It looks like Netflix has done it again – creating a crowd-pleasing dramatic series that everyone’s buzzing about. This time it’s “The Crown,” a 10-episode series about the life of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II that launched in its entirety on November 4. Given the fact that Netflix practically invented the whole binge-watching TV phenomenon, it won’t be a surprise if many viewers try to cram in all 10 episodes as quickly as they can to learn about the British royalty in the middle of the twentieth century.
The initial reviews – both critical and popular – have been fantastically enthusiastic, to say the least. On IMDb, this dramatic biopic has a nearly perfect score of 9.0/10, in addition to an 81% score on Metacritics. The consensus opinion appears to be that this series – at £100 million, the most expensive one Netflix has ever produced – is as gloriously highbrow as possible, without going over the line. But, what exactly, has led to this phenomenal buzz?
Factor #1: America’s love affair with the British monarchy
At its heart, “The Crown” is a story about the British monarchy in the middle of the 20th century. Season 1, Episode 1 starts off in the year 1947, when the young Queen Elizabeth II (played by Claire Foy) is just getting married to the impossibly stylish and dashing Philip Mountbatten. The first 10 episodes cover the period 1947-1955, and the plan is for a total of 6 seasons and a total of 60 episodes, bringing us all the way up to the current day.
For many Americans, this story of post-war Britain is largely unfamiliar. It is not the story of Britain as a colossal empire, so much as it is a story of a stuffy, class-centric society being pulled into the modern era where titles and nobility matter less than raw talent, ambition and glamour. This, remember, is the Britain that gave us Prince Charles, the son of Queen Elizabeth II, and the remarkable Princess Diana. So think of “The Crown” as a quick primer of the Britain that these two would eventually inherit.
Factor #2: Big-budget acting and production values
Critics have almost unanimously praised every aspect of “The Crown” – including the writing, the direction, the cinematography, the production values, and, oh yes, the acting. This may be the most expensive Netflix dramatic series ever commissioned, but it’s well worth it. Everything about the series is simply sublime.
The creator and director of “The Crown” is Peter Morgan, who also wrote the screenplay for the 2006 film “The Queen.” If there’s anyone who knows how to show us the full pomp and glory of London, or the beautiful richness of the English countryside, it is Morgan. Although some have noted that the pace of action might be a bit on the slow side, it’s hard to argue with so many impressively acted roles. Of particular note are John Lithgow as Winston Churchill (talk about big shoes to fill!) and Claire Foy as Elizabeth II.
Factor #3: The story of the queen as a young woman
When it comes to the British royals, we’re much more infatuated with the youngest, most glamorous royals than we are with senior statesmen in their fading years. So it’s obviously going to start “The Crown” off with a lot of momentum when the show starts with the first great post-war royal wedding between Elizabeth and Prince Philip (played by Matt Smith) in 1951.
What we learn over the ensuing nine episodes of Season 1 is how the young queen, who ascended to the throne at age 25 after the death of her father, came to learn about the trappings of power in mid-century Britain. And that’s when the palace intrigues, political maneuvering and court rivalries begin to bloom. Think of it as a happy medium between “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones.” As far as “coming of age” stories go, this one is fantastic. Watch for the story of Princess Margaret as it starts early in Season 1.
Factor #4: The mix of international events for dramatic tension
For many Americans, it’s almost impossible to conceive what it was like to live in Britain in the post-war era. After Nazi Germany threatened to bomb London out of existence in the 1940s, you can just imagine what it was like to live in that era, when nothing of the traditional British empire seemed to matter anymore. All of a sudden, Britain’s influence on the continent was in doubt, the far-flung imperial possessions were slipping out of its control, and a young upstart – America – was becoming the new center of the world.
“The Crown” interjects a bit of global intrigue into each episode, showing how international events happening around the globe – whether it is intrigue over the fate of the Suez Canal in Egypt or the Soviet Union exploding the world’s first hydrogen bomb – also helped to shape British society at the time. We learn, too, that Elizabeth II first found out about the death of father while on safari in Kenya.
Factor #5: It’s the ultimate guilty pleasure
Let’s face it – “The Crown” is the ultimate guilty pleasure. It offers everything that we want in a TV series – plenty of gorgeously shot scenes of castles and windswept lawns, lots of great acting and a plot that’s not so mindless that we lose interest but not so complex that it’s hard to keep up. It’s TV that we can watch at night without feeling guilty that, maybe, just maybe, we should be doing something else.
And it does so by wrapping it up in an entertainment package that’s delightfully highbrow and ambitious, but not so much so that we feel a bit stuffy watching it. Learning about the history of the mid-century British monarchy with lots of beautiful actresses and lavishly shot scenes is somehow a very enjoyable way to pass an evening.
In short, “The Crown” might just be the 10 best hours of TV you’re going to watch this holiday season. It’s easy to see why critics are raving about it, and why fans of “The Crown” are buzzing about it.