The Crown

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Period drama

Availability: Netflix 

Plot:  This is the fourth of what will be six miniseries of the The Crown, tracing the reign of Queen Elizabeth, her prime ministers, and the trials and tribulations of the British royal family. This series focuses on the 1980s, in particular the marriage of Charles and Diana, and also the Thatcherite years, a period known for its neoliberal reforms and devastating impact upon the less well-heeled in Britain’s class-ridden society. The series begins with the royal romance, the election of Margaret Thatcher, and the dramatic death of Lord Mountbatten at the hands of the IRA. While some of the following episodes tackle political events, most focus on the dysfunctional relational dynamics of the royals.

Cast and screenplay: The series brings together a stellar cast, all of whom mimic stereotypes of the royals. Olivia Colman, as the Queen is dignified and solid, as we might have expected. Tobias Menzies as Prince Phillip is excellent, managing to portray irascibility, fun, and support for his wife. Emma Corrin plays the coy, immature Diana, and Josh O’Connor plays an emotionally and physically stunted Charles. Gillian Anderson, looking remarkably like Margaret Thatcher, gives a laboured impression of a simpering, often wet-eyed ‘Iron Lady’. Because she likes to cook for her husband and colleagues, she is played as servile. It is one of many examples of a heavy-handed script, and despite the quality of the cast, the series comes across as a presentation of caricatures. 

Filming and setting: The filming is rich and luxurious with scenes that display the opulence of the royals, juxtaposed with the grim realities of life on the dole. Sharp contrasts are therefore drawn between the two, but we see much more of the privileged elite. A great deal of care is taken to create visual authenticity.

Personal Comments:  Despite the positive reviews of series 4, I found it frustrating to watch. The cast do their best with a silly screenplay that distorts their characters, and fantasises about what might have been said behind the closely guarded doors of the royal household, and the British government. The series is unmistakably sympathetic to Diana, damaged and imprisoned behind unfriendly walls of the palace. So confined, she is the victim of the cold, cruel and manipulative royals who are determined to protect the firm, regardless of the consequences. There is a serious lack of nuance and credibility in the screenplay. While the action is framed upon real events, and some episodes are better than others, its soapy interpretation is so ridiculous and unlikely, it speaks to the creation of fake history. In the same way The Tudors presented a truth too preposterous to believe, The Crown offers a contemporary version of something similar. I only hope future generations don’t rely on it to inform their understandings of history. In the end, despite the visual quality of the production, it is the film equivalent of the tabloids.

7 Replies to “The Crown”

  1. I agree with your review Marie. I’m enjoying it but the caricatures are pretty frustrating to watch at times. The episode about the man who broke into the palace was a refreshing departure from the Diana/Charles saga!

    1. Thanks for your comment Penny. Yes, I think the episodes that deal with political issues are much better than the ones dealing with dysfunctional royal family relationships!

  2. Well said Marie. I felt the same on the whole but I did enjoy Coleman’s performance as the Queen who I suspect reflected more of her majesty’s true bottle and grit because of a strong belief in the system.

  3. Interesting article by Harry Taylor in The Guardian today (1/12/20):
    Her views (Helena Bonham Carter) came after criticisms of the show’s historical accuracy prompted the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, to say he planned to write to the streaming network to request that a disclaimer was put up before the show was played, so viewers would not misinterpret the portrayal as historical truth.

    Dowden told the Mail on Sunday: “It’s a beautifully produced work of fiction, so as with other TV productions, Netflix should be very clear at the beginning it is just that … Without this, I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact.”

  4. I thought the portrayal of Margaret Thatcher was ludicrous, I recommend Charles Moore’s biographies of her. I’ll grant the actress got Thatcher’s voice pretty well though.

    1. Thanks Richard – I agree. I am not a fan of Thatcher, nor her politics, so three volumes might be a bit much for me! But I expect the biography is a world away from The Crown’s characterisation.

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