The Crown recently won two Golden Globes, and was nominated for a third; Best Actress for Claire Foy, Best Drama TV Series, and a nomination for John Lithgow as Best Supporting Actor.
In many ways, it’s understandable – no television series in the last year has felt so self-consciously styled in pursuit of such critical acclaim.
And, indeed, no series has been so convinced of its own self-worth, nor so focused on its place within the bigger picture.
You can tell that ‘Gelignite’ is an episode with one eye on the future; the depiction of the press in this episode is undoubtedly set to be contrasted with that which eventually handles the story of Diana and Charles, whenever that eventually appears. As much as this episode works on its – and it must be said that it does – own, it quite clearly wants to be part of something larger.
However, ‘Gelignite’ is also the first episode that has genuinely felt as though The Crown could be deserving of these awards – the one that’s justified the self-worth it wears so openly on its sleeve.
It could simply be that the series has settled into itself a little more; at over halfway through the series, any earlier quirks and inconsistencies have been firmly laid to rest now. The subtlety of last week’s episode is largely maintained, with dialogue that often sparkles and captivates.
Finally, the drama is allowed to breathe – its handling of its key themes no longer suffocates but enriches, once again entrusting Claire Foy (who proves just why she deserved that Golden Globe) to rise above the material she’s given and invigorate the episode with a proper power. The same is true of Vanessa Kirby, here playing a far more substantial role as Margaret takes the stage than she has in any episode previously.
In many ways ‘Gelignite’ provides the most interesting exploration of duty so far; it presents not only the personal costs, damaging Elizabeth’s relationship with Margaret, but also ideas of accountability and change.
True, it’s disappointing to see the press take something of a back seat towards the end of the episode, in contrast to how it began – but this central through line is retained across the course of the episode, always in the background, and always as a motivator. Hopefully we’ll see this developed further in the rest of this season, without having to wait until The Crown does eventually get around to Diana.
Most interesting, though, is the way this episode has presented Elizabeth changing – and it’s a wonderfully subtle character progression. It’s clearly implied that Elizabeth’s eventual dismissal of Peter Townsend, breaking the promise she made to Margaret, is motivated in no small part by a certain pettiness; an unease with the fact that Peter now holds more press attention than she does. It’s a far cry from the woman who, just a few episodes before, insisted she would have preferred to grow up “out of the spotlight”.
And here, perhaps, we can see that The Crown is deserving of that Best Drama award – because it’s finally got just a little bit more going on behind all the fancy furnishings.
All 10 episodes are available to watch on Netflix now.
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