Friday, December 2, 2016

Squawk Box: The Crown

Netflix's most expensive project to date, The Crown is the latest from British film writer and playwright Peter Morgan who, at least when it comes to British history/politics/monarchy seems incapable of hitting anything other than home runs clear out of the park. (Morgan wrote The Queen, Frost/Nixon, The Damned United, Rush and an excellent British television drama entitled The Deal which is about the power-sharing deal between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown that was struck in 1994. All of which- with the exception of Rush, that I haven't actually seen, are excellent.)

The Crown covers the early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) and tells the story of Elizabeth's marriage to Phillip (Matt Smith), the death of her father, King George VI (Jared Harris) and her ascension to to the throne. With King George ailing at the start of the series due to lung cancer- and in fact, having had a lung removed, he realizes that his time is short and starts to council Phillip on how to best assist Elizabeth once she becomes Queen. His health failing, the two are sent out on a tour of the Commonwealth countries and it is on this tour that King George dies- the news spreads around the world before she can be reached and Phillip has to break the news to her.

The next challenge facing Elizabeth is proving that she is up to the job. The abdication of her Uncle, the former King Edward VIII (Alex Jennings) seems to haunt the family and the word 'duty' gets thrown around a ton here- in fact, if there's one overarching theme of this first season, it's probably duty. It doesn't matter what Elizabeth wants, she has a duty to protect the monarchy. So when she wants the children to take Phillip's name, Mountbatten, that is overruled. When she wants them to stay at Clarence House The role of the sovereign gets explored in depth and you can see the subtleties the monarch has to employ when dealing with her government- and deploy them Elizabeth does, especially since she's dealing with Churchill. (John Lithgow).

With pressure growing on Churchill to resign due to his advancing age, various crises all have Elizabeth pressured to suggest to Churchill that perhaps it might be time to resign. The Great Smog, which Churchill initially dismisses as an 'Act of God' before the death of one of his secretaries forces him to see the extent of the crisis and he acts on it- Elizabeth comes close to asking him to go, but changes tack at the last second- it's an eloquent dance the two of them weave and while one of the knocks on this show is that Elizabeth seems to be putting off decisions only to agree to them fifteen minutes later, there's a lot more depth to that then comes across in reviews.

The back half of the season (well really the whole season, but it comes to the forefront in the back half) deals with Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) and her desire to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend (Ben Miles). Elizabeth seems to initially support the idea, even as other members of the family (namely the Queen Mother) are dead set against it. Initially, she find out that if Margaret waits until she turns 25, she won't need permission to marry any more, but matters are further complicated when the Church of England refuses to countenance her marriage to a divorce man. Elizabeth, reluctantly, withdraws her support for the idea which causes a major rift between the two sisters.

I've seen whispers on the internet that Mr. Morgan wants 10 seasons for this show-roughly one for each decade of Queen Elizabeth's reign, which is spectacularly ambitious- he's got one already done and another season is in production now- whether he gets any more after that remains to be seen- I wouldn't bet against it though. The cast is excellent, the writing is taut and while the pacing seems a little slow, I think the acting more than makes up for it. Claire Foy is excellent at conveying a whole range of emotions without saying much of anything at all. If John Lithgow doesn't get an award for the best portrayal of Churchill I think I've ever seen on screen, it'll be some kind of crime against something and Matt Smith remains Matt Smith and therefore, awesome.

We'll have to see if the whole '10 seasons' thing actually happens, but if anyone can pull off a ridiculously sprawling, insanely ambitious epic exploration of the British monarchy, it's Peter Morgan.

Overall: a perfect period piece, ambitious, well-written and intelligent, The Crown is just about perfect. Bring on Season 2! **** out of ****

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