The Crown (2)

Filed in Television by on December 13, 2017 0 Comments

The second season of The Crown, a Netflix presentation, is a heady, entertaining mixture of drama and melodrama crowned by sharply nuanced performances and lavish sets, judging by the first six episodes. Like the introductory season, Peter Morgan’s series hangs on the shoulders of one indomitable character, Queen Elizabeth II, the capable sovereign who still commands the destiny of the House of Windsor.

As episode one unfolds, Elizabeth (the excellent Claire Foy) is struggling with a faltering marriage. Philip (Matt Smith), her husband, is unhappy in his role as a royal prop. Margaret (Vanessa Kirby), her unmarried and headstrong sister, is drinking to excess.

Claire Foy as Elizabeth II

The chief matter at hand, though, is a brewing crisis in the Middle East.

Egypt has nationalized the Suez Canal, in which Britain holds shares, and British Prime Minister Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam) apprises the queen of the situation. Israel invades the Sinai Peninsula, and Britain, along with France, move to “keep the peace.” Being no fool, Elizabeth detects a hint of British and French collusion with Israel. An embarrassed Eden is forced to admit he tried to pull the wool over her discerning eyes.

Elizabeth and Philip

As the series proceeds, Philip, feeling useless at home, sets off on an official goodwill mission on the royal yacht Britannia. He’s perfectly content on the high seas, enjoying the company of the sailors and his principal secretary, Mike Parker (Daniel Ings), an old friend who has a roving eye for the ladies.

Eden resigns after the Suez mishap and is replaced by his rival, Harold Macmillan (Anton Lesser). Parker’s wife sues for divorce on the grounds of adultery and cruelty, placing Philip in an awkward position and forcing him to demand Parker’s resignation. Meanwhile, a newspaper in Baltimore reports that Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is having an affair, prompting Elizabeth to confront him. “Divorce is not an option for us — ever,” she says. But realizing that Philip craves respect and status, she has him designated as a prince.

The fourth episode revolves around Margaret, who appears to be the black sheep of the family. After breaking off her engagement to a man she loved, she meets Antony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode), a photographer who leads a bohemian lifestyle. He’s unconventional and self-absorbed, a bit of a jerk. And he shows no deference to royalty. Which, perhaps, is why Margaret likes him. In a subsequent episode, Elizabeth learns he’s bisexual and has a string of lovers. It also comes out that one of his lovers is given to tossing off antisemitic slurs. She likens Margaret to “a Jewish manicurist,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

Margaret, the black sheep of the royal family

The next episode segues from the sensual to the intellectual.

A magazine publisher prints a scathing critique of the queen. He has a point. Elizabeth, though decent and well-meaning, is a cold, utterly traditional and remote figure. And the monarchy is far removed from the common folk. Stung by the accuracy of the article, the palace arranges for Elizabeth to meet the publisher, who turns out to be an aristocrat who favors the monarchy but who thinks it’s in dire need of reform. “The age of deference is over,” he says, adding that the royals must be more inclusive and egalitarian. In a sign of her intelligence, she accepts virtually all his recommendations, thereby saving the monarchy from irrelevance.

The Crown, given its stellar production values and its first-rate cast, refutes the widely-held perception that television is a wasteland. This is TV to be savored.

 

 

 

 

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