REVIEW: The Crown – Season One (2016)

Release Poster - Netflix
Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a full season review of the first season of Peter Morgan’s The Crown.

I’m not exactly what you might call a royalist or a ‘royalophile.’ My mother loves following multiple different Royal Families, but it has never been something I’ve been particularly drawn to. Therefore I’m pretty sure some people who know of my interests were confused when I said how excited I was about The Crown.

I am in no way, shape, or form obsessed with Royal Families but I liked the idea of seeing Queen Elizabeth II tackle a job that would challenge her private life. Also, I’ve always liked hearing about Winston Churchill, so, naturally, The Crown was always on my must-watch list.

What is incredibly interesting about Peter Morgan’s The Crown is that Netflix has spent a lot of money to make this work. What is supposedly the most expensive television show ever produced apparently had a budget of $130 million. Thankfully, that money is put to good use as the show looks as expensive as it is.

Peter Morgan’s first season of The Crown follows the British Royal Family and is centered around the woman who became Queen Elizabeth II (played by Claire Foy). It is a tell-all royal soap opera that goes into the Queen’s marriage with Prince Philip (played by Matt Smith), her relationship with her sister (played by Vanessa Kirby), her meetings with, then, Prime Minister Winston Churchill (played by John Lithgow), as well as how she tried to be both a person and the Queen.

I’m not a fan of Downton Abbey and I had feared that The Crown would resemble it very much. I was really worried that my biggest problem with Downton Abbey would be present here as well. I think Downton Abbey is terribly dull, but, thankfully, when I watched the ten episode first season of The Crown I never thought it was dull. Not during a single episode.

That’s partly due to the magical ensemble cast, but also to the way the showrunner has orchestrated the season with numerous brilliant storylines that always, in some way, shape, or form, impact Queen Elizabeth II. The first season is very rich in strength of story.

The entire first season is about Elizabeth’s – or Lilibet, as she’s often called – struggle with individuality and personality when she also has to act as the Queen – an institution unlike many others. The elders that advise Lilibet – Churchill and Queen Mary – share the same message with her. Her job won’t be easy, but you have to be the crown.

Winston Churchill, who is at the center of the other leading storyline in season one, is struggling with his age and how he believes the public views him. He still believes he is an infallible hero, but others realize his frailty. This season shows us how a political legend found it difficult to accept the passage of time.

John Lithgow, who I didn’t originally think was right for the part, proved me wrong this season. Lithgow does a sublime job as the aging Prime Minister. Matt Smith, who I primarily know for playing the extremely popular eleventh Doctor Who (even though I’m certainly no expert on the show), plays what I’d probably classify as an unconventional part for him. Smith is solid as Philip, who has a particularly hard time accepting that his wife is not expected to ‘obey’ him.

Claire Foy, however, is the real star here. I didn’t know of Foy before I watched this show, but as the Queen she shines. She adds humanity to what could’ve easily been a very uninteresting character, seeing as Margaret, her sister, was thought of as the one more suitable for the crown. You truly care about Foy’s Lilibet, and that, obviously, was the most important thing for this show to get right.

As the season comes to a close, you are obviously left with the fact that there’s much more story to tell. We’ll have to wait and see if Netflix is willing to keep this show running for the six seasons that Peter Morgan is planning. This is a gorgeous and expensive show, and while Queen Elizabeth II may not be as devilishly entertaining as Frank Underwood, we may have to entertain the idea that Claire Foy could become the new face of Netflix original programming once House of Cards ends. Foy is that impressive here.


– Jeffrey Rex

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