‘The Crown’ Episode 5 review: ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ introduces a little more subtlety

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Here we see The Crown begin to introduce a little more subtlety, in a move away from its prior style of outlining themes in great detail – and it does so by placing greater faith in the ability of its stars, namely Claire Foy, Matt Smith, and Alex Jennings.

Certainly, it’s an improvement on previous instalments. True, there are still moments of cloying transparency, as characters are still inclined to overexplain just what exactly is going on; Jennings’ Duke of Windsor feels the need to note to no one at all but the audience that, as he’s no longer King, he must go to meet others rather than vice versa, while a footsman hammers home the point that Elizabeth owns the crown now, and so on and so forth. Thankfully such instances are few and far between, however, as The Crown allows meaning to be shaped by the unspoken actions of its stars.

Indeed, much of the spine of this episode centred around a single unspoken action – of Philip kneeling to Elizabeth, and what this represented. There’s an interesting tension there; for all that Philip speaks of a desire to modernise the monarchy, there are certain patriarchal impulses he can’t quite shake off. It helps add a further layer of nuance to the character, and it’s carried wonderfully by Matt Smith.

Indeed, it’s this tension that yields what was always the best scene of the trailer, as Philip and Elizabeth argue; Claire Foy makes a series of particularly interesting choices, presenting her eventual command as part of a gradual realisation that she wasn’t entirely expecting. Foy has had a difficult job with this part – perhaps a more difficult task than that faced by the other actors – but a series of clever and interesting choices have elevated her performance to one that’s far more impressive than one might expect based on the material she’s working with.

Hopefully this can be expected to continue across the remainder of the series; this episode was, in and of itself, more powerful than any that had preceded it. But there was a reason for that. It was Matt Smith’s betrayed glare facing down Claire Foy’s steady gaze that showed us the rift that had formed in their relationship, perhaps permanently.

It was Churchill, at last sitting down to speak to Elizabeth, that showed us the new Queen’s quiet and unassuming power. It was the final haunting image of the tears in the Duke of Windsor’s eyes that showed us that, despite everything, he still missed his home.

Somewhat ironically, it was only in an episode entitled ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ that The Crown realised the value of showing us what was happening, rather than merely telling us.


All 10 episodes are available to watch on Netflix now.

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