I have a list of answers for why I waited to watch The Crown. None of them, right now, feel like good enough, because The Crown is one hell of a show.
Yes, I knew The Crown was one of the best Netflix shows, but that didn’t mean I was going to watch it. Not all shows appeal to everyone. For example, I didn’t watch The Crown when it first came out because of a disinterest in the royal family — The Crown focuses on the life of Queen Elizabeth II, and traces her throughout the decades — and all monarchies. I was a mediocre student in my high school European History class (sorry, Mr. Snook), because of a lack of care, which hadn’t changed. I also didn’t care because I didn’t really think I cared about its actors (this, I now know, was wrong). I also didn’t start The Crown because there is simply too much TV to watch.
But, then, Netflix‘s press photos for The Crown season 5 made their way to my eyes last month. I gasped as I saw The Wire’s McNulty (Dominic West) as Prince Charles, and I thought, “that can’t be!” What little I know about the then-Prince (now-King) Charles didn’t really match up with The Wire’s biggest screw-up. (Not until my colleague Jane McGuire educated me about TamponGate). Yes, actors act, and have range. But it didn’t make sense. And it made me want to see what he was up to.
Alas, I’ve got that personality defect that means I can’t start a show mid-series. I have to go through all four seasons of The Crown. And since the show is well-regarded enough, I said “oh what the heck.” I had to test Netflix with ads, anyways. So I hit play.
And now The Crown is my new favorite show. Of course, I need to get into some plot points for the first season of The Crown, so just pass over the below spoiler warning to proceed to my explanation for why I love The Crown so far. I’ll try and keep the spoilers to a minimum, but at least one detail can’t be shied away from.
The Crown broke my heart instantly
Actor Jared Harris, who plays King George VI in The Crown, is very good at dying on-screen. In this way, he’s basically the Sean Bean of prestige dramas. I won’t go into all of his previous on-screen deaths, because spoilers, but it’s safe to say that you’ll always feel it in your heart when a Jared Harris character meets his fate.
And so I should have taken his appearance in The Crown as the first warning of emotions to come. But, as I said above, I don’t actually know the U.K. monarchy and its history that well. So, when George passed away relatively early in the series — do you really burn Jared Harris that quickly? — I was shook.
Now, before you email me your concerns about why I shouldn’t feel bad about King George for the bad things he did as a human being or ruler, I’ll save you some time. I’ll probably look those up at some point. Supposedly The Crown is meant to be watched with Wikipedia open.
But Jared Harris’ portrayal of King George slowly falling to his lung cancer, all while having the ignorance needed to smoke cigarettes through to his final days, was gripping. Harris, it seems, knows his goal isn’t historical accuracy, but to deliver a compelling performance. One that makes you feel things.
And, so, I look at the scene where George sings with his daughter Margaret as she plays plays piano — and is surprised by an audience that’s appeared behind him. Harris plays these moments as a man trying to keep composure even though that’s the last thing he has. Watching his sadness in that moment, as he’s basically getting to experience his own memorial service, all but prepared me for what soon followed. That’s when I knew how great The Crown was.
Elizabeth becoming Elizabeth II is a memorable moment
Claire Foy’s turn as Elizabeth, who soon becomes Queen Elizabeth II is exactly what a show like this needs. Not only does she offer the vulnerability of being emotionally rocked by her father’s passing, but there’s a scene where she’s asked about possibly changing her name that is exactly the kind of thing that people like me need.
Those who don’t know about royal traditions, and don’t know what a “regnal name” is, will be as confused as Elizabeth was when she is on this scene. Her father, it’s said, was Albert before he became George. This is the kind of “really, they live like this?” moment, one where Foy’s Elizabeth is the audience’s surrogate, that the show needs.
All of these traditions, as traditions often do, seem peculiar and out of touch to those just learning about them. Especially when it’s pushed upon you in a moment of mourning.
So, Foy’s delivery of “What’s wrong with my name?” is perfect, with an air of confusion and feeling insulted, and it’s exactly what most would feel given the moment. And for as slight as it is, I can’t help but want to over-analyze the “Nothing” that Matt Smith (as Philip) replied with. He’s seemingly trying to assure her that she’s right, but he’s also showing how much more normalized this stuff is to him.
Lastly, Foy’s polite “Well, then, let’s not overcomplicate matters unnecessarily” is the perfect summary of her opinion that her time has been completely wasted in this moment.
Matt Smith warmed up for Game of Thrones with The Crown
As someone who doesn’t “get” Doctor Who, I didn’t know much about Matt Smith before watching House of the Dragon (I only knew him from Morbius and One Night In Soho, and the former seemed a bit anomalous).
And so I have to admit that his performance in The Crown, as the politics-smart Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is a huge “Eureka!” moment for me. To finally understand the hype about Matt Smith, who can jump from loving spouse to conniving gamesman, is fantastic.
My favorite thing about Smith’s Philip may just be a part of gender roles of the era, with how demanding he is of his wife — who is the soon-to-be-queen, for crying out loud — giving her lists of things to demand from Winston Churchill (John Lithgow, in a perfectly stodgy performance).
And the little bit of shock and confusion he has, once Elizabeth tells him that Churchill wants to delay her coronation — sputtering out “What are you talking about? What– Elizabeth!” while she’s already in the car and unable to hear him. I was delighted at watching him fail.
Outlook: Trying to stop myself from bingeing The Crown
As my colleague Kelly Woo explains in our preview for The Crown season 6, it seems like it should arrive in around a year’s time. So, I’m debating if I let my want to see Mr. West as the prince who is now king sooner, or later? I’ve got 12 months, and I wonder if I’ll let impatience get the best of me.
I don’t prefer to binge-watch TV, I like to consume TV like it’s being released weekly. That’s partially because this is how I grew up with television. Binge-watching also means you’ve got nothing left of that show sooner, rather than later. No matter what, though, season 6 is the final run of the show. I also am of the belief that binge-watching certain shows can result in each episode not meaning as much. Sometimes, binge-watching is okay, with shows with too much padding in the middle, such as Stranger Things 4.
The Crown, from what I can tell, is a show you may not want to inhale like that box of peppermint cremes I thought I wouldn’t devour in two sittings. These performances — I haven’t even gotten to Vanessa Kirby’s instantly magnetic Princess Margaret — and moments deserve to linger, and not be marathoned to. If I surprise myself and binge the lot of it, I guess that will only serve as testament to the quality of The Crown. I can only hope this story gives you the nudge you need to start The Crown if you haven’t already. I can understand not wanting to watch this show if you have a severe dislike of the royals, but disinterest isn’t a good enough reason put off watching one of the best shows on Netflix.