‘The Crown’: Netflix’s new £100 million royal drama

By Simon Fearn

Things you could do with £100 million: buy several private islands, make a respectable aid contribution to a developing country, or make two series of an Elizabeth II biopic.

That’s the staggering sum Netflix shelled out for royal historical drama The Crown. Whilst not the most expensive TV show ever made as some publications claim (the first two seasons of House of Cards reportedly cost about the same), you do have to question the wisdom of Netflix’s investment. Were the 7,000 costumes and the £200,000 vintage train really necessary we wonder…

With more substance than Downton and less sensationalist than shag-aphon Versailles, The Crown nevertheless looks to be an interesting beast. Written by Peter Morgan, whose film The Queen bagged him a Golden Globe for best screenplay, you’d think Netflix had a hit on their hands.

In many ways The Crown is rather compelling, leaning more towards revisionist history than fluffy costume drama tropes. Churchill – currently scowling at us from the new five pound notes – is played by John Lithgow as a cantankerous exhibitionist, desperately holding on to power and obsessed with foreign policy and former glories. Far from Colin Firth’s hagiographic take on George VI in The King’s Speech, Jared Harris stars as a fascinatingly complex monarch, fundamentally decent but with a short temper and a certain coldness.

The series is by no means perfect; much like Downton there’s an odd over-reliance on meaningful looks, and too many shots of the royal household running down long corridors in an attempt to add gravity to proceedings. The central theme of the conflict between love and duty is more or less rammed down the viewer’s throat, with several brooding speeches about how “the crown must always win.”

In many ways The Crown is a brazen attempt to out-BBC the BBC on a supercharged budget; an effort to lure more traditional viewers away from the terrestrial channels while cashing in on the curiously royalist US market. It aims for a catch-all appeal and more or less succeeds. The stately cinematography is counterbalanced by Morgan’s determination not to be stuffy – King George reels off filthy limericks while Elizabeth (Claire Foy) at one point goes off on a tangent about farting dogs.

As period dramas go it’s certainly high calibre, and the bloated budget can’t help but add an enjoyable sumptuousness to proceedings. With the Top Gear team due for their Amazon Prime makeover later this month, the TV revolution looks to be in full swing. The Crown’s humungous budget is just one of the ways terrestrial channels are struggling to compete with their online counterparts.

The first series of ‘The Crown’ can be streamed on Netflix.

Photograph: NASA

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