Nov 5, 2016

Channel Surfing: The Crown - "Wolferton Splash"

Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
By now, it almost seems old hat to do a story about Queen Elizabeth II. Portrayals of her have gotten their fair share of Oscar nominations. Even The Crown's creator Peter Morgan received a screenplay nomination for previous biopic The Queen. With all of this said, Netflix would have to have a great reason to invest in a period drama that sets Britain's royal family at the outset of World War II. What exactly can come from this story that doesn't come from simply using any other historical figure? Well, there's a literal answer. The Queen was a major figure in international politics during the era depicted. However, the more metaphorical one likely has to do with a country that Britain used to own: The United States of America.
In theory, there shouldn't be much to really compare. The royal family aren't exactly elected to run the country; instead born into a role. In fact, they are both integral and tangential to their political system in that they have elected officials. Yet one cannot help but think of the first episode as being in some sorts a parallel to America's own 2016 election, which is mere days away from when this series dropped. It is a year when something groundbreaking has happened, and it seems to be seeping into pop culture with some ease: women can hold power. Beyonce's phenomenal Lemonade showed this earlier. Now it's Hillary Clinton's turn, and the rise to power is on the verge of being determined.
The story hits the conventional notes for a royal family drama. It starts with the general ascension as a public figure. Elizabeth (Claire Foy) marries Philip (Matt Smith) and prepares for a life in the spotlight. Meanwhile, there's the rise of Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) and the realization that King George VI (Jared Harris) is in his autumn years. Who should replace him? The whole episode sets it up with the fact that history already knows. Elizabeth will be the head figure, which is rare for 20th century royalty. Women weren't always powerful figureheads. So, with George VI's death on the horizon, what does she have to do to lead the country?
For what it's worth, director Stephen Daldry brings his reliable cinematic technique to The Crown. With an elegant score, beautiful costumes, and lush cinematography; he manages to create a look into history that is visceral and exciting. The performances are electric, and Harris' cough is distinct enough to upset certain viewers. As a whole, the series fits the perfect model of what a period piece drama should be. How much you're willing to watch yet another story about Queen Elizabeth II will be up to the consumer. The Crown has a daydream quality that makes the exposition flow smoothly and the results are more than effective.
Considering that Netflix has mostly focused in recent months on contemporary series like Luke Cage, it is compelling to see them branch out into history and find ways to turn history into its own binge-worthy format. What's more impressive is that The Crown manages to hit a target demographic that hasn't been covered exceptionally by the streaming service. Period piece dramas have always been big, and it does seem likely that with an excellent cast and solid production values that the series will find an audience and may end up showing up big during the awards circuit. For now, it's got a promising start and one that feels prescient to the moment. How effective it will be is up for debate. However, it's more than effective in being more than just another queen biopic.

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