episode is a self contained unit, a “plot of the week” as it were, as if those involved simply couldn’t consider that an episode should be written any other way.

The Crown Season 1, Image via Netflix

This may be due to the fact that the series is written by Peter Morgan. He’s most famous for his three part movie series that explored the life and times of Tony Blair in the 1990s and early 2000s. The one of the three that was the biggest hit was entitled “The Queen” and starred Helen Mirren as Elizabeth, living through 1997, the annus horribilis of Princess Diana’s death. Now Morgan has backtracked–one could consider this something of a prequel to that trilogy. Helen Mirren has been replaced by Claire Foy, but the role is written so similarly as to be uncanny.

Like any good British serial set in historical times, the usual suspects have been rounded up to do their bit. Matt Smith has finally gotten the role he needed to break out of being “the 11th Doctor” for the rest of his life as Philip Mountbatten, the man who marries Elizabeth, and finds himself a living in an upside down world where the patriarchy he grew up believing to be the way of things is reversed. Perhaps in 2016 it does not seem so odd for the woman to head out to work while Daddy stays home and plays with the children and picks out curtains, but in the early 1950s, this was topsy turvy.

The Crown Season 1, Image via Netflix

Jared Harris (known for Mad Men) stars in the beginning as King George VI, smoking his way through a cancer death sentence. Much will probably be made of John Lithgow’s turn as the great Winston Churchill in his final hurrah as Prime Minister, guiding the young Queen through her paces. But personally I found myself more drawn to Harriet Walters in the role of his long suffering wife, Clementine. Even Stephen Dillane, who was once a King of Westeros is here, in the role of an artist of the time period, Graham Sutherland.

For those who do not like this sort of thing, they will probably find it deadly dull. The trials and tribulations of the rich who can no longer boat about in their beloved Mediterranean, but much take on the responsibility of looking like the face on the money at all times seems strange. After all, these are people who have so many servants that the ashtray doesn’t need a table. Someone is always hovering about with one just out of sight.

The Crown Season 1, Image via Netflix

And yet, for those who eat this stuff up with a spoon, this is everything we could have wanted. The perfect costumes, the crown jewels, the vistas, from the aforesaid Mediterranean, to the “Tour of the Commonwealth” that features her trip to Africa. (The segment is particularly striking–one can see why those in the royal family get their racism from, as this is how the countries are presented to them.) And of course, episode 1 plunges right in with the recreation of the Royal Wedding, one of the major events of the time period, which was eclipsed only by the other major event staged a few episodes later, Elizabeth’s coronation.

But there’s no need to indulge all at once, like one might for Orange Is The New Black, say, or even Netflix’s other ripped from the brit sensibilities production like House of Cards. After all, there are no spoilers here. If anyone wants to know how Princess Margaret’s (the excellent Vanessa Kirby) plea to marry with a divorced man ends, the answer is “It was barely 1960 when she asked.” How did Elizabeth and Philip’s marriage turn out? Well, one has only to look at the two of them on their next outing, still doing the royal tut tuts, while Philip still says all the wrong things.

The Crown Season 1, Image via Netflix

In a way the world has now caught up to the world that Elizabeth and Philip found themselves in, while also passing it by. A strange gilded world indeed for us to look upon and wonder why we humans insist on having such a thing, and forcing a human being to play the part of a Goddess on Earth, robbing her of her humanity, all the while scorning her for doing the job we asked.

Next: Poldark Season One: How Does It Match Up To The Books?

The Crown Season 1 is available to binge watch (or pace yourself over) now. Season 2 has already been commission. The full plan is enoug seasons to take us through to the end of the 20th century.