Over the last decade and a half, Peter Morgan has delivered prestige film and television on a variety of topics. However, what he has undeniably become known for is his work on British leadership. Back in 2006, he penned the screenplay for the very popular “The Queen,” which earned Helen Mirren an Oscar for Best Actress. He also delivered “The Special Relationship” for HBO, which received 5 Emmy nominations in the Miniseries or Movie categories. Morgan even wrote the award-winning play “The Audience,” which also received considerable acclaim. After conquering each medium of entertainment, Morgan’s returned to television with “The Crown,” which follows Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension and early rule. With “The Crown,” Morgan has created his best work to date and given Netflix another Emmy player in the process.
The series begins with Princess Elizabeth’s marriage to Phillip, and her ascension. Shortly after, Winston Churchill is elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for the first time in decades. Along the way political scandals break, her marriage becomes unstable, and the tabloids continue their fascination with the royal family. The family has been in the public eye since World War II, and the series proves the public’s fascination is more than a fad. The show ultimately succeeds on this front and contextualizes the family in a way few series or films have.
The series is anchored by two incredible performances that carry the rest of the show. Much has been made of John Lithgow‘s incredible performance as Winston Churchill. Lithgow gives a transformative performance as the PM and disappears into the role. Not only does he vocally and physically transform into the role, but he emotionally delivers as well. He perfectly embodies the character and has already taken home Critics Choice and SAG awards for his work. Emmy is surely next.
However, while Lithgow receives a nice career boost for his work, it is Claire Foy who absolutely the breakout star of this series. As Elizabeth, it is Foy’s ability to grow as a character from episode to episode that makes the series so entertaining. The series gives Foy strong material, but ultimately it is the subtlety of her growth as a leader that is so surprising. Foy transforms from a young, and lovestruck Princess, into a powerful and purposeful Queen in only 10 episodes. What is most surprising is that Foy is able to convey self-doubt and fear only unsure ruler would harbor. This is incredible work that she turns in, and it is on her shoulders that the series ultimately succeeds.
That said, there are plenty more performances to applaud in the series. Matt Smith delivers an excellent interpretation of Phillip, Elizabeth’s husband. Smith gives Phillip levels that are non-existent in other versions of the character, making him a pseudo-villain at times for the series. However, he also makes it possible to understand why his motives so greatly clash with Elizabeth’s, allowing Smith to show his muscles as an actor. Jared Harris gives a wonderful performance as King George VI, and may ultimately miss out on Emmy after appearing in 5 episodes (1 more than would allow him to enter Guest Actor). He gives much-needed gravitas to the show in its early stages and gives the audience an interesting foil for Foy to live up to.
Vanessa Kirby and Victoria Hamilton also deliver as other members of the royal family. Kirby plays Elizabeth’s sister Princess Margaret, who becomes embroiled in scandal during the series. Her relationship with Harris is very well executed and adds levels of disdain between the two sisters. Hamilton also delivers as the Queen Mother. Hamilton’s mind is constantly working on the series, and the fact that you see the gears clicking is a feat in itself. Hamilton may not be the best of the ensemble, but she could easily continue to evolve into one of its core characters as the show evolves.
It’s impossible to talk about the show without the absolutely breathtaking production value. The sets are decorated accurately and beautifully. The cinematography is uniform throughout the series, yet adjusts perfectly to the international locals visited. The title sequence is a thing of beauty, as is the incredible score from Hans Zimmer. The show is rumored to have had a budget of more than $100 million. It looks like it cost $200 million. Every cent is on the screen and is a worthy investment for Netflix.
The show is impressive in its direction, performances, and production. There is really very little to complain about when watching the show. With an eye toward the Emmys, the series looks to capitalize on the “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones” shaped holes in the race. It has the technical brilliance to get a half dozen or more nominations there, and could easily win several acting awards. The only question now is whether or not “The Crown” becomes the first Netflix show to win a Best Series award. It took home Drama at the Golden Globes. The Emmys will surely be on notice.