God Save the Queen and Let’s Talk about The Crown

In which we debate with ourselves the virtues of being held to history.

In which Hanna and Theresa (her alter ego) talk briefly about Netflix’s The Crown.

Hanna: Costumes!

Theresa: Drama!

Hanna: British People!

Theresa: A lot of British people. 

Hanna: All the British people. Is it just me, or do you feel like Jared Harris is taking on a bit of a Sean Bean issue?

Theresa: He seems to be dying a lot on screen?

Hanna: He does, he does.

Theresa: I think that his deaths are not as front and center as Sean Bean’s… Are you listening or are you looking him up on IMDB?

Hanna:

Theresa: What did you find?

Hanna: You know, we actually haven’t seen a lot of his recent work.

Theresa: Is this just damage from watching Pompeii?

Hanna: *tries to snap* That’s totally it.

Theresa: You still can’t snap.

Hanna: Nope. No, I cannot.

Theresa:  Moving right along. We liked Jared Harris as King George VI.

Hanna: We did. We pretty much like all the actors. I didn’t think that Matt Smith looked like anyone but Matt Smith — but he totally looks like a young Prince Philip. Claire Foy is doing a lovely job of being queen, and I rather liked John Lithgow’s Churchill. The background is made up entirely of reputable actors, recognizable in their own right — especially if you regularly consume BBC work. Familiar British faces loom up at odd moments.

Theresa: Anyone we didn’t like?

Hanna: No, not in terms of critiquing their performance.

Theresa: Then shall we talk about story?

Hanna: What story?

Theresa: That’s my line. I’m the nastier one in this duo.

Hanna: It is. It is. Okay. So what is this the story of? It’s the story of the British monarchy moving into the modern era. It’s a young woman becoming queen. It’s a struggling marriage and sibling jealousy.

Theresa: And of those… the first story, the inhuman story, is arguably the most interesting. The bits of history and trivia, the accuracies of setting are the most engaging part. The visuals are lovely. The clothes! And the people wearing the clothes — as we said — are doing a great job in them. But there’s not much of a story being told.

Hanna: Elizabeth does not buck tradition or fight against becoming a queen rather than a person. Elizabeth’s marriage continues to spiral, as Philip is constantly confined by the politics of situation. Margaret’s drama was doomed, and continues to be doomed.

Theresa: All of which appears to be relatively historically accurate.

Hanna: Which is a virtue, certainly. But might not have needed the series format they’ve chosen for it. After King George VI dies, they are all set on one trajectory. And it doesn’t waver.

Theresa: Perhaps the most interesting part post Elizabeth’s ascension as queen is the episode that centers on Churchill and his portraitist.

Hanna: Episode Nine: Assassins. That’s probably the time I’ve felt most connected to any of the characters. The statesman with his self image and the reserved artist. Self revelation is a strange thing to portray — frequently because the audience, along with the surrounding characters, already know the quirks of a character better than they themselves should.

Theresa: It was crushing to watch Churchill’s reaction to the portrait. Charming to see two men recreate each other’s work as a way to try to understand one another.

Hanna: What a gorgeous length to go to.

Theresa: It makes me forgive them the little absurdity that they would both pick images that referenced in some way a lost child.

Hanna: Though it is the sort of strange coincidence that is almost too odd to be fictional. (We don’t know either way, and would prefer not to find out). Nice line walked in that one.

Theresa: We thought so anyway.

Hanna: Another thing we loved? The credits sequence.

Theresa: It’s super pretty. Maybe not up there with Westworld, but definitely close. Quite lovely.

Hanna: Going back to the details versus the people. I love the conversation between Elizabeth and the Duke of Windsor on the the virtues of pugs. She’s very human talking her opinions on dogs. Which is sort of great. If she had plot to work with, I think it would be a fine character.

Theresa: Our conclusion is that it’s beautiful to watch, and the actors are good at their jobs. If you’re a bit of an Anglophile then you’ll enjoy it. Be warned, you may end up on Wikipedia double checking some of the events. It’s not always satisfactorily detailed.

Hanna: One point we’d like to make.

Theresa: Ah, yes.

Hanna: On accuracy and racism. It’s absolutely necessary not to sugar coat the way the British Empire thought of their colonies, the casual degradation, oppression and outright evil perpetuated in the name of an empire. And The Crown frequently puts terrible words in the mouths of the protagonists, reminding our modern sensibilities how acceptable different bits of all of the above was.

Theresa: But, in the end, the show is still about the monarchy and the people surrounding it. The focus offers sympathy to the perspective of the monarchy by giving it attention.

Hanna: Which undercuts the good that’s done when we acknowledge the history of, say, the British monarchy in Kenya.

Theresa: But it’s just a fieldtrip.

Hanna: So, what The Crown made me want, really, were historical dramas based in Kenya. Or India (I know Bollywood has a lot of this covered, but I would watch the shit out of a Netflix-style show based in India in the same time period.) Or Jamaica. Or Egypt. Obvious, I know. But there it is.

Theresa: Basically, we want the other side of the glass — refraining from erasing the nastier sides of history is good.

Hanna: Now it’s time to look at what stories are told, why.

Theresa: Netflix is pushing towards producing a load of original content.

Hanna: Maybe we’ll get one of those. Maybe we’ve gotten one and their algorithm doesn’t think I’ll like it. *Starts poking around lists of Netflix original content*

Theresa: Or maybe we’ll get Iron Fist…

Hanna: Shhhhh…

The first season of The Crown is available on Netflix. Cheers!