This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason Netflix is releasing the whole season the day after this post's publication; we got screeners.
Should You Kneel Before The Crown?
If you like portraits of royals behind the scenes, mid-century fashions, and posh British accents, then this series is probably for you.
What Is This Thing?
Queen Elizabeth II. Heard of her? So this is a series about her life and the start of her reign. According to Netflix, each ten-episode season will cover a decade of her life; this one begins with her marriage to Philip (here, played by Doctor Who's Matt Smith) in 1947.
When Is It On?
Since it's Netflix, the entire first season drops on November 4th.
Why Was It Made Now?
Downton Abbey showed that people still have an appetite for British period pieces, and the continued thirst for details of the lives of Wills and Kate (and Harry and George and Charlotte et al.) shows that people want to know everything about the Royals.
What's Its Pedigree?
Series creator Peter Morgan wrote the 2006 Helen Mirren vehicle The Queen, covering more recent events in Queen Elizabeth II's life, and has produced and directed a number of prestige films -- including Frost/Nixon -- so he can do period pieces. If that's not enough for you, director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours) is on board, along with a boatload of other producers who all have long lists of films on their IMDb listings.
I was expecting vintage costume and architecture porn, and I was not disappointed. The show looks gorgeous and is a joy to watch, aesthetically. I was expecting a focus on Elizabeth's (Claire Foy) story, especially since the series opens with her elaborate wedding just after the end of World War II. However, much of the first episode is really about Elizabeth's father, King George VI (Jared Harris), and his governmental counterpart, Winston Churchill (John Lithgow). I was dubious about the casting of Lithgow here, but he pulls it off, disappearing into the role. At the time of the premiere episode, they are two old men, trying like hell to get their country rebuilt after the ravages of the war. Meanwhile, as heir to the throne, Elizabeth expects to have many years to enjoy her husband and her children (and props on the casting of young Charles and his giant ears) while her father handles the affairs of the monarchy. What Elizabeth doesn't know is that her father's wet and productive cough (nice Foley work, guys!) portends something more serious.
Like most British period dramas, it's...kind of slow. I am reminded of that Eddie Izzard bit about Sebastian and the matches. When you're telling a true story, especially one where we all know the outcome (spoiler: Elizabeth becomes Queen!), you can probably yada yada some of it and get back to shots of Philip winning crew races in Malta while wearing a tank top. In addition, probably because the story is so well-known, the show doesn't do much hand-holding when it comes to the players. If you aren't up on your British monarchy, don't expect this show to teach you. It's assumed that you know all of Elizabeth's immediate family, as well as the reasons why many doubted that Philip was an appropriate husband for her, and how Elizabeth overcame those objections.
If you like anything monarchy-related, even just a bit, this will be right up your alley. By the end of the first episode, I was all caught up on the characters and their relationships (and I can Wikipedia the rest). I know enough about history -- and storytelling -- to realize that Elizabeth is going to become queen much sooner than anyone anticipated, and that Philip will have to make many sacrifices. You don't have to be an expert in mid-century Western Civ to appreciate this show. While I was hoping for a little more process-y stuff -- I would watch a ten-episode series on the people who plan and execute royal weddings alone -- the visuals are beautiful enough that even if the history isn't your bag, it's still very nice to look at. I'm especially interested to see how Foy, as Elizabeth, matures into her new role, since she spends most of the first episode wide-eyed, nervous, and naive. While I wasn't sure at first about the focus on King George VI and Churchill's efforts, they have to lay the ground in the first episode for the challenges Elizabeth will face in future episodes. And there's something to be said for shows where you can spot bit players and say, "Hey, that lady turns into the Queen Mum! That's Prince Charles!" As someone whose first memory of the monarchy is probably Diana and Charles's wedding, going back to revisit how we got here, in such an expensive and well-crafted production, is a joy.