[I realise I’m 5 years late to the party with this one but I occasionally like to write about the various films, games, tv and miscellaneous content that I consume for two reasons: to practice my writing skills and to make all those hours sat on the sofa feel like they counted for something. It’s not my fault if you read it.]
I recently discovered the term “procedural” to describe a genre of media that shows the technical inner working of a particular job or process, the classic being a “crime procedural” that demonstrates the steps taken in solving a crime. I was glad I had found the term “procedural” because it turns out I like them very much. I think in particular I enjoy law and political procedural dramas because I like to see the complex workings of those worlds that would otherwise be hidden to me. I am also fascinated by the interplay between tradition and practicality. Why do barristers wear wigs? Are the practicalities of today the tired traditions of the future? In a sense The Crown is this kind of procedural drama.
The first series follows the young Elizabeth (Claire Foy) from her marriage to Prince Philip (Matt Smith) through the first few years of her reign. It reveals the details of the complex relationship between the Royal family, Parliament and the political, religious and courtly minefields The Queen must traverse while burdened by a thousand years of custom and precedent. Basically it’s right up my street.
Beyond that however, it is simply far better than it has any right to be.
To begin with the narrative, the themes are fairly predictable: power and unwanted responsibility; the distinction between a person and their role; life in the public eye. The Crown, however, manages to take on just the right amount so that the chosen themes (and characters) get their time and space to develop. International relations (trouble in the Suez) are combined with personal relations (Princess Margaret wants to marry a commoner?!) seamlessly. With so much documented history to choose from, the creators must be praised for the care and precision used in portraying just the right elements in just the right amounts.
The same could be said for the characters, who each have time to breathe and for their own stories to grow. The show does an excellent job of humanising characters (Prince Phillip, Princess Margaret, The Queen Mother and of course The Queen herself) who, to the rest of us, are so far removed and alien. The finest example of this is John Lithgow’s Churchill, seen at the waning of his power through the 1950’s. I watched a lot of the show with my girlfriend who has repeatedly told me of her distaste for Churchill due to his foreign policy, traditionalism and general old-white-man-ness. It is testament then to the acting and characterisation that she literally “awww”-ed out loud at some of the tribulations that befell the aging parliamentarian in The Crown.
Perhaps a well-cast, talented ensemble of actors is to be expected for a production such as this, but The Crown also shines in its cinematography. From the sweeping valleys of Scotland to the smoky bowels of Whitehall, the shots in The Crown are consistently visually striking and offer a complement that intensifies the majesty and drama of the acting and story.
This effect is built further by Hans Zimmer’s fantastic score. Zimmer’s Hollywood bombast, only slightly tempered here, suits the piece remarkably well and seldom strays into melodrama. In one particular scene portraying Churchill’s stroke, the combination of music, acting and sharp editing left the scene ringing in my mind for days after viewing.
With all the above components working in harmony, as they very often do, The Crown strikes a resonant chord. For the nerds like me there’s enough “You must have parliamentary approval!” and “Protocol dictates that…” to go around, but there’s even more humanity to make the piece accessible.
Great stuff, very looking forward to season two.
Score: 4 Constitutional Crises out of 5