Be honest, ‘The Crown’, Netflix’s $100m piece of royal propaganda, is just boring
It begins with blood in a toilet bowl and goes down hill from there. ‘The Crown’ tries to squeeze excitement from a family whose entire existence is dedicated to stoically maintaining the status quo. The first season’s $100m budget has been splurged on lavish settings and exquisite recreations but unless you’re the sort of person whose pulse races at the sight of yet another rather lovely outfit, you’ll have to stifle your yawns.
There are flashes drama – Princess Margaret provides most of them – but despite good performances from Clare Foy as the Queen, Jared Harris as George VI and Matt Smith as an actually-likeable Prince Philip, this is a tedious trudge through beautiful surroundings. Though writer Peter Morgan says he has no particular affection for the royals, his scripts don’t ask many tough questions of them either.
‘The Crown’ wasn’t approved by the Royal Family and they would probably rather it didn’t exist but on the strength of the first 10 episodes, it serves as quite effective propaganda for the firm. There are numerous speeches about duty and honour, while the lower ranks scurry around in the background and the only person who seems to doubt the ultimate divinity and grace of the Queen is the Queen herself.
The effect is like watching a massive historical diorama designed by a very detail-orientated royalist. It’s the sumptuousness of the settings and the attention to detail that seems to have hooked most reviewers and led them to offer ecstatic write-ups for the show. Many mention how slow-moving it is but seem able to distract themselves with the sheer luxuriousness of the sets and costumes.
There’s something quite appropriate about most critics being focused on the exterior and ignoring the underlying questions. It’s exactly the mindset you need to approve of the Royals. They exist as living symbols and if you dare to ask monarchists why the Queen is a better choice for a head of state than a president, you’ll usually have the prospect of President Blair waved dismissively in your direction.
Where ‘The Crown’ moves beyond the Queen and her family, it touches on really fascinating stories – the decline and fall of Churchill and the rise of Anthony Eden as well as the Great Smog of 1952 which enveloped London among them. It keeps assuring us that the Queen should be in the centre of our attention while it becomes ever more clear that she is on the periphery of great events.
After the Queen’s marriage to Prince Philip, the narrative leaps forward to a point after the births of Prince Charles and Princess Anne. Their arrivals seem to be of less interest than the Queen’s many horses and corgis. It seems their existences are of very little interest to the other characters or the writer yet.
The drama will, inevitably, get more soapy and replete with incident if Morgan achieves his dream of producing seasons that stretch right across Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The arrival of Princess Diana on the scene, the splintering of marriages and a healthy dose of sex scandals are on the horizon and promise a rather less refined tone to proceedings. Costume drama fans may hope it doesn’t get that far.
Ultimately, ‘The Crown’ is very like the institution it exists to dramatise: Old-fashioned, opaque, certain in its convictions, expensive and barely interested in ordinary people.
Image credits: Netflix