Until a few decades ago, following your favorite TV series was an unmissable appointment. Let’s think about Dallas: On the 1st of November 1980, the first episode was aired. It registered an audience record of 6.8 million viewers glued to the screen.
The cinema and entertainment’s revolutions of the last years, together with the appearance of various on-demand services assured an even greater success for TV series. We can follow our favorite TV series anytime and anywhere. We can even choose our favorite streaming platforms. Access to different programs is perennial.
One of the most popular series of the last decade is indisputably The Crown. Produced by Left Bank Pictures and Sony Pictures Television for Netflix, The Crown is regarded as an international giant. The popularity of the series has won it three Golden Globes and eight Emmy Awards. Its costs have reached over 130 million dollars per season, one of the most significant investments ever made. The series, created by Peter Morgan, was inspired by the theater pièce The Audience he directed along with Stephen Daldry in 2013. The play developed around the Queen and her prime minister’s meetings, from Winston Churchill to David Cameron. In the TV series, they have often been translated into intellectual fights comparable to a match of chess. We cannot forget, for instance, the first season’s dialogues between the Queen and Winston Churchill, played by an impressive John Lithgow.
Moving between factual historical episodes and fictive ones, the theatrical project was developed further around the entire Royal Family. The TV saga is composed of sixty episodes divided into six seasons.
And yet, The Crown is much more than a soap opera about the Royal Family. Its success has been especially assured by the care of the staging and the high-level acting. Each episode is set in a slightly foggy scenery, seemingly impregnated with the “London smoke”, creating a sense of reality and immersion. The scenes were shot between Buckingham Palace, Lancaster House, Wrotham Park, and Wilton House and in meticulously reconstructed studio sets.
The clothes are faithfully reproduced by Michele Clapton (the same costume designer of Game of Thrones). We can follow the fashion of the time in a succession of unique costume items. We move from lavish ceremonial and bridal gowns to jewelry, evening dresses in below-the-knee skirts, and ornamental royal hats.
In the first three series, we saw Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne, her marriage to Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and her sister Margaret’s love story. Above all, they focused on traveling around the Commonwealth and on the Monarchy’s duties in the climate of the postwar period.
The fourth season, which focuses on the events from 1977 to 1990, came out on the 15th of November 2020. It has been the most anxiously awaited – and perhaps the most dangerous – of the seasons. The proximity of the narrated period to the present and the much-questioned relation between Princess Diana and Prince Charles were probably the main reasons for such a tumultuous awaiting and consequent attention. This season talks about the 1980s, a decade of unemployment and the devaluation of the pound, of the middle-class struggle, and the terrorist attacks by the IRA. These years’ extreme political events, along with the troubled marriage between Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Diana, represented a great challenge for the Monarchy. In the series, these two main narratives are introduced in parallel, contributing to the creation of tension within the royal family and between them and Great Britain’s political situation.
The protagonists of the season are undoubtedly the female characters represented by the Queen, Margaret Thatcher, and Lady Diana, along with Princess Anne and Princess Margaret. It seems that the fourthseason wants to underline different facets of a significant modern topic: female empowerment.
It soon emerges that all women are thorned between family duties and the duty towards their beloved country. The battle against social prejudice plays a significant role in this tension.
In the fourth season, the Queen reconfirms herself as a monarch who is at the same time woman, mother, and sister. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Crown’s duty has precedence over everything else: “The Crown must always win”. Whereas Claire Foy played the role of a very young Elizabeth struggling on her path towards being a respected monarch in the first two seasons, the part is then passed over to Olivia Colman from the third season. The latter has been able to fit the role as a more mature queen perfectly. The Queen has now learned to live with her inner conflict between impulse and duty at the cost of seeming more detached from the succession of human events.
From the series’ beginning, the intention of replacing the actors every two seasons was made public. Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was played by Matt Smith and Tobias Menzies. The same goes for Princess Margaret, played first by Vanessa Kirby and later by Helena Bonham Carter.
Princess Margaret has been portrayed feeling on the sidelines as the King’s second daughter from the first season. Her desire to emerge in the light of the Monarchy and to fulfill the royalist roles with her charming and uninhibited character is repeatedly put at the center of her depiction. The figure of Margaret represents the sacrifice of living in the Crown’s shadow. One of the main events depicted in the series, that served the purpose to underline the sacrifice, was the renunciation of the marriage to Colonel Peter Townsend (Ben Miles) in favor of the union with Antony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode). Reflecting on her personal experience, the figure of Princess Margaret frequently says that the Monarchy cannot coexist with true love. Princess Margaret’s story repeats itself in history, as well as in the series, with the questionable marriage between Charles and Diana. In the series, it is a clear example of a literary device, namely a foreshadowing.
The similarity of Emma Corrin in the role of Diana Spencer is remarkable. Diana and Charles’ marriage, which started as a real-life fairytale, is soon threatened by Camilla Parker-Bowles’ presence (Emerald Fennell). Between expectations, wishes, dreams, and reality, the union will reveal itself to be a nightmare. Beyond the icon, Lady D emerges as a complex and fragile figure. At the same time, she seems to be always looking for a stage on which to perform and be at the center of attention. Sensitive and rebellious, she hardly adapts to the rules and to the spirit of sacrifice that every member of the Royal Family is required to have to serve the Crown.
Another indisputable star of the new season is Margaret Thatcher. She’s the first British woman to hold the Prime Minister’s role with “the only real passion” for politics. One of the most controversial decisions as the leader of the Conservative Party was undoubtedly the Falklands War. In The Crown, it is clear how this decision brought an inevitable tension, both within the Commonwealth and with the Queen. The clash of differences between the two women was at the center of a political scandal. Nevertheless, the mutual respect for the work and sense of duty of one another will prevail.
The end of any Prime Minister’s mandate underlines the stability of the Crown. Beyond the periods of crisis and wars, the history of the twentieth century is told with a sense of continuity through the Royal Family’s eyes. Perhaps this is the most profound meaning of the series, as the opening theme seems to suggest: the real protagonist is the Crown forged in gold, presented as a quasi-memento, or else an instrument of holiness.
The Crown is not only the story of Elizabeth II but the tale of the same Crown granted by mysterious “divine right” through the centuries to the Kings and Queens of England.
At the end of it all, it is appropriate to say: God Save the Queen.