Stephen Daldry is one of the greatest and most understated of filmmakers. His films aren’t just well made British cinema, they are deliciously sad and teeming with life. They are works of a master. Daldry’s films The Hours, Billy Elliot, and The Reader are among the best films I have seen. When I heard that he was directing the new Netflix Original series The Crown, I was excited to dig in.
Let’s face it: Where once it was thought that all Netflix Original series would be as good as House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Master of None, now we see that this is not so much the case. Lately, almost every new movie or series I have viewed labeled “Netflix Original” has gravely disappointed me. The Crown, however, is a grand exception, thus far.
The series opens with King George VI (the very likeable Jared Harris) having a coughing fit. We are immediately faced with a deep sense of foreboding. Claire Foy plays the young Elizabeth. I have never seen Foy in anything else, but she is phenomenal. If she isn’t nominated for something, even following just this pilot episode, it will be laughable. Elizabeth marries Matt Smith’s droll Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. As they begin their life together and questions of Elizabeth’s independence begin to circle the drain, King George gets even sicker.
Jared Harris takes his Lane Price character from AMC’s Mad Men one step further here. The king is sickly and damn, does Harris pull off sickly! He is as pale as a ghost and has a wooden chest full of bloody kerchiefs, from his cough, sitting next to his bed. The king has one lung removed. The surgeon is commanded to pretend that it’s not cancer.
John Lithgow is brilliantly cast as Winston Churchill, elected prime minister of Great Britain for the second time. Churchill hears tell of his king’s surgery and is immediately skeptical that everything is as all right as the papers read. Lithgow is at turns kind and curmudgeonly, smart and brassy. I get the feeling that Lithgow’s Churchill will be the lynch pin that either frustrates the development of the young Queen Elizabeth or serves as its catalyst.
We know, all too well, that King George will die. We know that Prince Phillip will behave like a misogynist ass when it comes time to place the crown on Elizabeth’s head. Claire Foy sits behind her father’s desk with a look of complete terror on her face. The crown already feels heavy.
One of the early scenes in the episode depicts Elizabeth and Phillip’s wedding day. During the vows, the word “obey” pops up and it gets stuck in Elizabeth’s throat. Looking as if he might panic, Phillip attempts to smoothly coax Elizabeth back into “reality.” This reality, we are lead to believe, is about to change drastically.
The writing and acting are sharp. The scenery and costumes are vibrant and beautiful. The cinematography pictures things as foggy and grey for us, just as we might imagine London to be.
It must be noted, that while I loved the pilot and am thirsty for more, the series is not faux-British. That is to say, the series isn’t a bunch of American actors with British accents, not counting Lithgow. The accents are heavy. The dialogue is rapid-fire. I am hard of hearing, so, I needed to turn on the closed captioning.
If that’s my only sort-of-complaint, thus far, then I say sit back and enjoy! You won’t be sorry.
Joey Armstrong is a hospital chaplain from Western New York. He is also a playwright and amateur cartoonist. Follow him on Twitter @chaplainmystic and Medium, where he writes more reviews for film and television.