Netflix's new series, The Crown, is a visual treat for fans of English history. Starring Claire Foy (who played Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall) as Queen Elizabeth II and Matt Smith (a former Doctor Who) as Prince Philip, the show dramatizes how Elizabeth transforms from a young upper-class British wife and mother into a resolute sovereign.
With some backstory thrown in for context (including the death of Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, the abdication of her uncle, Edward VIII, and her wedding to Prince Philip), the first season covers the events and scandals of the early 1950s that shaped the initial years of Elizabeth’s reign. Ten episodes are streaming on Netflix now, and there’s hope of more to come.
|Coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth II
and Prince Philip
All the episodes are beautifully filmed (the production must have a lavish budget) and though it takes a while to build, the characters and their relationships to each other become increasingly well-developed and compelling as the series progresses.
Even if you don’t have Netflix, you can enjoy a witty and thorough recap of each show here, on the tongue-in-cheek website Go Fug Yourself. This sassy site chronicles the foibles of celebrity fashion but pays special attention to British royalty.
And if you're interested in a discussion of the historical accuracy of The Crown, here's an analysis by People Magazine.
The relationship (as conjectured by the writers) between Prince Philip and Elizabeth is at the heart of the story, and Episode 5 (“Smoke and Mirrors”) features a no doubt fictional argument during which Philip accuses his wife of “matronizing” him - a clever play on “patronize” with a female twist. I love this new (to me, at least) word. I plan to give it a home in my lexicon and use it often.
Episode 5 also depicts Elizabeth’s coronation in June of 1953, which should delight fans of the Regency. Watching this scene, it’s easy to imagine the coronation of our Prinny (George IV) 132 years earlier in 1821 since elements of the ceremony have stayed the same for centuries.
|Prinny's coronation in Westminster Abbey, July 19, 1821
It's too bad there were no cameras to record Prinny’s coronation. From what we know of his style and the portraits that were painted to commemorate the event, we can be sure it was a grand affair. Just consider this depiction of the banquet after the ceremony. If you look closely you can see a tricked-out horse trotting amidst the endless rows of tables and throngs of illustrious guests.
|Prinny's coronation banquet in Westminster Hall
Elizabeth's ceremony was more modest. But it did have a few surprises. A modification that Prince Philip, chairman of his wife’s coronation committee, insisted on was televising the proceedings. This was a controversial, and unprecedented, update to the ancient ceremony. No coronation had ever been filmed, though parts of the procession after King George VI's coronation in 1937 were broadcast by the BBC.
Philip argued that putting the coronation on television would make the British populace feel closer to their new queen, especially since the event was closed to the public. Only a privileged few, about 8,000 peers and other VIPs from across the Commonwealth, were invited inside Westminster Abbey to witness the Queen being crowned.
And Philip was proved right. The Queen's coronation was a blockbuster hit. According to the BBC, over 20 million people around the world watched the event, which was broadcast in 44 different languages. For many viewers, it was the first time they'd ever seen anything on a television set. Elizabeth's coronation was also the first major event of international importance to be televised live.
Here's a clip showing the actual moment during the ceremony where the Queen receives her crown:
We’ll see if any further modernizations are made to the coronation rites when it's Prince Charles' turn to take the throne, though, believe me, I’m in no hurry for that day. I’m hoping that the Queen, who marked an amazing 60 years of rule in 2012 with her Diamond Jubilee (60 years because she became queen in 1952, a year before she was crowned) goes on to celebrate many more milestones.
And now here's a trailer for the series, containing a re-imagining of Elizabeth's coronation ceremony:
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons