It’s taken me a few months, but I’ve finally gotten around to watching the first season of Netflix’s lavish series about Queen Elizabeth II. It is one of the best TV series I have seen in a long while. It only took me two days to watch the whole first season as it had me completely hooked. I loved every minute of it.
The series was created and written by Peter Morgan, the man who gave us The Queen (2006)and Frost/Nixon (2008).The series will look at the Queen’s reign and will be set from 1947 to the present day. Different actors will be taking over from Claire and Matt after season 2.
The acting, the costumes and the out of this world music were the best parts of this season for me. This is one of those series where the actors are allowed to act, and real time is taken with characters and their situations. This series is not all about visuals and effects (I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to just be able to enjoy some fine acting for a change).
This has been Netflix’s most expensive production to date, and it is not hard to see why. You can see the money in every shot. It’s clear money was well spent on getting the locations, costumes, sets etc just right. The series also succeeds in creating an epic scale for this drama about a woman who has gained worldwide fame and significance.
Claire Foy is superb as Queen Elizabeth. She captures her body language and mannerisms perfectly. I think she looks a lot like her and sounds like her too. I like how she manages to convey how Elizabeth changes from a happy young woman, who is carefree, into a more serious, distant and strong woman who is struggling to become the symbol she is expected to become. Whilst Claire delivers the standout performance of the series, there are many other terrific performances to enjoy here.
John Lithgow steals every scene he is in as the elderly Churchill. He is like a lion, still ferocious and strong, yet struggling to stay like that and trying to hide that fact. His performance here won John Lithgow the Best Supporting Actor Emmy Award.
My favourite actors in this are Jared Harris (son of Richard Harris), Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby, Jeremy Northam and Alex Jennings.
Matt Smith is excellent as Prince Phillip. I was sceptical about his casting at first, but he looks like him and really captures his personality very well indeed.
Jared Harris is particularly superb as the shy King George; a gentle and very ill man who hid the severity of his cancer from those closest to him, as he couldn’t afford to be seen as weak, or to cause his family pain. He captures the deep sadness of this man and really makes you feel for him. The King was well liked by the public and by those who knew him. By all accounts he was a gentle and humble man who tried so hard in this role.
Eileen Atkins is also excellent as the stern and strong Queen Mary. Elizabeth’s grandmother was a formidable woman, and Eileen captures her personality and regal nature perfectly.
Season 1 begins in 1947 and finishes in the late 1950’s. It focuses upon Princess Elizabeth (Claire Foy)as she becomes Queen of England at the age of 25. Elizabeth takes up this position due to the sudden death of her father, King George IV (Jared Harris). This throws her personal life into chaos, as she now can no longer think of herself or her family before thinking of the crown and the royal system and traditions. From now on duty and public relations are everything.
In addition to us seeing what is going on in the royal household, we also see what is going on at 10 Downing Street. Elizabeth is supported by Prime Minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow). He is very set in his ways and he expects her to follow tradition.
He understands though(and is sympathetic) to the difficulties the Queen’s new role brings her, and he is also sympathetic to her frustrations. Churchill is facing problems of his own that he must attend to. His health is failing him, and there are calls within cabinet and the Conservative party for him to resign. It is hoped he will let Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam)take over as Prime Minister. Eden waits in the wings for his moment of fame and glory. Ironically he is soon beset with his own health issues, which will lead him to be in much the same situation as Churchill in the future.
Elizabeth’s husband Prince Phillip(Matt Smith)is also struggling. He is finding it difficult to adjust to the change in his families circumstances, especially with him now being one step behind his wife, and also with the change in personality that her new role brings about in her.
Philip becomes frustrated with their new position and the royal marriage becomes strained. He does his best to stand by his wife, to protect her and to help her, but he cannot stand the restrictive, gilded cage that their life has become. The Prince rebels and this causes problems.
The Queen must also deal with her glamourous younger sister, Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby). Margaret falls in love with the dashing RAF pilot, Group Captain Peter Townsend (Ben Miles)and their relationship brings about the scandal of the decade. Elizabeth must choose between her duty and responsibility as Queen, and her position as a sister as to whether she allows this young couple to marry or not.
Margaret’s situation bears some resemblance to the abdication crisis of 1936, when King Edward VIII (Alex Jennings)abdicated the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson. The abdication meant Edward’s younger brother George VI had to become King, and the strains of his new position is widely believed to have contributed to his ill health and early death. Edward couldn’t stand not being allow to marry the woman of his choice, so he had to give up his royal rights in order to have her.
This series shows that life as a Royal is not all luxury and good times. Whether you like the monarchy or not, it can’t be denied that the royals endure intense and never ending press intrusion and are under constant scrutiny by the public. This series shows what it is like for them to deal with that on a daily basis. It also shows how they sometimes struggle to endure the attention.
We are also shown the intricate labyrinth of Royal protocol. As we see in this (and I’m sure it’s the case in reality)even the royals themselves hate this and are frustrated by it. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. This series certainly shows us that saying is true. Anyone out there who thinks being monarch is an easy or desirable job should certainly think again.
I have a couple of issues with the series. If there are criticisms to be made I’d say it’s that there are only ten episodes. There should have been an extra long episode which served as the pilot episode. If they had done a two hour plus episode detailing Elizabeth and Philip falling in love, and dealing with the objections to him as her match that would have been good. It would also have been good to see more of King George performing his duty and having more scenes of him with his family, so we can feel their bond even more.
I would also have liked the sequence set after the wedding ceremony to have been longer. The births of Prince Charles and Princess Anne were also rather glossed over, which is strange as they were key events in Elizabeth’s life.
I also think that Victoria Hamilton wasn’t the best choice to play the Queen Mother. She does a good job of portraying a woman left adrift and depressed following her husbands death, but she just doesn’t convince me as the Queen Mum.
Much of what is depicted here is very well known to those of us who were born and raised in the UK, but there were some things featured that I wasn’t familiar with. These things include The Great Smog Of London, which occurred during 1952 and which led to thousands of people dying because they were breathing in the toxic air.
I also wasn’t aware of the plane crash which killed Princess Cecilie, who was Philip’s favourite sister. She was killed along with her husband, their two sons, and the planes crew when the plane crashed into a factory chimney. She was heavily pregnant at the time, and when rescuers got to the plane they found she had given birth and her baby was found dead next to her. It is believed she went into labour during the flight and the pilot was trying to make an emergency landing because of that.
I also learnt a great deal about Anthony Eden, I didn’t know for example that he was seriously ill and dependent on medication before and during his time as PM. Seeing these things included here has made me go off and do some research, and to speak to my mum and dad to see what they remembered and I now feel much better informed. So I’m grateful to this series in that regard.
My favourite episodes are Pride and Joy. Assassins. Wolverton Splash. Hyde Park Corner. Act Of God. Smoke and Mirrors.
My favourite piece of music is the track entitled Duck Shoot. I like how this really becomes the theme of the series. It plays during several key moments including the King’s death, the foreshadowing of the King’s death (him coughing severely as Elizabeth takes a moment to think about her future as the next monarch) and during Churchill’s farewell dinner.
It was recently announced that Olivia Colman will replace Claire in the role of the Queen in seasons 3 and 4. I’m not sure what to think about this to be honest. I don’t know why they can’t just keep Claire and Matt and just use age makeup and different hairstyles. Olivia is a good actress but I don’t really see her as Elizabeth II.
A lavish and gripping series that sucks you in. Any other fans?