A Crowning Achievement!

I was more than gratified to watch the Crown pick up Best Drama Series, Best Actress and Supporting Actor at the recent Golden Globe Awards. It was a fitting tribute to this binge-worthy program - the most expensive Netflix original production at over $100M. 

The Crown is the backstory of the current Queen of England's early years. It is a compelling revelation about her life, family and position, and the story opens during the final years of her father, King George VI's reign as he battled lung cancer. His greatest concern was his daughter's readiness to take her place upon the English throne. When he succumbed to the disease in 1952, the 25-year-old Elizabeth ascended the throne with the burden of an extensive British Empire extending across a third of the Globe on her young shoulders. 

British actor Clare Foy (Wolf Hall) resonated in the role of the young queen grappling with her new role, as she coped with sibling rivalry, and the management of a restless husband. She demonstrates a fierce determination to fulfill all her obligations as befits her title. Foy's carefully balanced portrayal reveals the humanity of Elizabeth II and moves her from a 1-dimensional caricature into a 3-dimensional person, whose overarching goal in life was to conceal her true feelings beneath stoic pleasantries. There is a brilliantly delivered line in the series by one of the other actors saying, "The queen must never be seen to be taking sides," that captures her position perfectly. All the while, you recognize how hard she fights to retain some elements of her personal identify as it is slowly swallowed up by the crown. 

Matt Smith (Doctor Who), as Prince Phillip, was probably the most surprising revelation as husband to the queen - always seen, but never heard. Their marriage began as a love-match, itself a miraculous occurrence in royal circles. For the first 6-years they seemed happy and were evenly matched in intellect and temperament. Then after she became queen it all changed. Phillip was relegated to a supporting role publicly - a bitter pill that could not help but overflow into their personal lives. Smith's rendering of the part allowed us a glimpse of the enormous frustrations of his very public emasculation.

John Lithgow as Winston Churchill

Veteran great John Lithgow snagged a Best Supporting Actor award for his part as the intractable Winston Churchill during his declining years as Prime Minister. Lithgow gave us a decrepit elderly gentleman, filled with affection and concern for the young queen, whom he felt responsible to guide in her new position. Lithgow played it with grandiose "Olivier-like" style that leapt off the screen filled with delicate nuances, and meaning. The scenes with Foy and Lithgow together are a masterpiece of well-crafted dialogue that sizzles with presence.

As a Brit and longtime fan of the English royal family, I have followed them for years in books, magazines, documentaries and films. But there has always been one story that has resonated. It is that of Queen Elizabeth's younger sister Princess Margaret, played by Vanessa Kirby  (Jupiter Ascending). As history records, she was forbidden to marry the man she loved because he was a divorcee. Sound familiar? It echoes back to her uncle King Edward VIII, whose insistence on marrying the divorced Wallis Simpson nearly destroyed the monarchy. Kirby played the hapless second daughter who lived in her sister's shadow, and when she finally found love, she was denied the marriage. The scandalous story of its day dominated at least 3 episodes of the 10-part series and provided a delicious subplot to the main themes.
Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret

The remaining cast is optimally played by Victoria Hamilton (the Queen Mom), Alex Jennings (the Duke of Windsor), Jeremy Northam (Anthony Eden), Jared Harris, the queen's father, and Ben Miles (Peter Townsend). Each actor breathed life and depth into their character's lives, providing us with a coercive production that simultaneously fascinated, as it pulled us along by its magnetism. 

The Crown earned its Golden Globe Best Drama category. But not for its glamour, drama, costumes, sets or acting. But, because it gifted us with a revealing window into the life of the world's most famous woman - whose lifelong role is finally being shown from the human side. In the Crown we see the woman behind the position.

All said, Queen Elizabeth II has fooled us all. For 63-years we have believed her life was one of calm waters and smooth sailing, but the Crown pulled back the veil showing us that it has never been the case. Even more reason to put on the cap of admiration for a Queen who has not only reigned the longest of any British monarch, but has made it all look so easy.


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