I have just finished watching the two series of “The Crown,” an original Netflix production created by Peter Morgan. The first series covers the time from the marriage of Princess Elizabeth to Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1947, thru the death of King George VI and the ascension of Elizabeth II as Queen in 1952, when Winston Churchill was still Prime Minister. It ends in 1955 after her falling out with her sister Princess Margaret over her refusal to sanction her marriage to Group Captain Peter Townsend. Both Claire Foy as Elizabeth and John Lithgow as Churchill are excellent in their roles and have won awards for their acting. Matt Smith as Phillip in my judgement portrays Philip as rather too feckless and lacks gravitas. The series won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series.
The second series continues the coverage of the reign of Elizabeth from the Suez crisis of 1956, and shows the strains in her marriage, and her continuing problems dealing with the spirited Princess Margaret and her ill-fated marriage to Anthony Armstrong-Jones. Her relationship with PMs Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan show them both as weak and indecisive men, “a confederacy of elected quitters” as she described them. They were brought down by the Suez crisis and the Profumo affair, respectively. In both cases they lied to Parliament and the country, Eden about collusion with the French and Israelis before the Suez attack, and Macmillan who was misled by Minister of War Profumo over his relationship with Steven Ward and Christine Keeler.
Overall I found the series entertaining and brilliantly produced and I highly recommend it. I should at this point confess my bias, as a convinced anti-monarchist and this series confirmed my opinion. I have always viewed the monarchy in Britain as an archaic and obsolete anachronism. When growing up in Britain I was in a small minority. I never felt any loyalty to the Crown as such, although I did have loyalty to the country of England (that is part of the UK), and to its culture and history (i.e. not “King and Country”, just “Country”). I was later happy to declare my allegiance to the Republic of the USA and subsequently to the State of Israel.
In that context, I should mention that my father knew someone who had told him that the Duke of Kent had accidentally killed a woman when opening the door of a train while it was still in motion and he was drunk. But, as with all such stories, it was hushed up and no mention appeared in the press. Much of the action in “The Crown” consists of back-room attempts by the Palace lackies to “manage the situation” and quash stories that might reflect badly on the Monarchy. Similar to Stalinist Russia, no negative stories shall appear in the controlled press. The only apparent action taken during this whole period by Elizabeth was to fly off to visit Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana in 1961 to persuade him not to go “Soviet.” Apparently a foxtrot with the Queen did it. But, in any case a constitutional monarch is not supposed to act spontaneously against the advice of her government. According to “The Crown” she did it because she was insulted by Jackie Kennedy.
Perhaps the most fascinating topic that came up in the series was the issue of the Duke of Windsor, who had abdicated the Crown as Edward VIII in 1936, due to his intention to marry the divorcee Wallace Simpson, in favor of his younger brother Bertie, who became King George VI, Elizabeth’s father. Windsor wanted to return to England from his exile in France and resume some role in British governance. Elizabeth was at first sympathetic. But, once the true background to Windsor’s support for Hitler and Nazism was exposed she retracted. How is it that she did not know this background? My father and most Britons knew of Edward’s sympathy for fascism and Nazism long before WWII and it was known that after his abdication while he was living in Portugal he visited Hitler in Germany, had meetings with him and shook his hand. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that Hitler made a deal with Edward to reinstate him as King of England after the Nazis invaded England, which fortunately they failed to do.
There were many other aspects of this series deserving comment, including the horrible mistreatment of Prince Charles by sending him to Gordonstoun, the school run by a German Jewish headmaster who trained his pupils to be little fascists. But, one scene was iconic, when Queen Elizabeth is tracking a large stag on the moors of Scotland. In the movie “The Queen,” admirably played by Helen Mirren, she admires the stag and decides not to shoot it, but in the series ‘The Crown” Elizabeth shoots it without any compunction. That characterizes Elizabeth for me, unfeeling, insipid, patronizing, irrelevant and costly.