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The Crown - Season 2 - Preview

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After a highly successful first season, Netflix's critically-acclaimed show The Crown is back for more. This year marks stars Claire Foy and Matt Smith's last time as lead of the show, as they will be replaced for season three and four. This preview only concerns the first three episodes of season two and explores the excellent opening of this new season.

If season one introduced the issues between Elizabeth (Foy) and Philip (Smith), season two dives right into the heart of their troubled marriage. The first episode opens with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on a royal ship, arguing about the state of their relationship. At this point, the audience have little context surrounding their argument and can only gather that things have not improved for the couple since we last saw them. It is now 1957 and in the midst of political crises and failing Prime Ministers, Elizabeth is still married to a "wild spirit" and has to "put up with anything." While Claire Foy is once again performing her part with grace and finesse, it is hard to sympathize with Smith's Duke of Edinburgh. Not because the actor is not doing a good job, but simply because his character mostly comes across as a whiny brat who is never satisfied. Where Elizabeth's character is nuanced, Philip is constantly brooding.

What these first three episodes focus on is the intense scrutinization of the royal couple and how Philip and Elizabeth do not have the freedom of treating their union like other more ordinary couples can. If divorce is still hard to obtain in the 1950s, it is simply a non-option if you are royalty. Therefore, Elizabeth and Philip can't cheat like regular couples do, or if they do, the repercussions would provoke the implosion of the monarchy. As Philip says, in their world, "there's no room for scandals, there's no room for humanity." Philip and Elizabeth carry a tremendous burden on their shoulders, and the fact that their marriage is not going according to plan is not helping. In the end, Philip is a husband too proud to accept that his wife is the one in charge, and Elizabeth is a woman who has to be a queen first, and a wife second, which frustrates her since she wishes she could just be like the other wives of her time, perhaps finding gratification in pleasing her husband.

Throughout the three episodes though, the couple's fondness for one another is visible, and it underlines the fact that the only reason their marriage is not working is because their desires and what they can actually do are incompatible. As Episode 3 brings us back to the ship and shows the aftermath of the couple's argument, these first three episodes end up working like a story within the story, starting and ending on the same moment between the royal couple and providing the audience with context in the middle to fill-in the gaps. This shows Peter Morgan's careful and smart writing of The Crown and sets the tone for the rest of the season.

Episode 1 through 3 are also new examples of The Crown's high-quality production, featuring magnificent locations and beautiful costumes. As mentioned, the main cast is once again incredible, in particular Claire Foy who demonstrates a lot of the Queen's emotions with subtlety and elegance, which is quite remarkable to watch. Through her performance we see the Queen experiencing anger, pain, disappointment and rage, but she never breaks. Philip, on the other end, is feeling lost and imprisoned. He wants respect and more recognition, so he demands a better title. The end of the third episodes shows him becoming the man we know him to be today: Prince Philip. It's the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter, and there is a shift in the way Morgan depicts the Queen and the Prince's relationship. Distance seems to grow even more between them as Elizabeth gives Philip a better rank, and resentment appears to harden between the two. Matt Smith manages to be nuanced despite the fact that his character often appears to be one-dimensional in the beginning of this season. But after three episodes focused on the troubled royal marriage, it is expected that the show will find other stories to tell.

Episodes 1-3 are rather strong ones, proving that The Crown can probably do as good in its second installment as it did in season one. However, we'll have to wait until the remainder of the season has been watched to fully be able to make such a statement. In the meantime, long live The Crown.

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