THE SERIES “The Crown”
WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming Friday, Nov. 4, on Netflix
WHAT IT’S ABOUT After the death of her father, King George VI (Jared Harris) in February 1952, Elizabeth (Claire Foy) becomes Queen Elizabeth II, Elizabeth Regina, and at 25, among the world’s youngest monarchs, soon to become the most famous. She instantly faces enormous problems, besides a new spouse, Prince Philip (“Doctor Who’s” Matt Smith) who chafes in the role as the Queen’s husband and consort.
Meanwhile, Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) is in ill health, and yet will soon become prime minister. His successor, Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam), is also in bad shape. This 10-hour miniseries from Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon”) is based on Morgan’s play, “The Audience,” about Elizabeth’s early reign and the palace intrigues she battled.
MY SAY Americans of a certain age may best remember Carol Burnett’s burlesque of Queen Elizabeth, and those of another age maybe Her Majesty the Queen (Jeanette Charles) in “Naked Gun” and “Austin Powers.” Parody gave way to reproach in the late ’90s, when the news media picked up the cudgel after the death of Princess Diana. Frosty, smug, and largely invisible during a period of international mourning, just who was this remote monarch with the heart of marble?
Helen Mirren and Peter Morgan discovered an answer — along with that missing heart — in 2006’s Oscar-winner “The Queen,” and regilded the royal lily all over again in their 2013 stage collaboration, “The Audience.”
With “The Crown,” Morgan’s job is done and no small accomplishment either. At 90, the Queen has been humanized, thanks to him, and her humanity spreads across these 10 hours, too. And by casting Mirren, now Foy, viewers can also be assured that along with that humanity, there’s plenty of glamour in this portrait too. When she watches — if she watches — Her Majesty should be pleased. With Matt Smith as his surrogate, Prince Philip should be happy too.
What about you? Sumptuously produced but glacially told, “The Crown” is the TV equivalent of a long drive through the English countryside. The scenery keeps changing, but remains the same. You nod off, then wake up — to see more of the same. Confined to only a few years after Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, the same dramatis personae keep reoccurring, adding to that effect: First Churchill, then Eden — one doddering, the other ill. Philip whines interminably about his diminished status and commands Elizabeth to become a “living, breathing thing — a woman, a sister, a daughter, a wife.” Lithgow’s Churchill is a humorless grump, and Smith’s Philip is a dashing and handsome bore. Maybe Philip won’t be too pleased after all.
As ER, Foy takes the same template that Mirren established so memorably in the 2006 film — of a misunderstood monarch, torn between her public and private duties — and adds details. But Foy, a good actress, is no Mirren, and without the requisite gravitas — or Mirren’s soulfulness — her portrait is monochromatic, occasionally flat. As a result, Elizabeth — the public figure — and Elizabeth, the private one, tend to be the same. They are both decent, high-minded, attentive to the demands of the state and the crown, and deeply aware of the legacy that they must protect. They’re just not particularly interesting.
BOTTOM LINE Beautiful to look at, but not especially absorbing.