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Netflix Serie "The Crown"


FM4 In Serie: The Crown

A new series of The Crown is out on Netflix. But historical fiction has been overshadowed by current news headlines.

By Chris Cummins

I have found something reassuring and comforting about watching The Crown. As an exiled but proud Brit, I’ve been under the impression that this era of Brexit is uniquely humiliating and depressing. But The Crown, which serves as an excellent handy modern history lesson, has shown me that much of the past 70 years has been humiliating and depressing for my island homeland. And yet Britain hasn’t sunk into the Atlantic yet. So, there’s some solace in that.

The Queen and rain are the only constants in British life these days, and Elizabeth II has lived through a period of downsizing that perhaps explains the rose-tinted nostalgia of Brexiteers.

“This country was still great when I came to the throne,” she mutters to her sister Princess Margaret at the end of series 3. “All that has happened on my watch is that everything is falling apart.” At this point she has been on the throne for 25 years and youthful nervousness has been replaced by a sense of jadedness.

A New Queen

Series 3 started with a change of cast and that meant we had to get used to a new Queen. Claire Foy, who could act a scene memorably by simply fluttering those giant eyes, was fresh-faced, smooth-skinned has been replaced. Now the Monarch is played by the more robust Colman, who is jowly, a bit fierce and almost permanently pissed-off with both her family and the politicians who represent her.

Netflix Serie "The Crown"


People might say that’s an excessive transformation in a decade, but, believe me, three and half years of Brexit has had a similar effect on me. Watching British politics ages the best of us, and besides Colman is very good at looking cross.

Watch her pursed lips quiver disapprovingly at the succession at her Prime Ministers as they come into her study to admit to out-of-control strikes, currency devaluation; and even the threat of a military coup with a member of the Royal Family among the plotters.

A Peak Behind The Curtain

These meetings with Britain’s leaders are compellingly imagined. As Edward Heath, portrayed as an intransigent, pompous fool who makes Darth Vader look empathetic, has to tell The Queen that he can’t even keep the nation’s lights on, she looks at him as though he’s made her sit down on a cushion of up-turned nails.

I see this as good practice: this look of silent contempt is a facial expression I suppose The Queen has made liberal use of in my life-time, when Blair told her there those infamous weapons of mass destruction hadn’t been found after all, when Cameron told her that that Referendum idea had gone a bit wrong, when Theresa May had to admit that he deal had been rejected again, or when Boris Johnson merely showed up. It feels like a peak behind the curtains.

Freezing Into Inaction

But, in turn, we have reason to be annoyed at the Queen. Claire Foy’s early years Queen was girlishly eager to please. Patronised by her elders as weak, nicknamed Shirley Temple by her wicked uncle after a child-star, she was constantly struggling to be strict enough to make herself respected. Colman’s Elisabeth has warmed to her role of authority. She’s becoming glacial, dismissive and reluctant to take advice.

Her stubborn refusal to head Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s appeal that she visit the site of a mining accident that has killed over a hundred Welsh children foreshadows her disastrous failure to react to the public grief over the death of Princess Diana in the late 1990s. Her sister, played by a rakish Helena Bonham-Carter, tells her her role is to „stay calm“ but surely that doesn’t mean burying your heart in ice?

She is frankly beastly to Prince Charles, who’s played with charming earnestness by Josh O’Connor and she seems more interested in race horses that the worries of us ordinary folk. If Series One and Two seemed like a PR triumph for the Royal Family, Series 3 shows a lot more of the dark-side.

The Woman Behind The Mask

The real Queen gives so little away that she seems unknowable to the public. This series succeeds because it is a splash of Colour on a blank canvas.

Whereas the younger generations of royals have been splashed across the tabloids throughout my life, having their toes sucked or going to fancy dress parties dressed as Nazis. They’ve endorsed biographies that have dissected their private lives and given TV interviews, in the case of Prince Andrew disastrous ones. But the Queen has always just been there, inscrutable. She appears on British television at Christmas time to give banal speeches, but there’s not so much you can ween from that. She is now so old that for most of us she has always been old. Who is she?

It might be that Claire Foy’s version, or Olivia Colman’s version are inaccurate, but they are the only Queen Elisabeth’s I know. Therefore, they feel utterly real and believable.

A Humanizing Tool

The same is true of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh – who previously I knew best for running into people in his car and muttering somewhat racist comments. He seemed ancient when I was a small child and I always thought of him as a sort of sinister Skeletor figure.

In The Crown he is presented as a rounded, complicated man, trying to deal with a turbulent family history. He is grumpy and often hilariously dismissive but also full of self-doubt, capable of self-reflection and gracious, humble apologies. I never thought I’d ever say this: I like Prince Philip.

A PR Success Undone By Reality

So, is The Crown a good PR tool for the royal family? I think it probably would be if the real royals would just keep quiet and let Peter Morgan write the lines of their fictional counterparts. While I was watching Series 2 on Netflix (I’ve been binging recently) and decided it was probably tough been a royal, a documentary came out on British television called “Harry & Meghan: An African Journey”.

These junior royals didn’t as one might expect, highlight the challenges poor Africans face in a world of climate change and unfair trade practice. No, on a continent of slums and an HIV crisis, they complained about how miserable their lives were in the glare of the press, with Meghan saying “I’m existing not living”. Then she got into a private jet.

Then a few hours before the release of Series 3, Prince Andrew gave such an extraordinarily crass interview on the BBC about his association with the convicted child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein that he was effectively sacked by his own mum. He’s agreeing “to step back from public life” and he might have some uncomfortable chats with the police in the near future.

Suddenly the scandals of series 3 of The Crown, such Princess Margaret getting snapped having a drunken affair with a toy-boy or Prince Charles publicly admitting the Welsh have been historically badly-treated, feel a little small-fry.

We want to fast-forward to see how the Queen’s bottom lip looks when she asks her second son if he is a sex offender. Get writing Peter.

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