We very rarely get to peek behind the velvet curtain and get a good look at the Royal Family, and perhaps that’s what feeds the fascination with it.
Now, thanks to Netflix (and Netflix Canada), royal watchers and those curious to know more can experience a different sort of history lesson — one of romance, drama and intrigue — on the new 10-episode series The Crown.
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Starting in 1947 after the end of World War II, The Crown picks up when the British people are at their most vulnerable and unsure about their future. There’s an uptick in national spirit when young (then-)Princess Elizabeth (Claire Foy) weds the dashing Philip (Matt Smith), and the public becomes fascinated with the drama of the royal family, especially after Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, passes away, leaving her to ascend the throne at the young age of 25.
Here’s everything you need to know about the series, which is available for streaming as of Nov. 4.
This is not a stuffy, boring show
We all remember history class: stuffy, boring, blah. Certain topics never ceased to bore us (excluding all you history buffs out there), and one of the worst offenders was British history. Snore, right? Not when it comes to The Crown.
The show manages to draw you in like any other modern drama, but the characters just so happen to be based on real-life royalty. Yes, the viewer encounters some conversations about policy and war, but the majority of the series looks at the relationships between political characters and the family members themselves.
At the heart of The Crown is a story about how this family copes with incredible circumstances. “It’s the tensions of that family, their responsibility to government, their responsibility to the country, and indeed their responsibility to God,” says director Stephen Daldry. “They are half us — half human, and half demigods, so it’s a fantastic subject to explore.”
“The Crown brings with it a set of responsibilities and fundamentally realigns the power structure in a way that can only be challenging,” says creator Peter Morgan. “Suddenly, Elizabeth is no longer just a wife, a sister, or a daughter. She is the Queen, the head of the family, the head of state, the head of the Church of England, and the head of the Commonwealth of Nations.”
“What’s made it so interesting to write is not this or that historical event,” he continued. “It’s been that this is a family, and within that family is the Crown, and the Crown is a bomb that changes the structure of everything.”
Morgan is very familiar with the royals, having written the Oscar-winning movie The Queen. He also wrote the stage production of The Audience, which chronicled the relationship between Elizabeth II and her prime ministers. With deft hands at the wheel, The Crown is polished, with a lot of the clutter cut away.
Every actor looks like their real-life character
At first, upon hearing that John Lithgow (3rd Rock From the Sun) was playing British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, there was much scoffing, but it’s actually mesmerizing how accurately Lithgow portrays the legendary historic figure. “It was the best eight months of my professional life,” said Lithgow. (Amazingly, no prosthetics were used for his transformation.)
And that goes for the rest of the cast too. Aside from Foy, Lithgow and Smith, Vanessa Kirby plays Princess Margaret, Mad Men‘s Jared Harris plays King George VI, Victoria Hamilton is The Queen Mother, and Dame Eileen Atkins takes on the role of Queen Mary. Each of them excels in their individual parts, and it helps the show’s authenticity.
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“We’ve tried to have as much scale as possible on camera and we try to do justice to these enormous historical events,” says Philip Martin, a director and executive-producer on the series. “But at the same time we’re mindful of the fact that what’s moving about the show is this privilege to access the world of our characters and to be able to be close to them, to be able to get inside their heads, and to experience the world as they experience it.”
It makes you question the very concept of royalty
What is royalty, exactly? Harris and Kirby describe the royals as living in a sort of “limbo,” not quite in power but definitely holding some sort of authority over the nation. Located somewhere between the military and the government, the royals don’t actually make decisions, instead merely providing opinions on societal and national issues while making sporadic appearances in public.
“For me, it’s about a family who suffered a terrible loss, and don’t know how to deal with it,” says Foy. “And the very strange thing about about this family is that they’re observed, and they are subject to the political and economical situations in the world.”
While we will never really know what happens behind the closed doors of Buckingham Palace, Morgan’s ability to translate a historical event into something truthful and universal makes The Crown a binge-worthy affair.
“I hope they’ll very quickly trust that what we’re trying to tell is a very sophisticated story, on a sophisticated canvas, that’s both ambitious in its scale but very truthful in its intimacy,” says executive-producer Suzanne Mackie.
And while this is a story set in Britain with the backdrop of British history, the story’s themes are global.
“I think that anybody in any country will find the subject of this family, but also the extraordinary nature of what they’re put through by the public and by the government, is something fascinating,” says Daldry. “I don’t think it’s just a British story. I believe people will find resonances from cultures all around the world.”
You get up-close and personal with royals you never really knew
Sure, we really know Prince Harry, Prince William, Charles and Camilla, and we still obsess over the late Princess Diana. To an extent, we’re all familiar with Queen Elizabeth — after all, her face is on our money — but we don’t really know much about the “fringe” royals, like Princess Margaret, and we certainly don’t have insider information on personal relationships.
Elizabeth is only 25 and thrust into the world of politics, an unbelievable and unenviable position to be in. Her sense of duty and responsibility in her new position often leads to favouring the arcane rules and procedures that come with the Crown. “She’s very strong, sturdy and grounded,” says Foy. “But she’s also completely naïve to the way the world works and people’s agendas.”
Kirby’s Princess Margaret (Elizabeth’s younger sister) is forced to live in her sister’s shadow, and unfortunately for her, it means she has to obey her rules.
“They are completely different,” says Kirby. “As Elizabeth is thrust into this position, you see their relationship become more and more strained.”
Apparently, according to Kirby, Margaret was always the natural-born star, who craved the spotlight.
“She was extremely, fiercely loyal to her family, but at the same time she completed resisted it,” she said. The rift between the two sisters grows even wider when Elizabeth steps in to prevent Margaret from marrying Group Captain Peter Townsend, a divorcee and King George’s right-hand man.
There’s more to come
Netflix has already approved Season 2 of The Crown, so there will be more royalty coming your way very soon.
Season 1 of ‘The Crown’ is available for streaming starting on Friday, Nov. 4.