Modern TV, True Story

The Crown (TV Series, 2016 Onwards)

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.

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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?

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Drama, Modern TV

Mad Men (2007-2015) Chronicling The Decade Of Change

Photo0137I love this series! It is a great favourite and it is a series that I never wanted to end when it was on. This series sucks you in and doesn’t let you go. I never wanted to be let go! This is one I will never get tired of watching again, again and again. It has so much to offer and is one of the best written and acted series in TV history.

This is one of the classiest looking series that has ever been made. Exquisite period detail,  beautiful costumes and sets manage to recreate a bygone era. You can practically smell the fresh flowers on the dining room and restaurant tables, taste the alcohol and smell the cigarette smoke.

It has well written and well developed characters whose lives we witness being changed and affected by the decade of change. We share these peoples good times and bad. We laugh and cry with them, are shocked and traumatised with them, and by the end feel like we know these people and have gone through their change with them.

For seven seasons this series let us witness the huge amount of change that America (and in many cases)that the world saw during the 1960’s.  The series starts in 1960, and ends in the early 70’s. We begin with men and women living a certain way, and doing certain things only because that’s what their parents did before them and it is expected that they follow in mum and dads footsteps. What the people growing up in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s wanted was irrelevant, they did what was expected by their elders and by society at large. 

As Mad Men goes on we see unhappy people stuck in jobs that grind them down, we see people wearing public masks to hide their mounting unhappiness with their lives, and when the 60’s arrive we see all this begin to change. We see racism thankfully start to become a thing of the past thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, and we see black people finally get to become equal to white people. We see the characters react to real life events unfolding on the news, such as the horrific assassinations that shocked the country (and indeed the world)of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King. We see the changing fashions and music. We see peoples attitudes to sex and marriage change. We see the peace and hippie movement begin. We see women finally being equal to men and not being expected to be stuck in the kitchen or having babies.

I’ve always found it interesting to see how advertisers come up with the ideas for their various ad campaigns. This series lets us follow these characters and shows us how that creative process works, and it’s one of my favourite parts of the series watching the ideas unfold on screen.

I also like how in a way the series is itself one big advertisement for different ways of life. It presents to us the seemingly perfect and idyllic early 1960’s, where although there is racism, sexism and other unpleasantness, everything is the best it could be, from service in restaurants, to the quality of products, to peoples manners, to the care people took in their jobs and in maintaining their homes, and how everyone was supposedly happy and content. It also shows us the later part of the decade when the shackles came off and people started living for themselves, life wasn’t as restrictive, men and women (of all colours)were treated as equals and it seemed that anything was possible for a time.

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We see our characters begin to change and grow as individuals. Some start off as likeable and then become less so, for some the opposite is true. For most of the series Don always gave off the impression that advertising was his life, as the series went on he became less enthusiastic about it and started to care more about his personal life and in just living. Joan and Peggy both shatter the glass ceiling and rise through the ranks of their company, both these women also find happiness in being career women. Roger learns to take life slow and appreciate every moment, he also embraces the hippie/free love movement and gets what these kids are all about. Betty finally starts to follow her heart and focus on what she wants to do. Pete starts off as arrogant and quite unpleasant, and by the series end is one of the most likeable characters, he has grown, matured and changed his ways.

Mad Men was created by Matthew Weiner. The series title is a phrase that advertisers used to describe themselves during the 50’s. The series follows a group of Madison Avenue advertisers from the fictional firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is the Creative Director for the firm and one of the firms partners. He is a successful, handsome, smooth man who always makes you think he is control. He could sell ice to Eskimos and cigarettes to non smokers. His whole life is a façade though, as we later learn he is not who we think he is at all. He is a womaniser despite being married and having a perfect family. He sleeps with many women and cares about them all.

Don is married to the beautiful Betty (January Jones), Betty is a former model and looks like Grace Kelly. As the series goes on we see that Betty is a woman wearing a happy mask to the rest of the world, she is deeply unhappy and wants more than just being a mum and wife.

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) is an ambitious woman desperate to prove herself equal to her male colleagues. Peggy first joins the company as Don’s secretary, but soon joins the creative team and later rises higher through the ranks. She and Don become very close friends and the deep bond between them isn’t really definable. At times you think they might get together romantically, at other times they are like brother and sister. I would call them soulmates. Scenes between them are my favourites from the whole series.

Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser)is a young account man who has lots of ambition and lots of resentment and rage bubbling up inside of him. As the series goes on I think he is the character who undergoes the most change and he becomes one of the most likeable characters from the whole series. Pete has a crush on Peggy which is complicated when he gets married.

Sal Romano(Bryan Batt)is the art director for the firm. Like Don, Sal is hiding a big secret. Sal is homosexual and cannot for one second afford to let that secret slip. This brings him much heartbreak and pain as the series goes on.

Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks)is the firms office manager and later becomes a partner. A former secretary, Joan knows how to keep the office running like clockwork, she has a knack for resolving disputes and unpleasantness. Joan is not a gal to get on the wrong side of. Joan is a very beautiful and sexy woman who is clever too, many men focus only her physical qualities and underestimate her mind (I assure you they regret that).

Roger Serling (John Slattery)is one of two senior partners of the firm. He is a witty man who has some of the funniest lines of the entire series. Roger is a WW2 Navy veteran who drinks and smokes to excess. He also cheats on his wife. Roger doesn’t just treat his women as one night stands though, he really does care for them and offers help and friendship even when they are no longer involved. He has been in a long term affair with Joan, and she is the woman he should be with, they just can’t seem to make that commitment.

Lane Pryce( Jared Harris, the son of Richard Harris) is possibly the most tragic character in the entire series. A Brit who becomes a partner at the firm when it’s taken over by the company he worked with. Lane comes to love his colleagues and warms to American life.

Lane develops a crush on Joan and he always tries to look after her. Living in America affords him the personal freedom he was denied in the UK. He has a controlling and cruel father (seen in a chilling guest appearance played by W. Morgan Sheppard)and is slowly breaking free of control to be his own man.  When he gets into debt in season 5, tragedy and heartbreak lie around the corner for him and for us.

Megan Draper (Jessica Pare)is a secretary who is an aspiring actress. Megan becomes Don’s second wife after he and Betty divorce. Megan is outgoing, stylish and a very modern woman. Megan loves Don but won’t be the stay at home wife that Betty was to him.

Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) is the head of the firms media and TV department. He was ahead of his colleagues in recognising how big TV was going to become. He starts off as a very likeable character, but by the end was one who I disliked very much.  He became full of himself and selfish.

Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton)is a likeable character throughout the entire series. Ken is a good guy and is respectful of people, he doesn’t really join in that much with the office banter and opinions of many of his male colleagues. Ken is an aspiring author and it’s later revealed that he has had some short stories published.

Stan Rizzo (J.R Ferguson) is the art director in the later part of the series. He is a very relaxed and fun loving guy. He is in love with Peggy.

Bert Cooper (Robert Morse)is the head of the firm. He is best friends with Roger and has a thing about people having to be in his office in bare feet. He is eccentric but takes a keen interest in the day to day running of his firm. When he makes rare appearances at meetings or shares feedback it is time to pay attention.

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Other characters include Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis)an opinionated liberal who can be both likeable and unlikeable.

Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka)is Don and Betty’s eldest child, she is forever at odds with her mum, but as the series goes on finds newfound respect for her.

Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley)is a political adviser who later marries Betty, he is a good man and loves her very much.

Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray)is a copywriter who is struggling against his alcoholism, as the series goes on he is fired from the company but has regular appearances throughout the series. Freddy is close friends with Peggy and Don.

Glen Bishop ( Martin Weiner, the son of the series creator) a seriously weird kid who has a major crush on Betty and Sally. He is quite freaky, but in season 7 he has changed to someone quite different.

Duck Phillips (Mark Moses)is a recovering alcoholic who clashes with Don, falls for Peggy and is not someone to be trusted.

Michael Ginsberg ( Ben Feldman)is a copywriter who struggles socially and is later shown to be suffering from severe psychotic problems, if you go back and watch the series you will pick up little hints in Feldman’s performance that show us all is not quite right with Ginsberg.

Photo0140I love the whole series, but my favourite seasons are 4,1,3 and 5. My favourite characters are Joan, Don, Roger, Peggy, Lane, Betty, Sal, Megan and Pete.

My favourite of Don’s women? Rachel Menken(Maggie Siff)they love each other so much and she is so lonely, such a shame how their time together ended. I also love Anna Draper (Melinda Page Hamilton)she is really the only one who knew the real Don, and she accepted him completely.

My favourite moments? Roger’s LSD trip. Peggy comforting Don in The Suitcase. The famous carousel photo pitch delivered by Don. Betty and Don’s date night when in Rome for the Hilton hotel campaign. Joan’s speech about Vietnam to the man who was sexually harassing her in the office. Betty in her nightgown casually shooting at pigeons. Don and Joan’s conversation at the bar in the episode Christmas Waltz. Megan and Don’s argument at the Howard Johnson restaurant which leads to her running away. Betty and Don’s final phone call.

The following ten episodes are my favourites from the entire series.

The Suitcase. The Wheel. The Milk and Honey Route. The Grown-Ups. Hands and Knees. Christmas Waltz. At The Codfish Ball. Souvenir. Commissions and Fees. Far Away Places.

A series with so much to offer, featuring powerful performances and well developed characters. This also has a fantastic soundtrack comprising of classic 60’s songs and instrumentals. Never seen this before? Make a dinner reservation with Don Draper immediately.

Be sure to buy the Blu-ray boxset to see the series looking its best on screen. There are many interesting extras in that set to enjoy too.

I’d love to get your thoughts on this series and its characters. Please leave your comments below.