A solid start to Netflix's new original series, the opening episode sets the series to be a fresh and engrossing period drama.
Making a period drama about people who are still alive is a risky game. However, as per usual with Netflix originals, they don’t mind jumping right in, and taking the risk anyway. In fact, when it comes to newest drama The Crown, they jump in with a bigger budget than most of their originals so far.
The Crown, the first 10 episodes of which are now available to stream on Netflix, chronicles the reign of our current monarch Queen Elizabeth II – while this first season chronicles her early days as Queen, creator Peter Morgan’s ambitious endeavour is to span the show out so that it catches up to the current day. Episode 1 casts back to the days before Elizabeth (Claire Foy) took over the throne, focuses on her marriage to Prince Philip (Matt Smith), and the political fears surrounding the decline in health of King George VI (Jared Harris).
This episode is mainly about the setting up of the narrative, but nevertheless it is done so extremely well. It’s wonderful to look at; the use of close-ups captures emotion in an intense and mesmerising way, contrasting to wider shots, capturing the vastness of the palace and the sense of enormity for the role Elizabeth will be stepping into. A series of moments shot in the style of home videos is a beautiful moment, and really draws you in to connect with this family whose story you’re seeing. The costume department have been meticulous in their recreation of the outfits of the era, and Elizabeth’s wedding dress especially stands out as an example of the lengths the team have gone to authenticate what we see on screen.
The writing is superb, and again, the evidence of thorough historical evidence is clearly set. From the tone with which characters speak to each other, to the sly remarks made by Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) regarding Philip’s sisters not being at the wedding due to their German husbands; they weave historical accuracy into the script with ease, the subtleties creating an altogether more real narrative. As well as this, the dynamics between characters, especially Elizabeth and Philip is captured well; both an awe and love, as well as the hint of power play troubles both are faced with.
A lot of this can be attributed to an incredible cast; with Claire Foy and Matt Smith both particularly shining in the lead roles. As aforementioned, it’s extremely risky to play characters on TV that are still alive and could be watching, a fact made even more daunting when the pair in question are our reigning monarchs! However, even if the task was daunting for them, neither Foy nor Smith have let it show. Foy’s Elizabeth is already both strong yet inherently human, demonstrated especially in the way that she hesitates in saying her vows on the wedding day. Smith is charming as Philip, but you also already get a sense that the line between Elizabeth being his Queen and his wife is going to be a difficult one to tread. From Smith’s previous roles, I believe that he’ll be able to evoke this tension perfectly, as it moves further to the forefront in later episodes. John Lithgow is a brilliant Churchill, capturing both a political authority as well as a tiredness from his job simultaneously. Another strong performance is that of Jared Harris as King George VI. He has a royal posture and stays strong, but when tiny cracks in his front leak emotion, you empathise with him and feel his pain. He’s just as good a George as Colin Firth, I’d say.
At times, I was unsure of the pacing of the show, as the episode didn’t quite end where I thought it was going to. However, upon a second watch, I found that it did flow well, and the use of devices such as the home video montage, allowing for 5 years being squeezed into one montage, working rather well. It’s a hefty task to be able to cram as much history as they plan to into a series, but they seem to have it under control.
The first episode of The Crown is wonderfully crafted, thoroughly researched, and beautifully acted period drama, and I’m very excited to binge the rest of the series and see where it goes from here.
All of Season 1 of The Crown is available to stream via Netflix now.