Why Is The Crown So Damn Appealing?

Dept. of Kind Hearts and Coronets


Season 4 of The Crown is almost upon us – it drops on Netflix on Sunday, 15th November- and we thought what better time to take a look at why the series has had such an impact on our cultural landscape. Why does this “soap opera” about the British monarchy resonate with audiences across the world?

Umapagan Ampikaipakan: First things first. This was supposed to be the penultimate season of The Crown. But Netflix have since announced that they’re going back to their original six season plan in order to allow Peter Morgan “to do justice to the richness and complexity of the story.” Thank God for that. The last thing I wanted was a truncated final season, that is unnecessarily rushed, and ends up playing out like Game of Thrones.

Iain McNally: Or that Peter Morgan be forced to add another season after he’s already wrapped everything up nicely and we get a damp squib ending. I’m overjoyed that the next set of actors to take on the roles will get to do a two season run. It feels like we have each cast around for far much longer than just 20 episodes. 

UA: I’ve really enjoyed the cast changes throughout this series. It’s nice that we’ve got to see different actors inhabit these roles. (God knows, makeup and prosthetics can go either way.) The testament of which being that I’ve not missed anyone, or wished, at any point, that I was watching the previous batch of actors.

IMN: It’s true. It did take a little getting used to Olivia Coleman as HRH after seeing Claire Foy absolutely nail the role. Not just the mannerisms, but providing a real character behind them. I think it was in episode 3 of the last season, “Aberfan,” when all memory of the previous cast was nearly washed away by just giving Coleman some really meaty material to work with.

Ode to Foy

UA: Claire Foy was perfect. That moment from the first season when Queen Mary has to bow to her? The look on Elizabeth’s face cemented just how great she was for this role.

IMN: I think that’s a huge part of the appeal of those first two seasons. Seeing The Queen as this vibrant young woman, not just the image we have of her trapped in sepia toned newsreels. The distance between now and then really gave space to consider her without all the baggage built up over the intervening years, of which we are both acutely aware, both our countries having endured British colonialism. If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I’d have enjoyed a show like The Crown so much, I would have told you to “naff off”

UA: You would never betray your Irish brethren in such a way. But living here in Malaysia has made you soft!

IMN: I did start watching it under duress actually! I thought it might be something I could watch with my partner after friends had recommended it, but then I found myself binge watching the lot!

HRH Begins

UA: And that really speaks to how great Peter Morgan is as a storyteller. I love how, in the first season, Elizabeth’s transition from royal to Queen is rooted in this one line that her father says when Edward runs off to marry an American: “I no longer am Albert Windsor, he was murdered by his older brother when he abdicated.” I don’t know about you, but for me, that was a revelation. It just hit home how all of them are playing a part. It’s not who they really are.

IMN: Exactly. It wouldn’t be so interesting if she was groomed for the Crown from the start. She was destined for a comfortable life, of little note, as a minor royal before the line of succession was thrust upon her, and she had to study fast. She was hardly a “normal” person, but it was still more interesting to see her struggle rather than some toff who’s always expected to be King/Queen. (We’re looking at you Charles…)

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UA: Back in 2014 I was lucky enough to catch Helen Mirren play the Queen in The Audience, which was the play that Peter Morgan wrote before he wrote this. It was his trial run for The Crown. A little bit like Aaron Sorkin’s The American President and The West Wing. It’s a magnificent play. But what really struck me was how well he managed to blend fact and fantasy. I left the theater knowing full well that there was a lot of creative license at play, but I nevertheless believed that the Queen could, and would, have said those things. 

IMN: Right! It all feels true. True to the characters that Morgan has created. That it fits in seamlessly with our memories of the time, of these people, is his genius. He makes me care about people like Princes Margaret and Princess Anne, people I either had no real familiarity with or couldn’t give a hoot about, but he’s crafted Margaret into one of the most compelling, if doomed, characters of modern television (having Vanessa Kirby and Helena Bonham Carter play Margaret *might* have had a teensy effect on that.) 

UA: Oh, all of the casting in this series hasn’t just been great, it’s been unexpected too. John Lithgow as Churchill? Matt Smith as Phillip? These aren’t names that would have been at the top of my mind for those roles, but boy did they nail it.

Take Me to Church(ill)

IMN: Oh god was I sad to see Lithgow go. I would have never considered him for Churchill, but spoilers, he’s not a series regular. At that point I didn’t think anyone could fill a similar role, but Morgan has done it again, and again, with the various Prime Ministers. Gillian Anderson has very big boots to fill in the upcoming season, even if she has the “look” of Maggie Thatcher spot on.

UA: I wonder if they keep that Thatcher wig in the British Museum?

IMN: Wig? That was Maggies real hair! Why do you think there was a hole in the ozone layer at the time!

UA: If I did have one nitpick… and it’s a teeny tiny one… I did prefer the pace of the first two seasons over the third. I liked that slow burn a lot. Meanwhile the third season felt like they were trying to get through a lot of material. (Also why I’m glad they’re extending this now for another two seasons.)

IMN: Well there’s the new hurdle facing the showrunners. They’ve done an amazing job of introducing us to these “characters,” but as they get close and closer to the present, the characters on screen are going to butt up against our own memories of the time, of these major events. It might be difficult to maintain that affection in the face of abysmal public relations mistakes to come. 

There May Be Trouble Ahead

UA: That said, I think The Crown has probably done more good for the monarchy than harm. Showing these royals as real life people, with actual problems, and feelings, and challenges, has endeared them more to the public. Especially the Queen. I remember how the media took her out for a walk after Diana’s death and I can’t wait to see how the show handles that crisis.

IMN: Well, depending on how far they get in Season 4, it’s probably going to be poor Imelda Staunton who’ll bee tarred as “The Evil Queen” as she barrels towards her “annus horribilis.”

UA: I mean, the Queen’s RBF has only gotten better as she’s gotten older. So Imelda Staunton needs to get that down!

IMN: I think she has it perfected from when she was Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter

IMN: One thing I also want to highlight is the sheer sheen of everything. The immaculate locations and the music! The music! After Zimmer’s credits it looks like they’ve had teams of composers working within his framework but it always feels suitably… well grand. I may have minor annoyances where some sections sound like bits from other scores (I get some Blade Runner in a recurring theme as well as hints of First Man) but it really helps build that sense of epic emotion, of the bigger picture, as they quietly buckle under some new suffering, inflicted at the hand of protocol and duty, and the music just soars.

UA: I know Peter Morgan has said that he wasn’t going to delve into the modern era and I can see why. There’s an air of celebrity gossip that surrounds Harry and Meghan, and even William and Kate, but unless you grew up at the time, you don’t realize the sheer drama of what happened with Diana. (My dad is still convinced that they killed her because the future Queen Mother couldn’t have been married to a Muslim! Conspiracy theories abound!)

IMN: Oh that’s not the half of it! I think Morgan has been vocal about not wanting to venture too far into journalistic territory, which covering the modern age, with so many sources, would entail. Things also get a little grubby and no one needs to have the background to Andrew’s horrible Epstein interview dramatized.

A New Challenger Appears

With this new season I guess I’m most looking forward to more Helena Bonham Carter (always), how Gillian Anderson handles that voice, how Emma Corrin fits up with my own memories of Princess Diana, and how the portrayal of Charles changes. Josh O’Connor has done another wonderful job not just of humanising a Prince who is often reduced to exaggerated mannerisms and tics, but making him relatable. In generating sympathy in the viewer. I wonder how that is going to change with the arrival of Diana.  

UA: It’s funny you say that. My memories of “The Royal Wedding” are inextricably tied to Catherine Oxenberg’s portrayal of Princess Diana in that TV movie from the 1980s (The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana). We watched that a lot in my house.

IMN: A lot?

UA: My grandma was a big fan of the monarchy. We had that thing on VHS. She wept when Diana died.

UA: I had one question for you before we wrap this up…

Can I Phone a Friend?

IMN: No, I’d still turn down a knighthood if offered. 😉

UA: You’d turn down SIR IAIN MCNALLY? You’re crazy.

IMN: Couldn’t do it. Couldn’t bend the knee. I’d never be able to show my face back home again. 

UA: But back to my real question. There is no doubt of the positive impact that this show has had on the global brand of the British monarchy. But I’ve always had something of a love/hate relationship with royals. As in, they’re great for tourism. But the idea of “blue bloods” just rubs me up the wrong way. As an Irishman, how do you reconcile the impact that such a popular fiction has on public perception and history? (You have 15 minutes to answer this essay question.)

IMN: It’s funny. The Crown feels like just another manifestation of “The Brits are at it again”. That evergreen notion that the closest country to my homeland is just plain full of nutters who are always “at it.” With this particular set of maladjusted monarchs, instead of helping them out or getting rid of them (humanely) instead, “The Brits” shore up their unassailable positions of power and then can’t handle it if they act remotely human.

Thankfully, Andrew, Charles, and Anne (I completely forgot Edward existed until quite recently) have been such stunning examples of how superfluous the royals can be, that they might have dissuaded others from the idea of hereditary title altogether. Then according to this New York Times piece, The Crown, the TV show, “is estimated to have cost Netflix upward of $150 million – about twice as much as the royal family costs British tax payers each year.” so I suppose we could just look at the Windsors the same way Marvel Studios look at their their comics division; as a mill of fresh content for TV!

The Crown
Netflix, 3 Seasons,
Showrunner: Peter Morgan
Cast: Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, Matt Smith, Tobias Menzies, Vanessa Kirby, Helena Bonham Carter, Erin Doherty, Josh O’Connor, John Lithgow, Charles Dance

The first three seasons of The Crown are currently available to stream on Netflix, with the 10 episode fourth season arriving on Netflix, on the 15th of November.

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