Crowning Glory or Christmas Cash In?
Drama series The Crown is now in its fourth series, each season is said to be more popular than the last. Season 3, released in time for Christmas on DVD and Blu-ray, sees this dramatic retelling of the reign of Queen Elizabeth from 1964 to 1977. It encompasses the Aberfan mining disaster, the funeral of Churchill, the Anthony Blunt spy scandal, the investiture of the Prince of Wales, and the disintegration of Princess Margaret’s marriage.
Emmy award-winning Claire Foy in the role of HMQ has been replaced by Oscar-winning Olivia Coleman whose arched-eyebrow school of acting allows viewers to speculate on what the ‘never complain, never explain’ Queen is really thinking.
The show has been criticised for playing fast and loose with the facts and on its reductive view of recent events. Something of a failing in what is as much a historical drama as a political one.
Author and historian Hugo Vickers even wrote a slim volume of ‘a pedant’s observations’ on The Crown‘s abundant errors: events that did not happen, odd conflations and inaccurate uniforms and medals. Despite this the show has become astoundingly popular internationally, 73million households worldwide are said to remain glued to it.
Why does any of this matter? Well, The Crown has proved to be the making of Netflix where it first appeared in 2016. The streaming behemoth spent huge bucks (£100m on the first season alone) on what they saw as their flagship production. And although the writing has been variable and some of the characterisation described as shallow it’s amazing what a big budget can disguise. Netflix wanted something that would say they were a real contender, committed to prestige drama. They wanted something that would out-Downton Downton. And The Crown delivered. It’s a case of Wolf Hall meets Dynasty.
The British royal family has certainly seen its ups and downs, scandals, tragedies, and larger-than-life characters. It has all the ingredients of the sudsiest soap operas: an array of powerful matriarchs, bitter rivalry, weak-willed menfolk, back-stairs intrigue, romantic entanglements and sibling rivalry. The Crown had the added attraction of aides and equerries who are as shadowy as any New Jersey consigliore and, of course, the royal corgis scuttling across the Persian carpets.
The enormous viewing figures attributed to season after season of Downton Abbey showed that toffs in turmoil could make ultra popular telly. While some critics have found the entire enterprise tawdry and vulgar (bedroom scenes between Elizabeth and Philip drawing particular ire) others enjoy it for its refreshing lack of deference.
Last Christmas retailers were forced to ensure that the The Crown Season 2’s box sets were displayed without their contents, so popular were they among the shoplifting community. What Granny or Auntie Ethel wouldn’t be delighted with such a chocolate-boxy TV treat neatly wrapped under the Christmas tree? The show has been uncharitably described as undemanding ‘pensioner-friendly viewing’.
While royalty may have lost its mystique years ago and had its relevance to the 21st century widely questioned it cannot be denied that it still makes the headlines and provides a series of water-cooler moments.
Last year’s gold-class, car crash interview with Prince Andrew showed just how out of touch some members of ‘the Firm’ remain. Meanwhile the Windsors residing in Hollywood, Harry and Megan (dubbed H&M by Private Eye), show promise that the dysfunctionality on which soap families depend is alive and well. Also, the tabloids continue to speculate regularly on alleged feuds and infighting, such as those rumoured between Harry and William.
The Crown too, can be shockingly disrespectful of the Windsor’s’ private lives. However it’s all done in the best possible taste, with fantastic acting talent, gorgeous locations, wonderful costumes and lush cinematography. Not to mention the pitch-perfect period detail and the staggering use of special effects; Rolls Royces glide through the open gates of Buckingham Palace, BOAC Bristol Britannias overfly the Empire, huge crowds line the streets around The Mall.
The royal family has long been seen as fair game for media speculation. Partly because of their absurd privilege, partly because they give so little away and famously can’t (or don’t normally) answer back. While the press relishes knocking them off their pedestal The Crown shows them as all too human – selfish, bad-tempered, fallible, disloyal, spiteful, weak and overly trusting.
The message seems to be over-privilege buys neither happiness nor
Info: Season 3 of The Crown is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray. Season 4 is streaming now on Netflix.
Quiz: Which one of these people is most likely to give one ‘a handbagging’?