- Season two of “The Crown” is available on Netflix Friday.
- Claire Foy’s Queen Elizabeth II gets less screen time because it goes deeper into other characters.
- Season two is Foy’s last: for seasons three and four, Olivia Coleman will play Queen Elizabeth II.
- Every episode is excellent, but the focus on other characters besides Queen Elizabeth makes the season as a whole feel incomplete.
“The Crown” isn’t like most shows. Each season spans a period of years, even decades – and this has implications for character development.
Season two of “The Crown,” which debuts on Netflix Friday, goes deeper into the lives of its secondary characters than season one does. This a good thing and a bad thing. “The Crown’s” secondary characters are captivating enough to carry their own episodes, but in season two this means less screen time for Queen Elizabeth II, the main character in the series.
It’s predictable, but you can’t stop watching
The seasons so far mirror superhero movies. Season one plays out like an origin story, exploring Queen Elizabeth II coming into power. She learns how to use that power and how to balance it with her personal life (or not). Season two examines Queen Elizabeth II’s royal and personal conflicts as well, but focuses more on how her status affects those around her.
The thing about “The Crown” is that it should be boring. It should be a self-indulgent drama that’s a huge waste of its budget (it’s the most expensive TV show ever made). Every single thing that unfolds is predictable, almost cliché. This is not just because it’s based on real-life events that you can read about on Wikipedia. Every line of dialogue and every emotion is expected. But “The Crown” is not boring or cliché because it’s so well done – from dialogue to performances to costumes to the corgi casting.
Creator Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon,” “The Last King of Scotland”) knows what he’s doing with “The Crown,” and takes full advantage of its episodic format. While the show does have a serialized story, it’s strictly limited to character development. Each episode has its own contained story with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Excellent episodes don’t make it a great season
Every episode in season two is excellent, but as a whole, the season feels incomplete. The season’s dives into characters like Prince Philip, the Duke of Windsor, and John and Jackie Kennedy take screen time from Queen Elizabeth II and prime minister Harold Macmillan, played by Anton Lesser (who you might recognize as Maester Qyburn from “Game of Thrones.”)
Queen Elizabeth II’s journey in season two is poignant. She’s lonely. Her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, isn’t happy with the responsibilities that come with being married to the Queen of England, and is rarely around. Even when he is around, he’s absent. To everyone else, Elizabeth has everything. She is the Queen of England. She has kids and countless corgis, but she’s incredibly alone even though she’s constantly surrounded by people.
Multiple episodes in season two of “The Crown” focus on Philip’s journey, both literal and emotional. First, he is on a literal journey at sea. He grows a rebel beard and openly fools around with women. Then, there’s an emotional journey as he comes to terms with his troubling childhood (his sister was married to a Nazi), and the life that comes with his marriage to the Queen. Matt Smith, who plays Philip, earns these standalone episodes with his moving performance, but there’s so much focus on him that the Queen, played charmingly by Claire Foy, is forgotten.
Foy is a force and this is her last season on “The Crown,” so her absence for the sake of characters like Phillip and the Duke of Windsor – who gets an episode surrounding his Nazi ties – is disappointing once the season is over. You’ll enjoy the British people being very British while it’s happening, but you’ll be hungry for two or three more episodes to close out Foy’s triumphant turn as Queen Elizabeth II. Olivia Coleman (“Peep Show,” “Broadchurch”) will take on the role for seasons three and four.
It appears that Foy recognizes her character’s absence, so she takes full advantage of every second she’s on screen. She captures the Queen’s loneliness as well as her desire to do her duty – for her country, for herself, her family, and her marriage – from her delivery to her facial expressions.
An episode surrounding the Queen’s relationship with JFK (Michael C. Hall) and Jackie (Jodi Balfour) is good, but falls a little flat due to its insignificant impact on the overall story being told throughout the season. While the Queen’s jealousy of Jackie inspires her to make a bold and impactful political move, the president and first lady’s visit, which spans an entire episode, focuses too much on the Kennedy marriage and very little on the Queen’s perspective.
There’s also not much Princess Margaret, who is the most appealing, relatable character on “The Crown,” played by a joyous Vanessa Kirby. Although she appears in several episodes, the one that focuses the most on her centers on her relationship and wedding to photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, played by Matthew Goode. It’s a satisfying (and sexy) episode, but beyond that we don’t see much more of them throughout the season.
Since “The Crown” has seasons planned and an end-game set, its need to cover decades of Queen Elizabeth II’s life for a specific actress, while also giving screen time to other characters in the royal family and British politics, is its biggest challenge and, so far, its only major flaw.
Watch the trailer for season two of “The Crown” below: