Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Crown

Being a Doctor Who fan can lead one to watch different types of TV shows and movies just to catch a glimpse of your favorite Whovian actors in other roles. Back in the day, I watched All Creatures Great and Small because 5th Doctor Peter Davison was in it. I sat through the Golden Voyage of Sinbad because 4th Doctor Tom Baker had a role in the movie.

My wife Andrea has been particularly devoted to following modern Who actors in things she may not have otherwise watched. For example, she glommed onto all 13 episodes of Jessica Jones on Netflix in order to see what 10th Doctor David Tennant was up to. And now she's taken up watching The Crown, the latest Netflix offering, because 11th Doctor Matt Smith has a starring role.

You may recall how Andrea dragged us out of the Fortress of Ineptitude to go see Terminator: Genysis last year because Matt Smith was in it. You may also recall that Matt wasn't actually in it very much.

That's not the case for The Crown where Matt Smith has a very decidedly important role up front if slightly off to the side of the center as Prince Phillip, consort to Queen Elizabeth II.

Andrea and I watched the first two episodes of The Crown last weekend which set up the status quo of the royal family. King George has settled more or less comfortably if still a bit grumpily in the role of King after his brother decided that he didn't want the job and would rather be with the American born love of his life. Liz and Phil get married, pop out some babies and Phil gets going with a career in the Royal Navy. Meanwhile Liz's sister Margaret is hot and bothered by one of the royal staff who is rather inconveniently married. And on the political side of things, Winston Churchill has trundled back into the office of Prime Minister, still popular after leading England through World War II but Churchill is much older now and really can't be bother with policy matters unless the American and/or Soviets are up to something.

The Crown is the story of a young Princess Elizabeth who understands that one day she will be Queen but figures that day is a long time away. Unfortunately, her dad King George VI has other plans by going off and dying, totally messing up her own plans of happy child raising domesticity.

Apparently bringing The Crown to life costs Netflix a LOT of money but it's all there on the screen with wonderfully rendered sets, costuming and lighting. The show looks good. 

But is it in fact actually good? That depends on your definition of good. The Crown is a quintessential British drama which means lots of quiet discussions punctuated with moments of profound silence set in surrounding defined by shadows and soft lighting. It makes for very effective and evocative drama but it does require commitment of patience and focus. It is a commitment that, in at least the two episodes I've seen so far, is rewarded. But it kind of has to be your thing. Otherwise, you might be bored. 

OK, there is a scene of Prince Phillip's naked butt and a scene where the new Queen Elizabeth changes her clothes. There, something for the more prurient minded of you other there.

John Lithgow is on hand to chew the scenery as only John Lithgow can as Winston Churchill. Oh, how long as it been since the days when Lithgow was Dr. Lizardo in Buckaroo Banzai? Oh, it has been too long.

Claire Foy plays Elizabeth, once a Princess, now a Queen. Even before ascending the throne, Foy's Elizabeth projects the reserved nobility of a monarch in waiting while cracking the door open a bit to show the vulnerable woman underneath. But even the woman beneath the surface has a remarkable strength. And not mention surprising talents. While on safari in Kenya, the future monarch of England displays her mechanic skills to start a stalled jeep. I wonder if 60 years later if Queen Elizabeth still knows how to fix a jeep?

And there's Matt Smith as Phillip, an odd duck coming into this family of English geese. Phillip was a Prince in Denmark and Greece with a German heritage. He renounces these legacies and even takes on a different last name, Mountbatten, in order to be part of the royal family and marry Elizabeth. For Phillip, it's a good life he's set up for himself with a beautiful woman he loves and children he's devoted to plus a career in the Royal Navy that suits him perfectly. But the illness and subsequent death of King George brings that idyllic life to a halt. Smith's Prince Phillip is still devoted to his wife and family but clearly bristles at the restrictions that now govern his life as his wife assumes the throne. It's to Smith's credit that he makes Phillip sympathetic even when he's a bit peeved at being told where to stand in relation to his own wife due to the restrictions of royal protocols. 

Last night, Andrea and I watched 2 more episodes. The first is set around the visit of the former King Edward for the funeral of his brother, King George. The royal family really don't like this guy and he does seem a bit weaselly as he sniffs around the edges of this arcane power structure he abandoned years before, seeking to increase his allowance while his own mother, who bluntly tells the former King that George was the better son, seeks to cut him off. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is testing the limits of her new found power and finds those limits quite considerable. She has losing battles on where her family can live and the choice of her last name. The next episode centers around a great smog that descended on London in December 1952 that led to the deaths of thousands of people. Elizabeth is forced to contend with an irascible Prime Minister William Churchill who can't be bothered to deal with that problem, more concerned with foreign affairs and that Prince Phillip is determined to take flying lessons.  

I know people who have already binged all 10 installments but binge watching is not really my thing and Andrea isn't big on it either. Besides, I don't think The Crown is the right kind of show to binge. There's a lot of thought and detail that does into this series. I think this is show that needs to be taken in pieces, not as a whole. Like a good British drama, The Crown takes its time. And we should extend the same courtesy in watching it.


Tomorrow on the blog, it's Doctor Who Day. Now that my latest fan-fiction script is over, let's take some time to catch up on some Doctor Who news. What's up with the Christmas special? What's new with Series 10? What's up with Class, the Doctor Who spin off? I'll take a look at that and more in tomorrow's post.

Monday takes us back to Netflix as I reflect on my re-watch journey through 30 Rock.

And in the days to come: Supergirl, comic books and Hamilton (as in the musical).

Until next time, remember to be good to one another. 

Counting Down To Infinity