The Crown Episode 10 review: An underwhelming conclusion in Gloriana

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Consider the ending of the show. Elizabeth’s final scene, now named Elizabeth Regina rather than Elizabeth Windsor, feels like it’s supposed to be this great milestone; akin, perhaps, to the first time a superhero puts on their costume and takes on their secret identity. It’s presented as the culmination of all that’s gone before it, with Gloriana having marked a significant change from what’s gone before it.

And yet it hasn’t, really.

Again, Elizabeth returns to the same fundamental tension we’ve seen returned to over and over again this series – this time quite literally, given it’s a conflict that has already played out. Again, the same conclusion is reached – the Crown must win out. And, again, nothing new is added to the drama.

It was a weak ending, to be honest. And a weak series.

But I rather suspect that I’m going to end up going back to it, and I’ll probably watch the future episodes as well, because there’s something about the construction of it that fascinates me.

(An interjection from Alex of May 2018: I haven’t read back any of these reviews, nor rewatched the first series of The Crown, but my suspicion is that I was more than a little unfair on it. If nothing else, I did really like the bits of series 2 that I’ve watched, so.)

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The Crown Episode 9 review: Assassins features John Lithgow’s best performance yet

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Churchill is, in essence, a riddle wrapped up in an enigma, obscured further by both cigar smoke and the weight of his own legend – meaning there’s a lot of pressure on a series like The Crown in terms of their depiction of him.

As is characteristic of The Crown, though, it elects for a hagiography. True, Churchill is depicted as an anachronistic throwback of an earlier time, grappling with his increasing irrelevancy and the realisation he needs to take a step back from the role that has come to define him.

In many ways, it’s an excellent episode; it’s got some of The Crown’s most subtle and intelligent writing of the series, and surely John Lithgow’s best performance as Churchill yet. And yet there’s something about it that still feels quite reductive, because The Crown again refuses to engage with anything other than a wholly positive depiction of its characters – there’s no room for subtlety, as ever.

Yeah, this was quite good. But it’s also disappointing in the context of the series at large – a series that was unfailingly positive in its depiction of individuals who were rather more complex than that, and a series that never seemed particularly interested in giving Elizabeth, its supposed main character, an episode on this level.

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The Crown Episode 8 review: The Absence of Noise shows a more human Elizabeth

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Here we’re presented with a vision of Elizabeth as a character who’s always trying to meet the ideal of the crown, holding herself to an impeccably high standard – but for the first time, we see it slip. And that’s both fascinating in terms of the character, and hugely significant for the drama; it’s one of the rare moments in which we see what lies behind the mask (or under the crown, if you will).

What makes it so effective, though, is the contrast presented between Elizabeth and Margaret, with another tour de force performance from both Vanessa Kirby and Claire Foy. The two sisters are caught in each other’s orbit, each jealous of the other – and there’s a vein of snarky bitterness running throughout, which allows both characters to really sing. Here, after all this time, we’re getting to see Elizabeth as flawed.

Picking up on the idea introduced in Gelignite, The Crown here continues to depict Elizabeth as unwilling to share the spotlight. It’s a fascinating idea – a slight thread of arrogance, creeping in at the edges, as the young monarch becomes just as much an extension of the institution as everyone around her. Indeed, it also raises a topic that the series has danced around for some time now – just how much should we care about these people anyway?

I suspect that in a lot of these reviews I’m coming across as someone with a particularly personal disdain for the monarchy in general. I’m not – or at least, I wasn’t until I watched The Crown!

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The Crown Episode 7 review: The Cold War is brewing but ignored in Scientia Potentia Est

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Yes, it’s clear enough what the episode is trying to say – despite the lack of formal education and a clear lack of confidence, Elizabeth does in fact have the ability to stand her ground and hold her own with these elder statesmen. But is that quite the right message to send? After all, it is essentially validating the education she received – a final note to turn around and say “well, actually”, dismissing Elizabeth’s well-founded grievances about her lack of schooling.

In many ways, it’s actually quite bleak; ever since her youth, Elizabeth has been groomed for one specific role in mind, limited and curtailed and most of all controlled. It’s perhaps not that different from breeding animals, depending on the comparisons you want to make. For a while it’s criticised, but then finally excused. It’s okay because it works. It doesn’t matter what happened to her, because the eventual aim is achieved.

This episode, I’d argue, is the one most diminished by The Crown’s abject refusal to admit to any flaws the Monarchy may have. It’s the only one that even comes close to launching a meaningful critique of the institution – before going on to make some fumbled apologies and continue glorifying them. For all that Peter Morgan can insist he “wants his independence”, it’s hardly apparent here.

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The Crown Episode 6 review: Gelignite finally allows the drama to breathe

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And, indeed, no series has been so convinced of its own self-worth, nor so focused on its place within the bigger picture.

You can tell that Gelignite is an episode with one eye on the future; the depiction of the press in this episode is undoubtedly set to be contrasted with that which eventually handles the story of Diana and Charles, whenever that eventually appears. As much as this episode works on its – and it must be said that it does – own, it quite clearly wants to be part of something larger.

However, Gelignite is also the first episode that has genuinely felt as though The Crown could be deserving of these awards – the one that’s justified the self-worth it wears so openly on its sleeve.

Another contender for my favourite episode; not, as with Act of God, because it wasn’t very good – rather because it was the first one that showed real potential, and some genuine character development. Not really a good thing that’s only being said of the sixth episode in a series of ten, mind you.

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The Crown Episode 5 review: Smoke and Mirrors finally introduces a little more subtlety

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Here we see The Crown begin to introduce a little more subtlety, in a move away from its prior style of outlining themes in great detail – and it does so by placing greater faith in the ability of its stars, namely Claire Foy, Matt Smith, and Alex Jennings.

Certainly, it’s an improvement on previous instalments. True, there are still moments of cloying transparency, as characters are still inclined to overexplain just what exactly is going on; Jennings’ Duke of Windsor feels the need to note to no one at all but the audience that, as he’s no longer King, he must go to meet others rather than vice versa, while a footsman hammers home the point that Elizabeth owns the crown now, and so on and so forth. Thankfully such instances are few and far between, however, as The Crown allows meaning to be shaped by the unspoken actions of its stars.

Indeed, much of the spine of this episode centred around a single unspoken action – of Philip kneeling to Elizabeth, and what this represented. There’s an interesting tension there; for all that Philip speaks of a desire to modernise the monarchy, there are certain patriarchal impulses he can’t quite shake off. It helps add a further layer of nuance to the character, and it’s carried wonderfully by Matt Smith.

I don’t actually have a lot of additional commentary to add here. This one was, actually, reasonably good. If the whole show had been like that, I’d have been a lot more positive about it.

But it wasn’t.

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The Crown Episode 4 review: Act of God is a poor man’s West Wing in 1950s England

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Accordingly, then, at times it feels as though it lacks nuance or subtlety – from discussions of Elizabeth’s duty to, in this case, deliberations on Churchill’s age and efficacy, it often appears very surface level. And, arguably speaking, it is – while there’s a lot going on, the workings of the drama are laid open and entirely clear for all to see.

Here, then, it’s very clear what’s going on – the death of Venetia Scott (Kate Philips) was telegraphed early, and entirely unsurprising when the moment came. It’s one of the few attempts on behalf of the episode to actually ground the story in terms of the impact of the smog on the public, rather than political infighting or royal squabbles.

And yet it was largely ineffective – not least because it was little more than a cheap fridging, as The Crown here falls into the old trope of killing a female character to develop a male one. It’s particularly lazy writing, made all the more evident by The Crown’s tendency to wear its themes on its sleeve.

This episode, man. Possibly the most irritating of them all, because it managed to be the one that was both the most engaging and the most exemplary of all the show’s problems. Arguably it’s my favourite – not because it’s good, but because it’d be very easy to write about. I could go on about this at length. It’s probably a good thing that CultBox tends to put a 500-word limit on these reviews, because otherwise I’d have written thousands.

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The Crown Episode 3 review: Windsor further examines the idea of duty

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Prince, formerly King, Edward (here portrayed by Alex Jennings) is an individual who held a key role in the political developments of Britain in the 20th Century – it’s no particular surprise that he’s showing up here. Edward is an interesting character, who manages to be both sympathetic yet utterly self-serving; while it’s difficult not to feel sorry for him, it’s very clear that he’s very self-motivated, in a way quite unlike the rest of the royals. One very much gets the impression, however, that this is how Elizabeth wants to act, were it not for the weight of the crown…

… which provides another interesting wrinkle in the dynamic these two characters share. Were it not for Edward’s abdication, Elizabeth would never have found herself in the line of succession; Edward’s act of self-interest deprived Elizabeth of all subsequent choices. One of the most powerful moments of the episode – and perhaps the series thus far as a whole – was Elizabeth’s simple request for an apology from Edward. An apology he gave, and an apology that still managed to feel genuine despite everything; there’s a sense that, between these two characters, there’s a level of understanding that wouldn’t be shared elsewhere.

I fast became convinced that Prince Edward was the best character on The Crown; certainly, one of the most interesting and nuanced characters that they presented. This did admittedly feel vaguely uncomfortable, on account of how Edward was a real life Nazi.

Not that you’d know that you’d know this from The Crown, mind you – it’s a programme so obsessed with glorifying the royal family, even the Actual Literal Nazi is painted as a tragic figure, who’s unlucky because he’s only slightly less rich than his rich family.

(I suspect my disdain for The Crown is becoming apparent.)

(Alex of May 2018 interjecting: I don’t remember being quite so annoyed by The Crown on the basis of the above, but apparently it wound me up quite a lot.)

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The Crown Episode 2 review: Hyde Park Corner sees Elizabeth head to Africa

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It’s a look at the decadence and dark side of royalty, with the first confrontation with the colonialism and imperial tendencies that the crown still represented at this point; Elizabeth casually refers to the people of Nairobi as savages, while Philip demonstrates some of the tactless behaviour he’s become known for in recent years.

It’s interesting to see the show tackle these themes, albeit not in much depth – it’s difficult to read exactly whether the show is romanticising or rejecting this behaviour. Perhaps more accurately, it’s simply saying that it happened – and there’s a certain power in that, to just represent the flaws of our characters, and not shying away from the things that can make them dislikeable.

This is another positive review of The Crown, because I thought it handled the themes of colonialism and imperialism reasonably well. By the end of the series, I was far less convinced of this. I suspect that Hyde Park Corner would have been a good starting point, had they built on it further, but – well, I’m getting ahead of myself somewhat now.

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The Crown Episode 1 review: Wolferton Splash is a strong start for Netflix’s royal drama

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In many ways, this episode is dedicated to setting up the chessboard. It’s not quite about Elizabeth (Claire Foy) in the way one might have expected; rather, it’s dedicated to contextualising her story and introducing the characters. We spend most of our time focused on King George (Jared Harris), Elizabeth’s father – as he copes with a terminal illness, we begin to get an impression of quite how difficult the life of a monarch is, and what exactly Elizabeth will face over the rest of the series. 

The first of several reviews of The Crown I did for CultBox; it’s a series that I have something of a complicated opinion on, in that it’s probably quite good, but I don’t actually like it very much.

(That’s going to become increasingly apparent across the rest of these reviews, but the seeds of it are here even now; it’s interesting to read this initial review back, after having watched the rest of the show and grown increasingly disillusioned with it.)

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