Much anticipated The Crown is the latest in what is turning into a long line of Netflix originals that outright challenge cable television and set a new standard. The ten episode first season chronicles the final days of the reign of King George and the opening months of Queen Elizabeth's rein as she is shaped and grows into the monarch we are now familiar with. Over and above anything else within this series I must highlight the wonderful complexity of how it establishes Elizabeth. As a young woman she is unsure of herself but is trying to strike a balance between being led by voices of greater experience, and trusting her own intuitions and setting her own goals as she settles into her role. Having no formal education Elizabeth often felt out of her depth during the early period of her assumption of the title of Queen. We see how she tries to remedy this and other shortcomings while trying to embody what she is asked to be. The calm and steady center the people can turn to.
At no point do you feel like she is a puppet nor does she charge headlong into glorious leadership. The Crown shows all the actors in the halls of power as being what they essentially are; people. No one really comes off as any sort of villain or hero. Every character on screen is brilliantly complex and shown to be exactly that. Many of them do deplorable things but you never feel like any of them do so simply for the sake of causing trouble. To some degree everyone is self serving but it's all understandable why they are the way they are. For example, underpinning a great many decisions that seemed ruthlessly cold and detached was the abject fear of King Edward's abdication. What happens when individual wants come before the duty of the monarch. Above anything else the series establishes the overwhelming and utterly crushing weight of the duty of the Queen. The crown doesn't just ask one person to set aside their life. It could be argued that it destroys their life and the lives of everyone around them.
Partially drawn from historical documents in the form of letters, journals and interviews, and partially dramatized, The Crown gives an unflinching look at the monumental pressures of being the symbolic leader of Britain and the various powers that have to come together to support the institution of the monarchy. This is a series that may lack the politicking and thrills of shows like Marco Polo or House of Cards but its strength lies in its honesty and superb scripting/acting. I will be surprised if a few Emmys aren't thrown to Netflix for this one because it has strokes of absolute genius. Claire Foy is hauntingly similar to the young Elizabeth in her acting and John Lithgow especially shines as Winston Chruchill in what might be his best acting role PERIOD.
And now for my favourite aspect of the show: a choice in presentation made by the director and producers.
As you watch you'll notice that most of the conversations that happen between people at critical times have no background music to set a tone. You don't know how to feel. The program doesn't tell you. It's up to you to measure what has happened, why people did what they did, and how they talk to each other. This is almost a television RPG for the viewer since everyone can come to exactly the same scene and have a completely unique view on it. I've already had several differing debates about the choices made by these characters and the contexts they happened within and not one person has repeated points made by any other. This show is a rare gift and is deserving of the accolades it surely has coming for it.
It won't be as popular as other Netflix productions, but it most certainly will be remembered.