When Netflix debuted “The Crown” last year, many considered the Drama race over. It was a production with a seemingly infinite production budget, anchored by incredible performances. Claire Foy and John Lithgow took home the SAG awards in their respective categories. Their performances were transcendent and gave audiences a clear successor to the recently concluded “Downton Abbey.” The new British period piece was far grander and richer in its ambition, paving the way for more royal related content across the board.
The series comes back to the screen holding on to many of the themes that have defined 2017. It focuses in on Queen Elizabeth (Foy), who has been brutalized in the media. Her husband, Prince Phillip (Matt Smith) has undeniably hurt her credibility on the world stage. This becomes the focus of the season, and on many occasions, overshadows the rest of the events in the season.
Whether cognizant of its similarities or not, the series speaks to the struggle of the Clintons in popular culture. Seeing Queen Elizabeth in this light helps to frame her struggle for American audiences. It’s the picture of a woman dragged down by the sins of her husband, yet she remains stoic and strong through it all. Foy’s showcase is putting on a masterclass in acting. I already miss her interpretation of the role she was born to play.
There are episodes that break from their relationship, namely episodes “Beryl” through “Dear Mrs. Kennedy” (Episodes 4-8). Even in these episodes, the relationship still hangs heavy over the series. It’s important character development, but it does slow the season down from developing some of the other characters.
One of those characters is Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret. Margaret was one of the dynamic characters of the last season, but it takes us a while to get to her this season. She first appears early in the season but doesn’t take narrative control until “Beryl,” an episode that sets up her new romance. The 2nd season adds Matthew Goode as Anthony Armstrong-Jones, the man who becomes Princess Margaret’s new hubby. Goode is given lots of room to chew scenery, and he is an electric foil to Kirby. The two have some of the best moments of the season. Their dynamic relationship breathes life into the show in an unfamiliar way than the first season. Risks like this that can make a show pop, and while Goode only appears in 3 episodes, the series makes the most of his screentime.
Once again, the production of the series is among the best in any medium. The production design is impeccable, the costumes are sublime, and every single dollar spent on this show is on screen. There’s no question of wasted space and the extravagance is breathtaking. The camerawork is excellent, the score is dynamic, and when the series focuses in on events concerning the Queen’s growth, there are few shows that are better written.
Despite all these issues, there is a gaping hole in the show shaped like John Lithgow. Due to the events of real life, there simply wasn’t a way to return the old PM without utilizing flashbacks. The Prime Ministers who come in this season, Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam) & Harold Macmillan (Anton Lesser), simply can’t fill the shoes of someone as iconic as Churchill.
What’s a bigger problem for the show this season, is that despite their own extremely interesting backstories, the series glazes over their narratives. Eden was a known user of Benzedrine and there are terrible rumors about Macmillan’s wife having an affair. Unfortunately, this is only used as B-plot to serve a larger story. By leaving a huge hole in the series, but trying to fill that gap in with Phillip’s childish tantrums, the series ends up underserving the audience in favor of a fairly boring and repetitive storyline.
One episode stands out apart from the others as a great moment for the series. “Dear Mrs. Kennedy” serves as a semi-prequel to “Jackie” from 2016. The episode follows the two women, the Queen and Jackie Kennedy, as they travel very different roads in the public life. We get an awkward, and frankly underwhelming, performance from Michael C. Hall as JFK in the episode. The revelation from the episode is Jodi Balfour who slays as Jackie. While Balfour doesn’t quite live up to the standard set by Natalie Portman, it’s among the best portrayals of the woman in TV history. She brings a quiet gravitas to the character that gives way to emotional revelations as the episode progresses. By juxtaposing the two women against each other, the series provides a touching moment between two women with vastly different roles in their cultures.
Say what you will about the series moving forward, but “The Crown” remains one of the very best dramas on television. To point the camera internally at the Royal Family, rather than embrace the worldly events that surround them, allows us to dive deep into intricate portraits of those we often believe are close to godliness. By breaking them down, by reframing their actions, we see these Gods as selfish and egotistical beings. This is the true triumph of the series and reminds us of the flaws of those in power. In our tumultuous times, “The Crown” shines as an intricate portrait of life in power.