The first time I ever really heard about Queen Elizabeth and the British Royalty was when Princess Diana was at the peak of her infamy. The world loved Diana, and because Diana appeared to be living a life that defied the monarchy, the world was mostly on her side, and those impressions rubbed off on me. I didn’t know much about the Queen, but I already disliked her very much for the pain and eventual death of beloved Princess Diana.
Then The Crown debuted, and by the time I finished watching the first season, my resentment of the young Queen Elizabeth was reinforced, primarily because of the role she played in robbing her sister, Princess Margaret of love and her happiness. I was disappointed in her weakness and the British reserve in her that meant she must abide by the protocols that govern the monarchy.
Then came season 2, and Claire Foy’s yet-again spectacular performance had me feeling all sorts of emotions for this young queen this time. I felt sorry for her when she found herself trapped yet again in that corner where she had to choose between her love for her sister and her duty to the crown.
I empathized with her when she began to face the reality of the dawn of the monarchy’s irrelevance on the world stage. “The age of deference is over,” the monarch is told at one point by a journalist, and I share her dismay at this truth.
I felt hurt on her behalf when her husband, Prince Phillip, got the wanderlust and would rather be anywhere in the world than with her.
I felt outraged for her when the American First Lady Jackie Kennedy badmouthed her by telling dinner guests that Elizabeth was “a middle-aged woman so incurious, unintelligent and unremarkable that Britain’s new reduced place in the world was not a surprise but an inevitability.” As if that was not insult enough for Elizabeth, who was already feeling a bit frumpy and irrelevant in the episode, Jackie also calls Buckingham Palace “second-rate, dilapidated and sad, like a neglected provincial hotel.” (Wit intact, Elizabeth responds to the news by saying, “Well, we must have her again soon.”)
And then I beamed with pleasure for her when Elizabeth finally got some steel inside her and damned all the counsel of her government to travel to Ghana and get President Nkrumah to turn away from his foolishness with the Russians.
Claire Foy has been brilliant in this show, as evidenced by her Golden Globe win early this year. But in this season, she was very skilled in depicting at once the strength and vulnerability of the monarch. It’s been announced that she won’t be returning for the third season as Netflix has cast Olivia Colman to replace her as the much older queen. What can I say? Olivia Colman had better deliver, because she’s got big shoes to fill.
However what is most striking and instructive about the second season of The Crown is Elizabeth’s capacity to take modest but meaningful steps toward change. On more than one occasion, the queen arrives at an opinion, then receives new information and revises that opinion accordingly. She’s not always right, but she listens, a quality one can’t help but notice is perhaps lost on the leaders of today.
On every level, The Crown is deserving of praise. But it’s that subtle emphasis on the idea that even the most stubborn among us can at least try to evolve that makes it vital end-of-2017 viewing.
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