Image: Netflix

The following review comes from Orientaserie, an Italian media project aimed at helping viewers to “get their bearings” on current films and television series. The review begins with a summary assessment and then takes a deeper look. Discussion questions are provided. MercatorNet has arranged to run these reviews on a regular basis and invites readers to give us feedback on them.

Recommended by Orientaserie

On the shoulders of a young woman unprepared for the task, the weight of the highest position in her country falls prematurely: she is Queen of England. This is the starting point of The Crown, which invites us to immerse ourselves in the biography of Elizabeth II since 1947, five years before her coronation. It poses the question: will a girl whom life is offering the joys of bride and mother succeed in becoming the leader of an entire nation, or rather, of an empire? How much will she have to sacrifice of herself in order not to betray the sacred mandate that fate has handed her?

The answer is an ambitious story that goes beyond the boundaries of mere biography to become a historical fresco, as each season of the series spans a decade of Elizabeth’s reign. At the same time it is a family drama, not avoiding turbulence in the Royal Family; it’s a political study of the ambitions of successive prime ministers called to an interview with the queen; a romantic saga dealing with Elizabeth’s difficult marriage to Philip and the impossible loves of Princess Margaret. It is also a psychological study: from Churchill to Jacqueline Kennedy, from the private secretary to the tutor, no character escapes a penetrating look at their secret weaknesses and illusions, but also the resources hidden in each.

In all this screenwriter Peter Morgan focuses on a central dilemma: the conflict between public and private in the heart of an individual; between the Queen’s duty to the institution of the Crown and what it represents for many, and, for her and others, their personal desires for freedom and happiness.

Summary judgement

General quality: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Educational quality: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Age to which the series is addressed (in our opinion): 14

Presence of sensitive scenes: some sensual scenes and some dialogues with sexual content, short nude scenes in episode 7 of the second season.

Deepening

The Netflix production stands out in the world of television series because it focuses on a seemingly outdated idea. In the era of Breaking Bad and the many titles with anti-heroic characters stuck in their private existential ruts, the Peter Morgan series highlights the idea that there are goods, memberships, public responsibilities that ask the ego to take a back seat. In this it is similar to another British production, Downton Abbey , but more sophisticated, with greater sensitivity in registering the chiaroscuro tones of the soul, of characters who are disposed to duty, and of those who escape it.

The Crown goes against the current by reminding today’s public that alternatives to postmodern narcissism exist, and it is not afraid to show the personal cost of such alternatives. Elizabeth, like her father, George VI, before her, is cast in an unwanted role, which disrupts her life and forces her to become another person, altering relationships with her husband, her sister and her son Charles. When Elizabeth castigates the passion between her sister Margaret and Captain Townsend, a married man (the narrative line that in the first season carries the theme of the series), the Queen suffers in making those whom she loves suffer, despite her awareness that the Crown demands it. 

In this she is like her father and all the other characters along the series who come to a crossroads where they can choose whether to follow themselves or higher reasons: Churchill who, out of pride, does not want to surrender to age and leave; Prince Philip who resents the court apparatus; above all Prince Edward, who, having followed his heart and married the divorced Wallis Simpson, has abdicated, but who carries the worm of regret for what he could and “should” be (see the beautiful episode in the third season that tells of his death and the honour he gives to his niece – unlike him, a monarch of character).

How does the series manage to engage viewers with a story so remote from today’s sensibilities – to remove the shadow of anachronism from the doings of the aristocracy, the royal family, the court etiquette? 

The growth of Elizabeth is important, her becoming more and more a statesman capable of making decisions that are good for Britain (the visit to Ghana, in the second season, to keep the country in the Commonwealth). So are the arguments of that grim champion of institutional rigidity, the Queen’s secretary “Tommy” Lascelles (proposed as the villain of the series), who observes that it is from small, individualistic freedoms that the crumbling of the institution begins (so true). And above all, the delicate scenes portraying the closeness of subjects to their sovereign.

All this is supported by superb writing, actors of admirable skill from first to last, and very rich staging which is a pleasure for the eyes. The Crown is a masterpiece.

Discussion topics

  • The responsibility of those who occupy positions of power;
  • The confrontation between individualism and sense of duty;
  • The value of tradition and national identity.

Original Italian version by Paolo Braga

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Paolo Braga is a reviewer for Orientaserie, an Italian media project aimed at helping viewers get their bearings on films and television series.