— By Carly Twehous —
People all around the world hold a generalized fascination and traditionalized respect for the British monarchy. Members of the Royal Family are constantly subjects of headlines and tabloids in every country that has newsstands. Whether this universal obsession started with a historical intrigue of the once great British Empire, or with the tragic and sudden death of Princess Diana, or, more recently, with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Royal Family never fails to captivate the imagination of us peasants around the world.
The Crown is no different. Centering on the life and times of the young woman who would become Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning British monarch, The Crown offers both a shockingly accurate historical account as well as an emotional tale of a woman who is first a mother, a sister, a wife, long before she is queen.
Even with a young and beautiful Queen Elizabeth, this show had every opportunity to fall flat on its face, by giving us just one more “docu-drama” and stiffly painted figurehead. Instead, we get to see Elizabeth with a cigarette between her fingers, trying to ease her nerves on the eve of her wedding to Prince Phillip. It’s such a simple thing, that little cigarette, but it carries with it the entire success of this particular reiteration of this particular story.
Thing is, anyone can open a Wikipedia page and there are no shortage of books on the Royal Family, even before the world-wide captivation with the tragic life and times of Princess Diana. The facts exist in nearly every form of mass communication known to man.
Facts are facts, and, fascinating though they may be, facts do not make a story.
A story requires that small dose of humanity that the history books always seem to overlook.
The Crown gives us every ounce of humanity that should accompany this story. It gives us Elizabeth as a young woman, about to enter an arranged marriage with a man who is far older than her and, well, distantly related to her. We see her nerves and her hesitation and her breakdown, but resolve to go through with it because it is her duty.
We see a declining Winston Churchill, not only played by an American actor, but John Lithgow. That’s right, folks. Winston Churchill, easily one of the most renowned figures in the 20th century, is played by the same dance-hating, bible-thumping preacher from Kevin Bacon’s Footloose. But, let me tell you, an American Winston Churchill is entirely forgivable for the same reasons I didn’t turn this show off in the first twenty minutes: He’s so charmingly real.
As the show progresses, we see Elizabeth and Phillip coming into their roles as both husband and wife, mother and father, and, of course, queen and decorated leader in both the Royal Navy and Air Force.
Instead of a blind recitation of numerous Wikipedia articles, The Crown takes us right into the inner sanctum of Buckingham Palace and pulls these world famous figureheads down to size. We see all the bells and whistles, how they dance around each other, how they harmonize, and how they all fall apart. We finally see ourselves reflected back in the faces that both history and the royal PR department so often try to keep secret.
Supposedly, a station such as that of Queen Elizabeth and the rest of the Royal gang warrants such an image: poised and perfect and just a little bit above everyone else. That’s why everyone loved Princess Diana, and, to some extent, Kate Middleton: They give normal people undeniable proof of humanity, despite the historical significance of their station and status.
Ultimately, The Crown’s intent is the same and it is an overwhelming success. The Crown is like Downton Abbey, except that it’s actually good and doesn’t rely solely on unexpected and uncalled for twists just for the sake of soap-opera drama. That, I suppose, is the benefit of rooting a story in historical fact: You already have the story structure, complete with every twist and triumph and tragedy.
All you have to do is find that ounce of humanity that will land a captive audience.