Aside from a Knighthood, the greatest honour a television personality, or programme, can receive is an Emmy. It provides one with a sense of prestige or grandeur, yet that brings with it the burden of maintaining that superiority throughout one’s lifespan. Gracefully, it’s a dilemma that this series takes in its stride.
The year is 1956, and Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) – who is only four years into her reign – has settled well into her role as Monarch of the United Kingdom. Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam) is now Prime Minister of Great Britain, having assumed the role after the resignation of wartime hero Winston Churchill. Hoping to cement his legacy early on, Eden is seeking to intervene in the Suez Crisis in the form of armed conflict, a decision which will be detrimental to Eden’s health and Britain’s standing in the world.
Unfortunately for Her Majesty, she is unable to rely on the support of her husband Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (Matt Smith) during these troubled times, for His Royal Highness is currently undertaking a months-long voyage overseas. While it is being publicised as a royal tour of the Commonwealth’s various realms, rumours are swirling that the trip is nothing more than an endless stag event being hosted by Philip’s close friend Mike Packer (Daniel Ings) – hardly the publicity that the Royal Family needs right now. Or ever.
After winning numerous accolades for its wonderful first season, including an Emmy Award for John Lithgow’s performance as Churchill, expectations were high for The Crown’s second season, with many hoping for it to be bigger and better. But instead of getting carried away with the ostentation of its success, this season of The Crown merely keeps calm and carries on. The producers know their formula is a winner, so they have no need for their programme to be any bolder than it already is – which is Pretty Bloody Bold.
What makes The Crown so bold, in both this season and last, is the writing, which provides a romanticised-yet-raw depiction of the Royal Family. All ten episodes have been written, in whole or in part, by Peter Morgan, who was also responsible for scribing Stephen Frears’ critically-acclaimed film The Queen. As with that picture, The Crown is demonstrative of Morgan’s ability to get inside the head of real-life figures – upon hearing the phrases his characters utter, or the thoughts they hold, one could be mistaken for believing that the Royals themselves had a part in making this series.
Similar comments could be made about the political figures in this season, with great insight provided to their characters. Despite lacking the presence of Churchill, one is still riveted by the machinations playing-out in Downing Street, whether Anthony Eden is being undermined by the press, or dear-old Harold Macmillan (Anton Lesser) is being ridiculed by his wife. While both Eden and Macmillan are depicted as flawed and controversial figures, the series does at least award them a degree of sympathy, which is heartening to see.
The acting is another element for which The Crown deserves praise. Although their performances haven’t improved upon last season, leads Foy and Smith are both excellent in their roles as the Queen and Duke respectively, providing dignified and respectful portrayals of their royal counterparts. Of the two, it is Smith whose effort stands-out most, for his complex character appears to house a sinister undercurrent, conflicting with Prince Philip’s cultivated persona of a warm paternal figure.
If the writing and acting isn’t fascinating enough, then prepare to gaze in awe at the production values. The Crown already has the distinction of being the most expensive series ever produced – its first season is reported to have cost $130 million – and it’s pretty obvious to see why, with lavish costumes inhabiting the large, thoroughly-propped sets, and the drama being backed by an orchestral soundtrack. The attention-to-detail goes beyond what conventional television can offer, and for that reason alone it’s worth watching.
Be wary, though – even by the standards this series has already set, Season Two of The Crown is a long-slog. Each episode is one hour in length, but the slowness as which events move make it feel even lengthier. This problem comes to a head in the fourth episode, centring on Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby), which is bound to test even the most patient of viewers. Given this sluggishness, The Crown is one of the few Netflix Originals that isn’t suited to binge-watching – it better fits the traditional one-at-a-time viewing that our parents are more used to.
When the pacing is ignored, the second season of The Crown makes for compelling viewing. With its gracious performances, sublime writing and detailed aesthetics, one would be foolish not to add it to their Netflix playlist, even if they are yet to watch Season One. What’s more, it shows that drama still has a place in today’s digitised world.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Season Two of The Crown will be screening on Netflix from Friday, December 8th.