Sunday 11 December 2016

Is The Crown the new Downton Abbey? 7 reasons to watch the epic Netflix drama

Published 04/11/2016 | 16:56

Image: The Crown/Netflix
Image: The Crown/Netflix
Image: The Crown/Netflix
Image: The Crown/Netflix
Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown. Photo: Netflix

A right royal fortune has been sunk into The Crown, Netflix’s opulent new chronicling of the early years of the reign of Elizabeth II.

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The streaming giant has lavished an estimated $100 million upon the series and you can see every cent on screen, with frocks to swoon over and a top rank cast including John Lithgow (strangely perfect as an ailing, whiskey-marinaded Winston Churchill), Dr Who’s Matt Smith and Jared Harris (son of Richard). With the first season available from today, here are seven things we’ve learned after a morning of bingeing.

1. The Crown is not the new Downton Abbey – it’s much better than that.

Concerns that Netflix had invested in soapy toff-porn are put to rest in the very first scene, in which a pasty-faced gent coughs up half a lung. This is our introduction to George VI (Harris), the ailing monarch whose decline will propel a young Elizabeth (Claire Hoey) to the throne. The sequence is gritty and gruelling – as if to alert viewers that they aren’t about to be whisked off to a Downton-esque vision of upper-crust Britain.

2. It paints the royals in a new light

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The Crown is written by Peter Morgan, the dramatist who has previously skewered Tony Blair, Richard Nixon and Margaret Thatcher. Here, he is largely on the Windsors’ side, giving us Elizabeth as a dutiful ingenue deeply serious about her royal responsibilities. Most revealing of all is The Crown’s mildly subversive take on Prince Philip, presented as a stand-up chap trying to do his best by his young bride even as he makes peace with the fact that their marriage will take second place to her duties as regent. No stilted buffoon he.

3. Jared Harris is a revelation

With Colin Firth giving us the definitive George VI in the King’s Speech, Harris had a steep challenge in making the part his own. But he effortlessly steps beyond the shadow of Firth (and indeed of his father Richard) with his compelling portrait of George as a shy, kindly man pitched against his will (after the abdication of his brother Edward) into a position to which is is temperamentally ill-suited. Early on, Harris is The Crown’s break-out star.

4. You’ll enjoy it even if you have little interest in the British royal family.

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Where Downton Abbey would have become distracted with the finery and frippery, Morgan is chiefly interested in the broader canvas. In this age of Brexit, The Crown is a well-timed meditation on Britain’s decline as world power – in one early scene the Chancellor of the Exchequer informs his colleagues the country is essentially broke – and the growing pains it suffered scrabbling for a new identity.

5. It brings suspense to events we are already familiar with

It is no spoiler to reveal that George VI’s bloody lung does not lead to a warm and cosy ending. Yet somehow The Crown conjures tremendous tension as Elizabeth receives unhappy tidings while overseas and must reconcile her marriage with her familial duties. We all know where things are headed – yet there is real suspense as the future queen negotiates a monarchal minefield.

6. Claire Foy is a perfect Elizabeth

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Getting under the skin of someone as famous as the Queen of England is clearly a huge challenge. Somehow Foy manages to both approximate Elizabeth’s accent and body language even as she shows us the person behind the pomp. That Emmy nomination is surely in the post.

7. There’s more to come

Series two is already shooting and will chronicle Elizabeth’s reign up to the early-Sixties. After that Netflix and Morgan will sit down to discuss whether they wish to keep moving forward. But with at least one more season guaranteed, Netflix subscribers can binge at their leisure, knowing further helpings are on the way.

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