The anachronistic British aristocracy must sensitively negotiate its relationship with its public. “The Crown”, the November original series released from Netflix, is the story of a conflict between private and public, between the personal feelings of a wife, mother, and sister and the queen (Elizabeth II).
At its core “The Crown” is a character study and a family drama. Do you put personal fulfillment over political duty and obligation? That is the question. “The Crown” is a family saga, particularly between sisters. Conflicts with personal fulfillment and romantic love hide behind a curtain of pomp and circumstance. We are allowed behind palace doors to witness a struggle of personalities.
Elizabeth’s drama begins with the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, which forces his reluctant younger brother George VI to ascend to the throne. His oldest daughter, Elizabeth (in a remarkable performance by Claire Foy from “Wolf Hall”), is a witness to all the regal drama. With the death of King George VI, Elizabeth must suddenly transform from a loving sibling and shy young wife and mother into a queen.
And at the moment of her father’s death, it becomes clear that Elizabeth — unlike her tearful mother and sister — is able to suppress her desires and emotions in order to assume the throne.
Perhaps the most compelling drama in “The Crown”, however, is the conflict between sisters. Her younger and more glamorous sister, Margaret, asks for permission to marry a recently divorced officer whose ex-wife is still living. This love affair, ironically, is similar in circumstances to that of her uncle (King Edward VIII) who was compelled to abdicate the throne for marriage to a divorced woman (Wallace Simpson). At that time remarriage under those circumstances was strictly forbidden by the Anglican Church. First promising to stand by her sister, Elizabeth is compelled by those in power to recant as she chooses duty as queen and defender of the Anglican Church over her love for her sister.
The popularity of “Downton Abbey” reveals an American fascination with the British royal family and aristocracy. Why is the monarchy this crucial to the nation? Queen Mary (played by Eileen Atkins), the grandmother of Elizabeth, reminds her granddaughter: “Monarchy is God’s sacred mission to grace and dignify the earth, to give ordinary people an ideal to strive towards, an example of nobility and duty to raise them in their wretched lives.”
A superb family saga with the machinations of politics as its undercurrent!