Netflix TV Series The Crown, the defining story of the early life of Princess Elizabeth and her husband Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, members of her family and the House of Windsor, revolves around the wearing of a Crown, the best possible piece of headgear to wear imaginable. Especially when it has been made for her father King George VI (1895-1952) from golden cardboard trimmed with rosettes of crepe paper and presented to him from the people of the village of Sandringham nearby the Windsor family home known as Sandringham House, Norfolk, England.
The scene in episode one where George VI (1895-1952) places this Crown on his head, after he removes it from a giant red box given to him by a child who has come from the village with Carol singers to perform for the Royal family in residence on Xmas Eve, is exceedingly poignant.
Historically, metaphorically and in reality for George VI, who knows he hasn’t much time to live, its worth and its value is far greater than that of the crown made of jewels in the Royal treasury that defines his identity and of all the monarchs before him.
This one has a big advantage, his people have made it with love and for the gentle, generous, kind hero of a monarch this means this crown is so much more important.
Albert Frederick Arthur George inherited the throne of England when his brother Edward VIII gave the throne away to live with the woman he loved. It was as George VI that he began the process of bringing Britain’s royal family into the age of modernism, despite the handicap of a stammer.
Being the spare heir George VI and his family, contented country folk, were suddenly thrust into the limelight of city and royal life, where they would find their destiny
Claire Foy, whom we loved so well in Wolf Hall as Anne Boleyn or as Lady Persephone in the remake of Upstairs Downstairs, plays the role of Princess Elizabeth soon to be Queen Elizabeth II.
There is no doubt she was made or even born to play this role; such is her mastery over it. What a talented young actor she is, brimming with vulnerability when required and steely strong when unexpected.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary’s journey to become Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in 1952 is traced in the first five of ten episodes in the first season of The Crown. There are many more to follow.
The TV series The Crown has an extraordinary budget, allowing Stephen Daldry the Director full reign when it comes to producing this work of TV art.
Visually sumptuous to look at, there are ten episodes in the first series of The Crown and the opening introduction is superbly acted by what is an enviable and stellar cast of talented actors, all playing perhaps a role of a lifetime.
Created and written by Peter Morgan, the series makes for superb viewing. Gloriously captured, we are riveted by Elizabeth Regina’s ability to manage her responses, or indeed lack of response to questions asked, advice given and the actions of those around her.
Then there is how her face lights up whenever she sees her husband Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh across a room, out of the window or in a crowd.
Phillip is played with engaging sensitivity and just the right petulant lightness of touch, a wondrous performance from Matt Smith (Dr Who fame). He intimately reveals how he capable or susceptible he is to being wounded or hurt, as he struggles with knowing to whom he is talking, his wife, his Queen or both.
A member of the Royal family of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms, Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh was born at Mon Repos, Corfu, in the Kingdom of Greece from where he left in an orange box when the monarchy was overthrown in 1922.
Phillip’s mother became a nun when her marriage broke up and he was sent to school in England, Germany and Scotland where he became head boy and Lord Mountbatten his guardian.
He met his future bride and Queen in 1934 at the wedding of his cousin. She was eight years of age and he was 13. When he was 26 in 1947, Phillip signed himself away for the greatest prize on earth, the future Queen as his wife.
He became a naturalised British subject, adopted the surname Mountbatten the anglicised version of his mother’s name of Battenberg. He converted from Greek Orthodox to the Anglican religion, renouncing his allegiance to the Greek Crown so he could marry the woman who had stolen his heart.
The engagement between Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten RN was announced July 9th, 1947 and they married in Westminster Abbey on November 27th in the same year.
The day before his wedding, King George VI titled his future son-in-law Philip Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich, of Greenwich in the County of London. The ceremony recorded by the BBC was hugely popular and brought a ray of sunshine to the otherwise austere life of post-war Britain.
This is when we meet him first, in The Crown.
Don’t read any more if you don’t want spoilers.
The story opens with King George VI coughing his lungs up his handkerchief revealing blood that his valets advise is not to be worried about. Its hard to come to terms with how much people smoked their heads off in those days, a by-product of surviving the war.
He’s preparing himself to take part in the ceremony as Phillip renounces his Greek nationality and is knighted, into the Order of the Garter. Lord Mountbatten offers his young charge a well done.
Elizabeth is waiting in the next room and they both breathe a sigh of relief that Phillip got through it. Must you smoke she says as he lights up too, you know how I hate it… and he promises, I will give it all up for you. Seems to have helped him live to old age.
George is soon getting ready for the wedding and is highly agitated and Captain Peter Townsend, who is an equerry in his personal service, tells him a dirty ditty to calm him down… he is still coughing up blood and still smoking.
Just before the bridal party enter Westminster Abbey cheering begins echoing down the aisle, as Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) and his wife Clementine (Harriet Walter) arrive as the choir is singing ‘I come to thee my country’,
Everyone stands as the grand old man arrives, he’s such a grandstander, hogging the limelight and loving it – another amazing performance here too from award winning actor John Lithgow.
Princess Elizabeth arrives with her father and the Archbishop of Canterbury starts the ceremony. Elizabeth doesn’t look at Phillip, however he looks at her intensely and when she gets nervous, starts making eyes at her to make her relax…. to love, to cherish and obey, the controversial word she insisted was part of their vows… is there…until death us do part.
Not a single ally at court or in government supported the marriage says Queen Mary (Eileen Atkins), who unlike Elizabeth’s mother the Queen (Victoria Hamilton), doesn’t underestimate her granddaughter, whom she knows is made of stern stuff, just quiet about it.
King George VI brings his daughter and heir a present, a movie camera… to record her marriage and tells her if it is as happy as his has been, she doesn’t want to miss a single thing.
Twelve months later we catch up with the young Princess as Phillip takes part in rowing finals off Malta. This is Elizabeth’s time, a young bride, running her own household.
Philip was stationed on the island as a naval officer while she immersed herself in a life of shopping, sightseeing, gossiping, boating and dancing the samba, according to her closest female companion of the time, Lady Pamela Hicks, a member of the Mountbatten family and Phillip’s cousin.
The Villa Guardamangia a grand sandstone house with orange trees in the grounds leased by Lady Pamela’s family, the Mountbattens is where they are living.
Phillip has been made Lieutenant Commander Mountbatten and his wife is giving him a presentation when the phone rings in the spring of 1951.
The King is ailing, so the Princess is required to return home, reluctantly leaving her home in the sun forever. When they get back the King has being operated on in a makeshift theatre at the Palace. He’s having structural alterations they’re told, in reality losing a lung.
While he is recovering, Winston Churchill’s party is elected again, the nation doesn’t want to let him go even at 83 … he offers experienced administration and when he arrives back at Number 10 Downing Street in London after five years of Labor PM Attley in power, everyone is happy.
The King decides he will have Princess Elizabeth and her Duke undertake a Commonwealth Tour he has to go on. This requires them to leave their two children Charles and Anne at home.
We have to break her in gently… for the distant future, the King tells Winston when he recovers sufficiently to have his weekly audience with his Prime Minister. Unbeknown to him Winston knows his future.
Finally granted an audience with the King the Dr who operated tells the King he removed a malignant tumour in his lung. I argued that you should have been told at the time he tells him, and now the other one is showing the same symptoms.
So what is next the King asks…of him and when the Dr remains quiet he finally realises there is no next and asks that the fatal news be kept from his family who are off to Sandringham for Xmas.
Peter Townsend leads the Carol Singers from the village into the drawing room… The King is very emotional… he knows it will be his last time, so he shakes hands with them all.
The King requests Elizabeth’s presence in his study. He wanted to spend time with her he says…so if you want to ask me anything please fire away. The boxes, she asks him about the Red Boxes delivered from the government every day.
Everything they want me to know they put on top he tells her, everything they don’t they put on the bottom so I always turn them over and start at the bottom he says. He has a coughing fit and she can see he is struggling.
So important to have the right person by your side he reflects. “How is your fellow” he asks her and when she tells him of some squabbling, he cautions her to make more of an effort and she asks him to invite Phillip shooting.
The next morning the King is in disarray, coughing his lungs up … lots of blood… but still smoking! He goes to get Phillip out of bed to take him on his shooting expedition, basically because he wants to talk with him.
Finding out Phillip is unhappy because he has no job… the King cautions him that SHE is the job. She is the essence of duty and loving her and protecting her is the job and as Phillip looks at him he asks “Do you really understand” Phillip?
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
Netflix The Crown
Season 1, Episode 1
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