Finally – finally – The Crown has figured out a characterisation of Elizabeth that works.
It’s been difficult for them, and understandably so; there’s an aspect of Elizabeth that’s always been implacable, always been impenetrable, which makes it hard to develop a character beyond – as she’s called in this episode – a “blank page”.
It’s not that she doesn’t have a personality, far from it; rather, that she’s so mannered in her control and precision that it can be difficult to read further into it. In many ways, Elizabeth is a character who’s at odds with the style of writing The Crown embraces; one who must be written with a certain subtlety, because so much of what makes the character tick is beneath the surface.
Here we’re presented with a vision of Elizabeth as a character who’s always trying to meet the ideal of the crown, holding herself to an impeccably high standard – but for the first time, we see it slip. And that’s both fascinating in terms of the character, and hugely significant for the drama; it’s one of the rare moments in which we see what lies behind the mask (or under the crown, if you will).
What makes it so effective, though, is the contrast presented between Elizabeth and Margaret, with another tour de force performance from both Vanessa Kirby and Claire Foy. The two sisters are caught in each other’s orbit, each jealous of the other – and there’s a vein of snarky bitterness running throughout, which allows both characters to really sing. Here, after all this time, we’re getting to see Elizabeth as flawed.
Picking up on the idea introduced in ‘Gelignite’, The Crown here continues to depict Elizabeth as unwilling to share the spotlight. It’s a fascinating idea – a slight thread of arrogance, creeping in at the edges, as the young monarch becomes just as much an extension of the institution as everyone around her. Indeed, it also raises a topic that the series has danced around for some time now – just how much should we care about these people anyway?
Much of the plot of this episode revolves around Elizabeth on a world tour, reaffirming the imperial impulse of British rule, entirely dismissing the movements for independence; one of the big struggles Elizabeth faces is the fact that her face hurts from smiling too much. The Crown here begins to indicate that Elizabeth is far from perfect, and while the series is never going to take a wholly confrontational tone against the monarchy, it’s nice to know that it isn’t quite a hagiography either.
It’s interesting how effective the series has become when it rails against its own advice; it’s repeatedly emphasised throughout this episode that Elizabeth cannot and should not ever demonstrate a private face to the media.
But now, at least, we the audience are beginning to see the flaws – and so Elizabeth can finally be a more human character than just the totemic emblem she’s expected to be.
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