Queen Elizabeth II may become your new feminist icon.
By Emma Dibdin
When Netflix announced back in January that it would spend $6 billion on new content in 2016, minds boggled. But that figure is already making a lot more sense in the run-up to its ambitious new series The Crown, the first season of which cost upwards of $100 million.
Here are eight things to know about the elegant, richly detailed The Crown, a character-driven drama chronicling the adult life of Queen Elizabeth II from her 1947 wedding onwards.
1) This is not a soap opera.
Don’t look to The Crown to fill the Downton Abbey-shaped hole in your heart. All 10 episodes are written by Peter Morgan, known for his nuanced, deeply researched portraits of British royals and politicians in movies including The Queen and Frost/Nixon. Picking up in a post-war Britain where prime minister Winston Churchill has declared, “mankind stands on the edge of catastrophe,” the show’s focus is on flawed human beings in an incredibly unique and strange psychological position, and how the burden of royal duty impacts them all.
2) The first three episodes are essentially a sequel to The King’s Speech.
The Crown begins with King George VI, played by Mad Men’s always-lovable Jared Harris, on the throne. There are a lot of King Georges in British history, but this one has already been memorably brought to the screen before by Colin Firth in the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech. Eight years on from that film’s solemn conclusion, George’s health is faltering, and he spends a lot of the first episode coughing up blood which his manservant bullishly attributes to “the cold.”
Spoiler alert, for anyone who isn’t up on their British history: it’s not the cold. (Geoffrey Rush did try to warn him.) George’s death in 1952 forced his 25-year-old daughter Elizabeth onto the throne, but Harris gets a decent chunk of screen time here before that happens, and offers some important commentary on Elizabeth’s situation. George was a reluctant monarch himself, forced to take over when his elder brother Edward VIII abdicated the throne in order to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson. The fallout from that scandal is still being felt when Edward comes back into the picture in Episode 3. His actual abdication—without which Elizabeth would never have been in line for the throne in the first place—is shown in flashbacks later in the season.
3) Elizabeth II may become your new feminist icon.
Regardless of your feelings about the monarchy, Queen Elizabeth—now Britain’s longest-serving ruler—is objectively a woman to admire. Claire Foy’s performance emphasizes the stoicism, modesty and no-nonsense attitude that have defined her reign, and they’re highlighted in contrast to the people (chiefly the men) around her.
“I have seen three great monarchies brought down through their failure to separate personal indulgences from duty,” she’s warned early on. “You must not allow yourself to make similar mistakes.” Her new husband Philip (Matt Smith) is more concerned with the trappings of monarchy than the actual responsibilities; her uncle Edward squabbles with the rest of her family over his inheritance; she’s surrounded by people who make no secret of their belief that they’re better suited for the throne than her. Amidst it all, Elizabeth quietly endures and gets on with business.
Episode 2 also features a reminder of what might be the best badass QE2 factoid. During her royal visit to Nairobi, the then-Princess Elizabeth casually mends a broken-down car, reminding her male companions that she served as a mechanic during World War II.