Netflix’s The Crown begins with a shot of King George VI, played by Javed Harris, coughing up blood into the stony porcelain of a lavatory. Creator Peter Morgan’s intentions to present the unseen side of the United Kingdom’s royal family are clear. The pricy production is a ten part series about the political and personal happenings during the opening decade of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign from the death of King George VI in 1947 to the coronation of Elizabeth, portrayed by Claire Foy, in 1952. The series ends with the retirement of Winston Churchill, played by John Lithgow, in 1955.
Foy is perfectly cast as the Queen; demure but with a growing realisation of her own power through the years. Despite this, Morgan’s scripts repeatedly fail to create any form of real insight into the young Queen. It is not Foy herself, but the character, which is monotonous and dull throughout the series. Outside the circumstance of her position – a young 25-year-old thrust into responsibility – Foy’s character is two-dimensional.
It is exactly this which makes Smith’s Prince Philip the soul of the show. He impeccably portrays the Duke of Edinburgh’s emasculation and his claustrophobia in the stifling Establishment surrounding him, adding some form of depth to the series. However, Lithgow as Churchill is The Crown’s break-out performance. Initially, he appears to be miscast due to his 6’4” frame being almost a foot taller than Churchill’s. Nevertheless, his performance as the poorly prime minister is an outstanding portrayal of the political figure capable of greatness and pettiness.
Despite these stand-out performances from Smith and Lithgow, there is little to applaud when it comes to plot. Over the series, an unnecessary amount of time is consumed by frivolous matters, such as Princess Margaret’s romance with Captain Peter Townsend. The unsteady screen time spent on the political and family plot threads results in neither aspect being adequately embodied. The Crown cannot choose if it is a political drama of the 20th century or Downton Abbey. It may be the most expensive series ever produced, but its obvious identity struggle cannot be overlooked. If Peter Morgan decides to take risks and let The Crown breathe, season two could potentially deliver more to viewers.