The Crown Season 2
Creator: Peter Morgan
Starring: Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby, Victoria Hamilton
Writer: Peter Morgan
Review by Michael Walls-Kelly
All right, who goes first? Stupid question. If I’ve learned one thing by now it’s that I go second.
Season two of The Crown opens on rough waters, literally and figuratively. Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (Matt Smith) are waiting on a boat to come ashore and rehashing their entire marriage. They both have grievances. Some fairer than others. They both agree that things have to change if they wish to stay afloat.
That’s the throughline of the second season of Netflix’s biographical drama about Queen Elizabeth II, created and written by Peter Morgan. The plan for the series is to catch up to the present day, updating its cast as it goes. This is our last season with the current leads — give or take some flashbacks, presumably — and it’s a solid send-off. Unfortunately one of the leads gets weightier material than the other.
Smith was an inspired choice for Philip — Prince Philip, as of this season — and he gets a lot to do here. Unfortunately, his storyline ends up stretching a little thin. He is a man who has to deal with being married to the Queen and all that entails. It’s an interesting story to explore. How does this relationship clash with the traditional gender roles of the time? How do the Queen’s duties clash with what a relationship needs to grow and thrive?
Smith and Foy have amazing chemistry together. Any moment they get to show their private playfulness is a standout. Theya also act the hell out of the material. The problem is that this storyline was a simmering subplot. In Season 1, that’s fully boiled over here, so it can’t help to feel like a bit of a retread. They don’t have the benefit of John Lithgow’s Winston Churchill as a third lead, for all intents and purposes, to take some of the burden off. Because of this, we end up watching Philip whine for over a decade, which easily tips over from semi-understandable to full-blown annoying.
Where The Crown succeeds is in the strengths it exhibited in season one. Unsurprisingly, the costumes and locations are exquisite. It’s excessive and kind of disgusting. It’s royalty porn. The episodes that leave a mark are similar to the best episodes from the first season. When a historical event, moment or theme takes the limelight for an hour it makes the show a more enjoyable whole. Season one had “Act of God,” which was about the Great Smog of London and “Assassins,” which was about Graham Sutherland painting Churchill’s portrait.
The episodes in season two that leave an impression have similar, singular focuses. There’s “Dear Mrs. Kennedy”, which deals with the contrast between Old World and New World leadership (and has the guts to basically present Michael C. Hall’s John F. Kennedy as a full-blown villain). “Vergangenheit” which explored the former King Edward VIII’s shameful ties to Nazi Germany, played excellently again this season by Alex Jennings. These episodes have an interesting “Problem-of-the-Week” type structure that all of the ongoing storylines can hang from comfortably.
The biggest disappointment is the seeming lack of Claire Foy. Between Philip being forefronted and Elizabeth being much more comfortable in her role as Queen, it feels like Foy gets a little lost this season. Every scene she has she knocks out of the park — her aforementioned work with Smith, any scene opposite a Prime Minister — but I can’t help but feel that she gets lost in the shuffle.
There’s still lots to enjoy here. Vanessa Kirby continues to be outstanding as the rebellious and lost Princess Margaret. Pip Torrens’s Tommy Lascelles returns for a few episodes. We actually get “Marionettes,” an episode devoted to the fact that having royalty at all makes almost no sense in their society. Once I finished these ten episodes I wasn’t sure if I hated every character or just some of them. But, I knew that I understood them all. I also knew I’d be back for season three.
Verdict: Watch it. If you enjoyed the first season, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this one. If you like British dramas, palace intrigue, historical pieces upper-class eye candy then the series is worth checking out so far. While this was a weaker outing overall than season one, there’s still lots to enjoy here. Plus, Olivia Colman is taking over the role of Queen Elizabeth II for the next stage of this saga, so you’ll want to get in on the ground floor for that.