"The Crown" is an excellent Netflix series, characterized by superb acting and faithful re-creations of historical incidents.
Claire Foy is wonderful as Queen Elizabeth II, with the sweetness you expect and want in a woman, coupled with the steely determination you expect from a reigning monarch. I understand that a new actress will take over the role after season two, which saddens me.
Matt Smith plays Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip, as a dashing, funloving character, who feels overly confined by his limited role as the royal spouse. When Elizabeth sends him as her representative to Melbourne for the 1956 Olympics, she secretly encloses a note in his bag, saying "always remember you have a family". Elizabeth is aware of his playing around, but tolerates it for the sake of the crown.
Princess Margaret is played as a somewhat tragic figure, almost pathetic at times. She is prohibited by her sister Elizabeth from marrying the love of her life, Peter Townsend. Eight years later she married the photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, announcing her engagement the day after Townsend wrote her a letter saying he had met someone else and was going to marry her. Her heavy smoking and drinking contributed to her death in 2002 at age 71.
Winston Churchill is portrayed as bordering on the buffoonish. During the early '50s, when he was again Prime Minister, he was obviously losing it and the Queen gently urges him to step down, which he eventually does. The trigger for his resignation is depicted as a series of encounters between Churchill and his portrait-painter. You wouldn't think sitting for a portrait would make for high drama, but the skillful way it is depicted makes it so. When Churchill sees the finished product, he blows up at the artist, saying "It is cruel!", to which the artist responds, "Age is cruel!". Thus Churchill finally realizes that it is time to step down.
Anthony Eden, who takes over from Churchill, is portrayed as somewhat incompetent and shifty. When Israel attacks Egypt during the Suez Crisis, the Queen knows Israel would not have done that without assurances that Britain would back her up. The Queen chastises Eden for this, as neither the crown nor Parliament had approved of this foreign policy decision. Because of his gross bungling of the Suez Crisis, Eden resigned after less that two years in office, blaming ill health.
The Duke of Windsor appears in the second season when he seeks permission from Elizabeth to be allowed to end his exile and return to Britain. Elizabeth is inclined to grant his request, even seeking advice on forgiveness from Billy Graham. However, after she does her due diligence and finds out the extent of the Duke's Nazi sympathies, she cannot in good conscience grant the request. The former Edward VIII thus spent the remainder of his life, until dying in Paris in 1972, in exile and without any official governmental role.
Another major story line in season two is the Queen's visit to Ghana, at a time when it was feared Ghana was getting too cozy with the Soviets. She is depicted dancing with Nkrumah, an act which supposedly brought Ghana back into the Western fold. Analysis by historians concludes that this is overly-dramatized, that yes, she did indeed dance with Nkrumah, but that Ghana was still friendly with the Soviets for years afterwards.
But what the Ghana visit illustrates is that the Queen was quite active in British governmental affairs, and that she had a mind of her own, as she went to Ghana over the protest of all of her advisers. As she once put it, "I don't run the government, but I'm responsible for making sure the government runs properly". This is a useful clarification for those of us who grew up in a system in which the head of state and the head of government are the same person.
2/13/19 update. Prince Philip recently got into an accident driving his car. The other day he decided that, at the age of 97, he would give up driving. What is remarkable is that Philip and Elizabeth are still functioning as a royal couple, all these many years later. To me this validates the decision she made in the fifties to make her marriage work, realizing that the crown would suffer if her marriage were to fail.
The same motivation caused Elizabeth to deny her sister Margaret the right to marry her great love, Peter Townsend. An old law, the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, required consent of the sovereign for any marriage of a royal family member under the age of 25. (This law had been proposed by George III after his brother married a commoner.) Elizabeth invoked the law to prohibit Margaret's marriage, yielding to pressure from both Parliament and the Church.
So why didn't Margaret marry after she turned 25? The answer is that the government, under the "leadership" of that hypocritical bum Anthony Eden, himself divorced, decreed that if the princess married Townsend, she would be stripped of all her royal privileges as well as her income. Margaret elected to remain part of the royal family, resulting in what seems to have been an unhappy life.
This week at the court
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