The Crown Season 2 Review: Turn, Turn, Turn
Netflix returns with a second season of The Crown, settling into what they have just before it all changes again.
The Crown, Netflix’s thinly fictionalized history of the reign of Britain’s current monarch Queen Elizabeth II, returns this December for another round of a show so conservatively royalist in its myth-making, even Liz II herself enjoyed it. This is the second and last season for the current cast, as the show was greenlit straight away for six seasons, each focusing on an era of the Queen’s reign. Netflix’s daring conceit: rather than age up the original cast as they went, they will recast the entire thing every two seasons (which is ~every 20 years covered by the series.)
It’s both a risk and a bit of a shame. Claire Foy, as Queen Elizabeth, has settled far more comfortably into her role in this second season, only to be replaced next year by Olivia Colman, who herself will find herself replaced two seasons hence, by someone attempting to fill Helen Mirren’s shoes. (Helen Mirren, as some might recall, made a bit of a name for a by playing QEII in The Queen, which was written by Peter Morgan, the same man who created The Crown. It is assumed that some point in the final two seasons, the series will cover the death of Princess Diana, which is the same time period as his original film.)
The Queen Mother: No one wants complexity and reality from us. Do sit down.
Despite the reviews and the Golden Globes, The Crown‘s first season was less good television that simply riding on novelty that it existed at all. It’s one thing to, say, do a fictionalized history series based on the life Queen Victoria, as ITV/PBS have, as all those depicted have been dead for going on a century now. The Crown, on the other hand, is fictionalizing those who are still living and rule a country. Seeing the near history of Elizabeth’s marriage and coronation recreated on screen was enough for most, and if the final few episodes felt stogy and stilted and Foy attempted to find her bearings under the weight of the character, all was easily forgiven with the introduction of yet another royal outfit.
This season Foy seems to have relaxed into the role far more thoroughly than she did the first time. It’s as if she’s heard now that QEII watched the show and enjoyed it, and now she feels safe in continuing the path she was on. With Foy’s relaxation, so does everyone else, especially Matt Smith as her husband Philip, for whom this is also his best and last season. It makes for a far more enjoyable ride all around.
The ride should feel familiar, though less because of the history involved, and more because it isn’t much different than the first. Elizabeth and Philip still are struggling to figure out how to be married under the circumstances, Princess Margaret is still trying to figure out how to have her own life inside her sister’s inescapable shadow. Prime Ministers come and go, and Elizabeth isn’t actually allowed to have opinions about them in public. And yet, where last year felt stiff in these recreations, this year everything feels (mostly) looser.
Starting with 1957 (where the first season left off) this season once again divides the second Elizabethian era via Prime Ministers. Season 1 ran through to Churchill’s final departure from public life. Season 2 starts out under the hapless Anthony Eden (played by Jeremy Northam) but is really much more interested in covering Elizabeth’s time with Harold Macmillan (played by Anton Lesser). Macmillan served until 1963, just before the Labour Party swept into power in ’64. This is a useful cut off, as it halts things just as Beatlemania and the British Invasion of music had begun, but before the late 1960s and the hippie movement really start changing society.
Over the course of the ten hours, we hit a few historical highs and lows. Philip’s time away from the UK is like a traveling frat house, where all the world is the stage for a five-month party bender. Sadly, what happened on tour did not, in fact, stay on tour, and we are treated to the first foreshadowing of the later years of much more humiliating palace indiscretions to come. (When Elizabeth says this is the worst thing she ever experienced, all I could think was she has *no idea* y’all.) We also get to meet the already over formalized and over-serious Charles as a schoolboy, and the first signs of the coming sympathetic edit to his life story.
This is also the start of the massive break up. Not of the queen’s marriage but of the UK. Eden’s reign as Prime Minister was cut short over a now mostly forgotten few day’s war called The Suez Crisis, where the UK first lost their moral standing in the modern world post WWII when they went to war unilaterally under false pretenses with Egypt and promptly got their asses kicked and called out for it by the rest of the world. (The only good thing for them is that unlike America’s Iraq War boondoggle some 50 years, the war in Egypt really did end after a few days.)
Macmillan arrives in the aftermath, which sees the first major sweep of countries who gain their independence from the UK during the Second Elizabethan era: Ghana, Malaysia, Cyprus, Nigeria, Kuwait, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Uganda, and Kenya. While some of these leavetakings went “full US independent” others went the Canadian route, turning independent free of charge, in exchange for “Commonwealth of the Empire” status, which boils down to Elizabeth retaining some visitation rights, and her face on a few forms of currency.
It’s Macmillan who also was the architect of pulling the UK and US together in the wake of Sputnik, by citing the “special relationship,” and maintaining the UK’s illusion of power by partnering with the biggest ally on the block. This leads to the series being able to stage the first meeting between UK real royalty and Americanized faux-royalty, with John and Jackie Kennedy (played by Michael C. Hall and Jodi Balfour respectively.) But as history will tell us, as does The Crown, he’s a man with more than a few secrets of his own.
Finally, there’s Margaret, still not over last year’s betrayal by the crown about her divorced finance, and drinking like a fish. Despite a few feints on which way she’ll go, like Townsend the ending is already written in stone: She marries Antony Armstrong-Jones, a society photographer, and artist, portrayed here by Matthew Goode, who comes off as far sexier than he ever did as Lady Mary’s last-minute marriage prop in the final seasons of Downton Abbey.
All in all, The Crown Season 2 is a much more solid and therefore more enjoyable run than the first run of ten episodes. I’ll be sorry to see Foy and Smith go after this. Let’s hope the next pair keep the momentum running.
The Corwn Season 2 arrives on Netflix with ten episodes on Friday December 8th, 2017