Nowadays, the face of Queen Elizabeth II is a familiar one to all the world, and at ninety-years-old, she has held the longest reign of a monarch in British history. Over that time, she has lived through thirteen prime ministers, seven popes, reigned through wars and conflicts involving many of her realms, and witnessed vast changes to the United Kingdom and the world she lives in. The queen made history back in 2011 when she made a state visit to Ireland marking the first by a British monarch since our independence and won us all over with just five words; "A Uachtaráin, agus a chairde".
However, while we know the facts, the personal life of the queen has always remained somewhat of a mystery - a mystery which is now being unravelled in Netflix's latest big budget series The Crown, which depicts the life of the reigning queen of England from her early days on the throne.
Queen Elizabeth was just 25-years-old when she had the heavy weight of the crown placed on her head and had only recently adapted to the role of wife and mother. While she knew one day she would inevitably sit on the throne, the honour came much earlier than expected following the death of her father, King George V, at just 56-years-old.
It's here that the first season of The Crown makes it point of interest. - a young queen adapting to her life on the throne and following in the footsteps of her much-loved father, with Jared Harris clocking in an equally if perhaps even more impressive performance as Colin Firth did in his Oscar winning role as Prince Albert in The King's Speech. As a young fresh faced queen, Elizabeth is faced with balancing the old ways with the new within the monarch, as well as establishing the power dynamic she is faced with in her relationship with her husband Prince Philip.
The Crown is said to be Netflix's most expensive series yet, actually, if the rumoured budget of £100 million is true, it would make it the most expensive TV series in history. While the lavish costs are undoubtedly visible throughout in the production, it's the performances that will hook you into this series.
Claire Foy takes on the lead as Queen Elizabeth and manages to convey so expertly and subtly the strength of the young queen but also her vulnerability. Elizabeth knows the task she faces and tackles it head on, but she is not immune to its complications. To be a ruling monarch, as her grandmother advises her, she must leave behind the life she knew before, which is of course easier said than done, but as the Queen Mother also states in the opening episode, Elizabeth is not to be underestimated.
Each season of The Crown is expected to focus on a decade of the queen's reign, which began in a post-war Britain in 1952. The young monarch dealings with government come primarily through her encounters with an aging Winston Churchill, with John Lithgow easily stealing every scene as the iconic Prime Minister. While faced with political power struggles, 'Acts of God' and an overwhelming concern for the welfare of her people, it is the struggles at home that prove most taxing on the queen in this first decade. Although that could be the liberties taken by writer Peter Morgan, who no doubt knew that the real fascination with a series like this would be to give the viewer a fly-on-the-wall look inside Buckingham Palace.
In case you are wondering, Morgan did not sit down and have a heart to heart with the queen and her husband about the goings on in the early years of their marriage. While the series claims to be meticulously researched, Morgan (who also wrote the 2006 film The Queen) insists that while the palace were aware the show was being made, contact was limited. No doubt there were worries, but there need not have been, as The Crown has struck a balance between being respectful and yet not overly cautious in depicting a human side to the Royal family that can't but help warm you to them.
As said, it's the love and conflict between Elizabeth and Philip that anchor this first series, with the queen’s former private secretary Lord Charteris once saying; "Prince Philip is the only man in the world who treats the queen simply as another human being. He’s the only man who can. Strange as it may seem, I believe she values that."
Doctor Who star Matt Smith delivers an equally as impressive performance as his co- stars as the Duke of Edinburgh. The Queen's husband has been known for his infamous 'gaffes' as you might call them, down the years, getting into trouble for remarks that could be construed as politically incorrect and generally just always appearing to have a bit of a glint in his eye.
Smith addresses this side of the prince but gives a much deeper portrait of a man who so clearly adores his wife but struggles with adapting to his place by her side, or a few steps behind, as he soon learns when she becomes queen. Smith said recently; "At the heart of this is this really rich love story about two soul mates who are put under great press about her responsibility to become Queen so early and so unexpectedly".
Overall, The Crown has delivered in terms of its cinematography, performances and a fantastic suspenseful score we haven't even mentioned yet, however, it's clear that Netflix were eyeing up an older audience here. It's enjoyable, but its main interest comes from the voyeuristic feeling that you are getting an insight into an unknown world, therefore at least some kind of interest in the Royal family is mandatory. Downton Abbey fans who are missing something in their lives may also be brought in by the period drama feel to the show and focus on the upper echelons of British society in a different era. Season two has already been commissioned and has begun filming, so you can rest assured that your investment into his ten-episode series will be a worthwhile one. At the very least, you will forever more see the queen and her prince in a whole new light.