Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Crown

(UK, USA, 2016)

Bravo for Netflix! They have broken the mold of having continuing TV series appear once a week. They release them all at once, and I’m not the only one who has found that to be a big improvement on the standard model. It would not have worked well in the past, but the world of television has changed radically from the days of three networks plus PBS. Way back when, there were not long, continuing stories as such. Matt Dillon confronted a different problem every week, and the characters might change some over a season but the stories mostly didn’t connect. They didn’t leave you with a cliffhanger, either, so you would come back next week to find out what happened. They counted on you liking the situation and the characters for that.

Now that we have a lot of shows with long story arcs, or one-off series with ten episodes or so, it becomes a lot easier to tell one extended story. I can see why networks want to stretch the story out over as much calendar time as possible, because what they are selling is, essentially, time. Advertising time. HBO isn’t selling ads, but they (so far) still cling to the once a week format. Netflix isn’t a cable channel like the others. They are selling streaming, and it doesn’t have to be doled out. Now there are a lot of people like me and Lee who enjoy bingeing on a show, finishing it in three or four nights.

This is a good one. It begins in 1947, the year of my birth, with the engagement of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten and the royal wedding. It then skips to 1952, when her father, George VI, underwent surgery for lung cancer. He never fully recovered, and died while Princess Elizabeth was on a royal tour of the commonwealth, staying at Treetops in Kenya. That’s where she officially became Queen Elizabeth, though the coronation was delayed a year and a half.

One thing you notice right away when you start looking into these people, into “royalty,” is that they are all related. I mean everyone is related to everyone else. Prince Philip, for instance, is from both Greek and Danish royal families … and is his own wife’s third cousin through Queen Victoria, and second cousin once removed through King Christian IX of Denmark! In fact, Victoria is the ancestor of just about everybody with a royal title in Europe. They breed with each other in ways you wouldn’t want to force on a cocker spaniel. The miracle is that any of them are genetically healthy enough to breed at all. It’s really about time they brought some fresh blood into the gene pool through people like Princess Diana, Antony Armstrong-Jones, and Kate Middleton.

I have to say, it all looks a bit bizarre to me. You wonder if these people ever learned to dress themselves. If they ever opened a door with their own soft hands. Would doorknobs be a puzzle to them? I remember a tale of some royal or other (can’t recall which one) who decided to brush his teeth one morning before his valet was there. He was confused that it wasn’t foaming. He didn’t know you had to put toothpaste on the brush first. What a weird thing to have a dozen men in bright red livery standing in a row at attention, dipping their heads as you walk by. Would that tend to make you think that your shit don’t stink? Do they have servants to wipe their asses? Do the men have someone hold their dick for them when they pee? It all just really offends my deeply democratic soul. Royalty in the 20th and 21st centuries is a concept we should have long abandoned.

Having said that, I think the British would be utter fools to abolish royalty, to turn them into just another super-super-super-rich family, like those vulgar Trumps. The estimates of just how much tourist cash the royals bring to Blighty are very high. And hell, they already have all those stone piles and shooting preserves and ermine robes and crown jewels and shit. Why not use them? Who didn’t enjoy the weddings of Charles and Diana, and William and Kate? Such lovely pageantry! One of these days Elizabeth II will kick the golden, bejeweled bucket. Poor Charles, a doddering old man by then, having spent more time as the heir presumptive than anyone in the history of England (a milestone he has already achieved), will finally have his coronation. I’ll watch it, even if they have to roll him down the aisle in a hospital bed.

I expect a story like this to be reasonably accurate historically, but understand it is fictitious as far as particular incidents go. Such as, I doubt that Phil actually faced off with a wild elephant in Kenya. But it’s a good scene, so why not? And there is no way we can tell what went on in private between Liz and Phil, and Liz and Winston, for instance. Did Phil actually suffer from feelings of inferiority from not being allowed to use his own name, as well as other emasculating things? Who knows? That’s how they play it here, and I don’t object.

Though I thought he was a dreadful human being, I have to say that Edward VIII got a raw deal. The idea that in 1936, and again in 1952 with Princess Margaret, the Church of England and the British Cabinet should have had any say in who was allowed to marry whom according to the Royal Marriages Act of 17-fucking-72 is outrageous. I guess an argument could be made that that was the price to be paid for all the royal perks … but Margaret got fuck-all, and Ed had to abdicate before he could marry. Wallis Simpson was not a very nice person, either, but he loved her. Having said that, I think this series was a little too generous in writing the part of the ex-king and Wallis. He is shown as being manipulative and conniving, to keep his place, and thus his income, on the royal civil list. Which I believe. But he is also shown offering good counsel to Liz in her early days, and I’m suspicious of that. But that’s minor.

My only major complaint with the series concerns poor Margaret. The series says that Liz and PM Anthony Eden gave her an ultimatum: She could marry Peter Townsend, but only if she gave up her civil list allowance, her royal title, left the country, and would no longer be a member of the royal family. Sounded pretty ruthless. In fact, all she was asked to do was give up her place in the line of succession, a fairly meaningless thing because with the birth of Liz’s children she was already down to third place, behind Charles and Anne. She could even continue in royal duties. She elected not to take the offer and to break up with Townsend, apparently because the Church would not recognize such a marriage.

The acting is universally good. John Lithgow just won a Critic’s Choice Award for his portrayal of Winston Churchill. I thought his British accent slipped a little here and there, but not in a major way. He somehow managed to even look like Winston sometimes, even though he looks nothing like him. He sure got the voice right. Claire Foy really shines as Her Majesty. It’s a difficult part, as she doesn’t get to show a big range of emotion, but plays it slow and steady, just as the real Queen does.