The Crown follows the accession of Queen Elizabeth II following the death of her father, King George VI. Rumoured to have cost near to £100 million to shoot, the quality of production is evident throughout. Big budget has been translated into sheer quality, a feat harder than it appears.
The title sequence is reminiscent of both Game of Thrones and House of Cards. The spiralling gold tendrils forming the Imperial State Crown and the soaring Hans Zimmer theme are distinctly familiar and Netflix-esque. The show maintains a strong aesthetic appeal throughout, managing to maintain a contemporary pastel palette of colours that works convincingly.
However, the most exceptional topic of note in this production is the casting. Claire Foy manages to pull off a near impossible feat of portraying one of the world’s most photographed women. By keeping her character notably understated, it feels in concurrence with the dignified silence in which the Queen performs her constitutional role. Matt Smith provides an interesting choice for the Duke of Edinburgh. Through taking on a huge personality, he is taking an important step in divorcing himself from the role of the Doctor. The standout performance, however, is John Lithgow as Winston Churchill. The choice of an American actor to play Churchill prompted a critical response (ignoring the nationality of Churchill’s mother), but Lithgow rises to the challenge gracefully. Notably, he underplays Churchill’s vocal features to great effect.
From watching the first two episodes, it is clear that Netflix has managed to develop the noblesse oblige once reserved only for the BBC in dealing with matters of national and historical importance. It refrains from overly sexualising the story and adapting itself to the American market. It is acutely aware that it is dealing with real historical characters, some of whom are still alive.
The historical accuracy is stunning. The only clear historical inaccuracy is the King waking up in the morning and turning his television on to hear the result of the 1951 general election; breakfast broadcasting only began in the UK in 1983. It does not shy away from using the real political characters of the time, such as Anthony Eden vying to succeed Churchill to the premiership. It clearly understands the political role that the Queen plays and does not shy away from that, turning it into a personality drama.
The series shows how the Netflix box set format has evolved. From a means of allowing immediate gratification as one races through a series, it is now more akin to long form cinema. The quality of cast and size of budget allows production values seen only on the big screen. The Crown stakes the biggest claim so far that Netflix is not merely a medium for watching television; it is a fully established producer of television.