movie film review | chris tookey

Crown (TV)

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  Crown (TV) Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
7.18 /10
Clare Foy , Matt Smith , John Lithgow
Full Cast >

Directed by: Stephen Daldry, Philip Martin, Benjamin Caron, Julian Jarrold, Philippa Lowthorpe
Written by: Peter Morgan, Edward Hemming, Tom Edge, Nick Payne, Duncan MacMillan, Amy Jenkins . Created by Peter Morgan

Released: 2016
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: UK/ US
Length: 0

A young woman learns how to be Queen.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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When I heard about this Netflix series, I feared it would be another catchpenny attempt to cash in on the public’s ill-informed curiosity, rather like those made-for-TV dramas about Prince Charles and Lady Diana, starring actors who looked and behaved nothing like human beings, let alone members of the royal family.

When I watched it, however, I was amazed by the intelligence of Peter Morgan’s scripts, the richness of detail in the production (at least as sumptuous as anything the BBC could have mounted) and a galaxy of outstanding performances. Clare Foy (whose central role was one of the reasons the BBC’s version of Little Dorrit was a high point in TV drama) is stunning as Elizabeth, growing from girlhood to womanhood, from unexamined privilege to burdensome duty. Foy manages to speak like the Queen without descending to parody, and her reactions are wonderful to behold as she enters upon an Alice in Wonderland existence, surrounded by extraordinary, larger-than-life characters who - she slowly realises - are all looking up to her.

Many who know the Queen say she has a fine line in irony, and a clever way with a pithy phrase. Most of us up to now have had to take that on trust, but Peter Morgan has done a fine job of giving her some one-liners that Maggie Smith would have enjoyed delivering in Downton Abbey. I liked the moment when the Queen is informed of unflattering remarks made by Jackie Kennedy after a visit to Buckingham Palace. Foy looks momentarily disconcerted and then comes up with the perfect reaction: “We must have her again soon”. This is a deeply moving performance, miraculously sustained, and it is bound to win her a clutch of well-deserved awards.

Matt Smith is almost as terrific as the handsome but petulant Prince Philip. Some of his attitudes seem antedeluvian today, especially his resentment at having to play second fiddle to a woman; but somehow Smith makes Philip likeable, despite his moods and (in series 2) his philandering.

John Lithgow makes a splendidly complex Winston Churchill, uneasily aware that his powers are starting to fail, but anxious to hold on for as long as he can. Jared Harris is equally superb as Elizabeth’s father, George VI, having to take the throne after his flaky brother Edward (Alex Jennings, entertainingly untrustworthy) proves he is not up to the job.

The love affair in the second series between Princess Margaret (Victoria Kirby) and Tony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode) is surprisingly steamy, without being tacky. I must admit to having had little time for Princess Margaret when she was alive; The Crown makes sense of her bad behaviour, without necessarily condoning it, and makes clear that the burden of royalty falls on more people than just the Queen.

I could go on, because I couldn’t locate a weak spot in the entire cast.

Some critics couldn’t resist dismissing The Crown as “a royal soap opera”, but it’s far classier than that, with plenty of subtlety, subtext and social criticism. The series outraged some as it came to the untrendy conclusion that there’s a lot to be said for having a monarchy, especially when the monarch is as able and flexible (despite her reputation for stodginess) as the one portrayed here.

Of course, there is dispute over some of the facts and conjecture in the series; but the whole thing feels like an admirably researched, fair-minded attempt to get at some well-hidden truths. There’s nothing didactic about it, and for the most part it commendably leaves us to formulate our own conclusions about right and wrong. At the time of writing, there have been only two series; but with Olivia Colman, already a national treasure, about to take over the role of Elizabeth in middle age, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic over future series.

The Independent, when in print form, was famously hostile to the royal family, with a rather tiresome line in inverted snobbery; and it was disappointing to see its online “critics” (the reason I put that word in inverted commas is that the Independent fired all its reputable critics in 2013) falling over themselves to badmouth The Crown. Clarisse Loughrey even denounced it for failing to illuminate the character of the Queen: “Elizabeth’s life is told largely through the eyes of others, with only the occasional glimpse afforded into that ornately decorated head; there’s no tracing her emotional journey as a leader, or as a wife, through the season when she’s so constantly shuffled to the edges of its story. “ She and I can’t have been watching the same series.

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