Conceived and written by Peter Morgan Seasons 1 and 2, Netflix Television
For those of you who might not know (who would that be?), the Netflix television production of “The Crown” began its second season on December 8, and the entire season of ten episodes is now available, along with the first season, the two covering roughly the first two decades of the reign of Britain’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. The projected six seasons will present the years of the longest reigning monarch in British history. The Queen is now in her nineties, and Prince Phillip is 97. This season concentrates heavily on their complicated and at times unraveling relationship, as it almost falls apart in Episode One and somehow reassembles itself with the birth of their youngest child, Edward, in 1964, in Episode Ten.
How do the two seasons compare? In my opinion, Season One was almost flawless in its conception, writing, acting, directing and production values. If Season Two is less so, there are explanations for it. The main problem, it seems to me, is trying to fill the huge gap left by the death of Prime Minister Churchill, a historical figure certainly bigger than life, and as portrayed by actor John Lithgow, enormously bigger. If Churchill and the aftermath of World War II do not dominate the first season, they deeply enrich it, as does the dynamic between the Prime Minister and his young and not fully mature Queen. The prime ministers of Season Two, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan, though well played, are insipid, spineless characters, compared to Churchill. Perhaps because of this, we do see Elizabeth growing in security and strength during Season Two, as she wrestles with her role in international politics, despite her limited authority.
This Season focuses heavily on marital relations and the very sticky subject of adultery: in a sort of brilliant present/forward/backward display of the long term disastrous effects of infidelity and divorce upon the marital relationship, the Season treats not only Elizabeth and Phillip’s problems, but his Secretary’s, Princess Margaret’s forthcoming ones with the fast- living photographer, Antony Armstrong-Jones, and a backward look at the long-term ramifications of the Duke of Windsor’s marriage to a divorced woman. Even the Jack/Jackie Kennedy relationship absorbs one episode, though, in my opinion, not very successfully.
The acting of the first two seasons, especially that of Clare Foy as Elizabeth, Matt Smith as Phillip, Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret, and the aforementioned John Lithgow in Season One, has been uniformly superb, and we look forward with some trepidation to an entire change of cast next season. Why the creator, Peter Morgan, chose to go with different actors and actresses instead of using makeup to age them, especially in this genius age of makeup, remains, at this point, a mystery.