The Crown poses the question we’ve all been asking about royalty: What does it even do? Sure, it stands as a symbol of impartiality, but is there anything else? Not really. Still, although parliament renders it frivolous, the English monarchy remains a cultural fixation. Is it the nostalgia of it all? The recollection of a bygone era? The pretty dresses? Well, whatever it is, it’s what we see on the outside. But behind closed doors, there’s a whole other story.
The Crown chronicles the life of a young Elizabeth Windsor (Claire Foy) as she is thrust into queendom. It’s a slice of life story that has no clear end goal other than the passage of time, and of the crown. But rather than a rise to glory, The Crown tells of a fall from grace.
“It is not my job to govern. But it is my job to ensure proper governance.”
The Crown asserts monarchy is the hardest job of all: the nonpartisan. Though the Queen wears the crown, she does not hold the power. Everything she represents, everything she does in the public eye, is shaped by tradition. The crown thus holds precedence over the wearer.
This is the kind of behind-the-curtain expose I appreciate in these dramatic biopics. It’s a subtle if not scathing critique of a meaningless yet somehow meaningful aristocracy. But it’s hardly scandalous. The Crown is mature enough not to sully the prestige of its real life subjects. Even at their worst, everyone has their motivations. The critique is instead focused on the surrounding situation, the stress of a royal family that is, for all intents and purposes, powerless. Though they live in luxury, they do not live a full life. They live two: one real, one fake.
“We’re all dying. That’s what defines the condition of living.”
Of course, this would be of little avail if The Crown wasn’t set behind the actual closed doors of the actual Buckingham Palace. It isn’t, but I’d be lying if I didn’t assume it was at first. This show cost £100 million to make, and it looks it too. But the real production value comes from the cinematography, which is so gloriously lit, you’d think Janusz Kaminski took a day off from Spielberg to DP it.
There’s also a nice theatricality to the staging. Take this shot for one. Without giving too much away (I’ll leave that to the history books), this marks the moment when sisters Elizabeth and Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) are at a critical divide. Notice how they sit on opposing sides of the room, rather than together on the couch. The dimmed interior lighting gives them a near profile look. Because drama.
“Monarchy is a calling from God.”
The Crown is an effectively constructed piece of professionalism. It may not rank among the most binge-able of Netflix’s catalog, but it is among the most cinematically impressive. It’s a perfect balance between critique and prestige. Nothing to worry the royals, but everything to entice history buffs.
My Rating: 8/10