Review: Season 2 Of Netflix's 'The Crown'

Dec 6, 2017
Originally published on December 6, 2017 7:10 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Netflix picked a good moment to release the second season of "The Crown." It comes out just as a royal wedding is in the news. And starting on Friday, you - if you wish - can binge-watch as the drama follows the life of Queen Elizabeth from the mid-1950s to the 1960s. Here's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: I'll be honest, I didn't really understand why so many people thought "The Crown" was a superior TV show last year. It drew critical accolades and 13 Emmy nominations. But to me, it often felt like a series telling two unconnected stories, one about world-shaking events and one about the petty intrigue of a royal family, which rarely impacted those big events. The first three episodes of the new season are that way, too. As the British are fighting over the Suez Canal, a major geopolitical mistake, Elizabeth and her husband, Philip, argue over rumors of his infidelity during a trip. Matt Smith as Philip found himself playing defense when confronted by Elizabeth, played by Claire Foy.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CROWN")

CLAIRE FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Your complaining.

MATT SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) My complaining?

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) It's incessant - whining and whinging like a child.

SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) Are you surprised? The way those godawful mustaches that run the palace continue to infantilize me.

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Perhaps if you weren't behaving like an infant.

SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) Giving me lists, sending me instructions - can you imagine anything more humiliating?

FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Yes, as a matter of fact I can.

DEGGANS: Then "The Crown" takes a turn. It explains why the monarchy matters in Britain's democracy by showing an English aristocrat challenging Elizabeth to be more modern. Lord Altrincham, a noted critic, appears on a TV show and says the monarchy can only remain relevant by being more accessible.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CROWN")

JOHN HEFFERNAN: (As Lord Altrincham) Her majesty has a seemingly impossible task - she has to be ordinary and extraordinary, touched by divinity and yet one of us, but being ordinary doesn't have to mean bland or ineffectual or forgettable.

DEGGANS: Then he delivers that message to the queen herself.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CROWN")

HEFFERNAN: (As Lord Altrincham) Spend time with normal people, not just courtiers or the great and the good but real people, average people, working people. Make it more inclusive and egalitarian. Let normal people get to know you, too.

DEGGANS: It feels as if you could draw a straight line of progress from the ideas in this scene to the current moment when a member of the royal family is engaged to marry a divorced, biracial woman from America. And "The Crown" gets more interesting from here, showing in one episode how Elizabeth stopped Ghana from going communist. Here's how it unfolds - when President Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy visit England, Elizabeth is intimidated by Jackie's glamour. Then she hears that the first lady criticized her at a party. Driven to prove that she's relevant, Elizabeth travels to Ghana and convinces that country's leader to reject communism. JFK, played by former "Dexter" star Michael C. Hall, snidely congratulates his wife for unwittingly pushing Elizabeth into action.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CROWN")

MICHAEL C. HALL: (As John F. Kennedy) An African state that was fast running into the arms of the communists has been turned around and kept in the West.

JODI BALFOUR: (As Jackie Kennedy) What does that have to do with me?

HALL: (As John F. Kennedy) Dreary queen, thick ankles, her majestic dullness - some of the things you said about her at a dinner in London, which then got back to Queen Elizabeth and, it seems, spurred her on.

DEGGANS: There are larger themes explored exquisitely here - how marriages in the royal family and top politicians affect world events, how a family's history shapes children and their parents, how forgiveness has its limits. But when "The Crown" connects the personal lives of England's monarchs directly to the country's fortunes, that's when the series shines brightest, exposing the fitful evolution of a family that remains one of the most compelling institutions in the world. I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF HANS ZIMMER'S "THE CROWN MAIN TITLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.