It was the abdicated Edward VIII & wife Wallis Simpson who nicknamed Queen Elizabeth II “Shirley Temple,” so named for her curls, youth and spontaneity.
But Elizabeth was never meant to become monarch at the age of 25. It was only due to the sudden death of her father King George VI, brother of Edward, that propelled her as head of the Commonwealth. “Shirley Temple” was barely ready for such a position.
Welcome to The Crown, a 10 part drama by writer Peter Morgan, who has previously penned The Queen and the stage play The Audience upon which this Netflix series is based. In that play Dame Helen Mirren revived her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II for a script which focussed on her weekly meetings with Prime Ministers from Winston Churchill to David Cameron.
But The Crown expands in far great detail the dynamic between Monarch, Government, Press and Public and at the centre of it all is Family.
Make no mistake, The Crown is simply magnificent television and in all likelihood the show of the year.
In the pivotal role of the young Elizabeth is Claire Foy (Wolf Hall), who had not long married Phillip Mountbatten (Matt Smith) when King George VI (Jared Harris) died. During a visit to Kenya in 1952 she learned the news that she had lost a father and would ascend to the throne. Prime Minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) would advise the young monarch whilst battling his own political fights and the influence of a somewhat-bored Phillip, particularly in regards to new ideas for the Coronation.
But Elizabeth has other brushfires to deal with: the scandal of Edward VIII & divorcee Wallis Simpson, both now living in Paris, is about to be rivalled by Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) and her growing affections for the married Group Captain Peter Townsend (Ben Miles). The Queen Mother (Victoria Hamilton) warns her eldest daughter that the Crown must be protected at all costs.
Foy creates a monarch with whom we can empathise -both as young wife and royal figurehead. Her Elizabeth is full of life, a sense of whimsy, romance and tradition. She is matched every step of the way by Matt Smith as the man who has to reinvent himself after relinquishing his nationality, title and name. Watch for the moment the two argue over whether he should kneel at her Coronation.
John Lithgow is outstanding as Churchill, dispensing his US accent, and revealing a sly old fox of a politician in his later years.
I particularly loved Alex Jennings as Edward VIII, who views his own (chain-smoking) family with utter contempt, but whether it’s Jared Harris as George VI, Eileen Atkins as Queen Mary (Elizabeth’s grandmother) or Vanessa Kirby as the rebellious Margaret, this ensemble is dynamite. Some likenesses are truly convincing while others capture the essence of their character so well you will forget they are performers.
As reportedly the most expensive television series ever filmed, it goes without saying that there is money on the screen here. The costumes and production design are to die for, boasting marvellous attention to detail. Scenes recreated in stately British homes, churches, airfields, streetscapes, and halls are utterly convincing.
Morgan’s script, directed at various times by Stephen Daldry, Benjamin Caron, Philip Martin, and Julian Jarrold, deftly balances the big picture of power and politics with the human touches of family foibles. Many episodes carry an astute sense of coming full circle, marrying the two. Hans Zimmer scores the theme for the series, which has a two season commitment from Netflix (put money on more if a bookie will take your bet).
The Crown is not the new Downton Abbey, as so many shows purport to be. It is its own beast and stands tall as an enthralling, painstaking portrayal of the Royal Family (I can’t wait for the Diana era). Good luck stopping at one episode. Cancel the weekend, stay home and binge.
If Game of Thrones is out of Emmy contention next year due to a later release then The Crown is sure to take its title.
Do not miss.
The Crown screens from Friday on Netflix.