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The Crown - Season 2 - Review: “A Crowning Achievement”



***WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW!!! DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED THE FULL SEASON!***

This season of The Crown covered some of the most tumultuous years for the royal family. They would go on to face many more scandals and turmoil. The years that this season covered were the years that most impacted the future of the royal family and the people of England. Queen Elizabeth had to deal with both internal and international crises as the crown was challenged in new and unexpected ways. Elizabeth had to get creative in dealing with situations while also trying to stick to tradition. She had to find a way to marry the old ways with changing times. It was clear that during this first decade of her rule things were set into motion that would forever change how the world saw the royal family and the monarchy as a whole. It was the grace in which she handled each crisis that so deeply endeared her to her people.

Her rule survives everything thrown at it because she has managed to merge the old with the new. Even if, to outsiders, it doesn’t always appear that she’s modernizing her kingdom she’s certainly always trying. Things like broadcasting her Christmas address took her out of her comfort zone, but she talked it head-on further endearing her to her nation. This time was also full of marital problems for the Queen and her husband not to mention one controversy after another plagued them. Elizabeth had to deal with her loose cannon Prime Minister, Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam), who in a wayward attempt to escape the deep shadow of Winston Churchill managed to nearly pull the country apart. And this is all just a very small taste of everything that this season had to deal with. One thing can be said about the royal family, their life isn't dull by any means.

Going into this season it was known that it would be the last for the vast majority of the cast. Losing them is a truly sad ending to this era of the show. Claire Foy and Matt Smith, in particular, will be sorely missed in future seasons. Foy has arguably been the best Queen and she’s part of a very illustrious club of superior actresses to take on this larger than life woman. The way she brought Queen Elizabeth to life felt so real that it was like watching a documentary. Matt Smith expertly brought Prince Philip to life and his independent adventurous spirit, his portrayal particularly interesting since not many outside of the United Kingdom are well versed in what the real Philip is like. For anyone born after a certain time, his antics became overshadowed by what was going on with his eldest son, Prince Charles. This season dove heavily into who Prince Philip is and showed this modern audience what made him the man he is.

Prince Philip had a tough childhood. Losing the only sister he loved and who truly loved him was earth-shattering and changed him forever. It was a loss that greatly influenced him and would go on to have an impact on his own sons. To Philip, Gordonstoun was his salvation at a time in his life when he needed structure. He was at odds with his own family and needed purpose, his own father blamed him for the loss of his sister in a horrific plane crash. Philip was in many ways abused and while he did his best to break the cycle some things did repeat.

Charles, unlike his father, had a good home life, by all accounts. It is noted a few times in the series that Elizabeth was sometimes cold with her eldest son, but she still showed her love for him when it counted. She fought for him to go to Eton College, the school he desired to attend, but her hands were tied by the promise she had made her husband. Nevertheless, Charles was not his father and while the school did Philip good, it was torture for his son. A school like that isn’t for everyone and Charles should have been allowed to go to the school he wanted that would have made him happier and more eager to learn. Regardless, Charles toughed it out and made the most of it. It’s a true testament to Charles that he learned from his experiences and ensured that his own sons went to Eton College. While the school was hell for Charles, it did serve to help and discipline a lot of the boys who attended. Perhaps that is the lesson his father wanted him to learn, though there surely had to be better ways to teach the future King that lesson.

The episode (2x9) where all of this played out was an exceptional episode and perhaps one of the most memorable ones of the season. Brilliant and touching performances from all involved made this episode very memorable and noteworthy. Billy Jenkins (Prince Charles) and Finn Elliot (Young Prince Philip) stole the episode. These two young actors have bright acting futures. Both were put through their paces in physical and emotionally intense scenes and never once did they falter. Elliot was particularly poignant depicting Philip’s tragic loss of his sister. Jenkins also shined throughout showing the things Charles went through while in his early days at the school.

This season dove very heavily into Philip’s past which aided in understanding how he became the man he is. He was a bit of a playboy and was well known for that, however, the series shows that perhaps he wasn’t as totally unfaithful to Elizabeth as some would believe. The fact he was given his official title as Prince helped and the deal he made with Elizabeth helped to tame his wild ways, still, it was a hard time for him as he struggled to figure out his true place within the royal family. He was a father that was outranked by his son and it’s easy to see why that would have frustrated him. He made a lot of mistakes and likely did cheat on his wife, but what counted was that underneath his wild boy persona was a man with a big heart who did ultimately love his wife and children. The show beautifully captured that conflict within Philip and Smith delivered intense performances showing the Prince as a wild-spirited guy on adventures while also showing him missing his family.

The royal tour that Philip partook in was a good way for the show to dive into his story independent of his family. There ended up being a lot of rich material that came from that time in Philip's life. It was at this time that he was the most restless and it showed in his actions. The tour was a good chance for him to get out and just be one of the boys. It all came tumbling apart because Mike (Daniel Ings) had a bit to much fun with their time away from their wives. It ended up costing Mike his family and put Philip in a precarious position with not just his own family but with the country as a whole. Realistically, if Elizabeth and Philip were any other couple, this whole ordeal would have likely ended in divorce. It did lead to what might be the most memorable scene of the season, with Elizabeth confronting Philip on the ship. The fact it was a stormy night was very symbolic of the status of their relationship in that moment. Smith and Foy delivered truly powerful performances as their characters negotiated a plan to sustain their marriage. This whole adventure from the moment Philip left to this moment on the ship took him on a very full and well-crafted journey of self-discovery. Smith did brilliant work last season, but nothing compared to Season Two, he jumped right into everything and helped expose all the complex sides to Prince Philip.

Another key player is Princess Margaret played by the exceptionally gifted Vanessa Kirby. She was absolutely divine last season and she managed to deliver even more exceptional performances this time around. Margaret is a woman whose history is largely unknown to modern generations which made watching her journey unfold all the more fascinating. It’s very sad that her story isn’t told more often because she was a stunningly complicated yet regal woman seeking her own place in the world. It’s noted a few times that many people, Elizabeth included, thought Margaret would have been the better Queen. There are arguments for and against that. The monarchy would have certainly been very different in Margaret’s hands. She was such an independent soul that it was perhaps better that she wasn’t tied down by the constraints of wearing the crown. Ironically, it is the crown that kept her from so many things she desired and drove a bit of a wedge between her and her sister. That wedge was intensely noted as Margaret strove to have her wedding overshadow even that of Elizabeth and Philip's. It made for great drama, but one can only imagine how hard it had to have been for the real women who these characters depict.

The sisters had a contentious relationship at times, but when it counted they did their best to try and support one another. In moments of true crisis, they stood by one another no matter how they were feeling about each other at the time. Elizabeth gave Margaret what she could within the constraints of the crown. Allowing Margaret to marry Antony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode), an eccentric man who greatly enjoyed sleeping around with men and women, was a huge leap of faith for the Queen, but she wished to allow her sister happiness especially after the whole debacle with Peter Townsend (Ben Miles). Goode and Kirby had a stunning energy together much the way that the real Margaret and Antony must have, independent souls with wild spirits which is what seems to have drawn them together. They were perfect for one another and so wrong for each other all at the same time. While each one of them cared deeply about the other, they seemingly used the other as a means to an end. It’s that essence of dueling chemistry that was captured so spot on by Kirby and Goode. They put so much into their performances that the intensity between the characters was palpable through the screen. This season was a standout for Kirby and she delivered in some big grand ways. Given how talented she is she has an immense long-lasting career ahead of her.

Another big event in the lives of the royal family is when the Marburg Files (1x6) reemerged. It was a terrific opportunity to bring back John Lithgow (Winston Churchill) and Jared Harris (King George VI) who both delivered spectacular performances last season. They both slid back into their roles effortlessly as their characters tried to figure out what to do about the revelation of David’s (Alex Jennings) interactions with the Nazi’s and Hitler. This episode also gave Foy a lot of rich material to work with as Elizabeth had to figure out how to transverse the situation with her Uncle. It also provided her with the chance to navigate Elizabeth’s interactions with Billy Graham (Paul Sparks). Most of the royal family met his arrival in their country with skepticism, but Elizabeth was fascinated by him. The family was right to caution her regarding him, but she still went ahead and met with him. Despite his questionable views on things, he did prove to provide her with some good counsel that made it easier for her to make the tough decisions regarding her Uncle. The dismissal of David from the palace and England was quite a grand move and put the final nail in the proverbial coffin for all of David’s political aspirations.

While meeting Billy was a big interaction for Elizabeth, the biggest overall for the entire royal household revolved around Jack Kennedy (Michael C. Hall) and Jackie (Jodi Balfour) paying a visit to the palace. Jackie brought out a very different jealous side of the Queen. The two women bonded early on regarding their wild lives, only for a night out and harsh words said by Jackie to make their way back to Elizabeth causing issues. Turns out that it all played right into what Jack wanted to happen. Jackie making the Queen feel out of touch with the world forced the Queen to evaluate herself. In turn, she took matters into her own hands regarding Ghana saving Jack a lot of effort and United States resources. Elizabeth took a major leap in how she handled that situation, but ultimately it worked out and ended up earning her a lot of good press for herself and her country.

Even though it all worked out it's hard to not be annoyed at how Jack handled the situation in the first place. He used his wife in political maneuvering, but given the fact that he seemed so controlling it's not really all that surprising. He was an exceptional President, but it's no secret that as a man, husband, and father he was at times abusive and inconsiderate of his family. At first, it seemed like Jack was miscast when Hall was announced, but he slipped right into the role of this iconic and troubled man. Balfour, on the other hand, was a good fit from the start and it turned out that she was even better than could have been imagined. Foy and Balfour delivered some really dynamic and complex scenes that captured the at times contentious friendship between the two powerful women. Their final scene, where Jackie tries to explain everything that led to her unfortunate statements was a standout moment for the Queen who handled the moment with great grace. The aftermath, where she admitted to enjoying the moment, showed a very different side to her. But that was quickly put to the side in the name of humanity when Jack was assassinated. The interactions between Britain and the United States were an important and growing relationship at this time in history and the show solidly nailed the tone that took over in the wake of the assassination. Elizabeth set aside all of her differences and ensured that her country honored the loss. It was a great moment of international support for the Queen that earned her a lot of respect from around the world.

Foy shined throughout nailing every regal, emotional, and intense moment without fault. There is a reason she won both the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth. Given her performances this year, the awards circuit would be justified to bestow another round of awards upon her. The way she holds the Queen’s unique dictation and excellent posture on top of delivering spectacular performances puts her in a league all her own. Olivia Colman has some exceptionally big shoes to fill when she takes over the role next season as Claire Foy’s work as Queen Elizabeth has been divine throughout the past two seasons.

There wasn’t a single weak episode in the season. Every single moment was engaging and enthralling. Historical buffs can geek out over how accurate the show is while everyone else can just marvel at the beautiful scenery, stunning performances, and compelling story. It is an emotionally intense series, but they still managed to find moments of levity amidst it all such as the family watching Philip's tour videos or the humor behind the failed first introductions between the Kennedy's and Royal family. Those moments were breaths of fresh air and a nice break from the intensity of everything else going on in their lives. After watching Season One it’s hard to imagine them toping that, but they did just that with this season. From big historical moments, tabloid drama, marital issues, lavish weddings, the births of princes and everything in between this season delivered and delivered big.

Next season will bring a new cast and new challenges for the royal family. With a new cast it’s hard to know what to expect on the performance side, but given the cast they put together for the past two seasons, the new group has their work cut out for them to compare. But this show has incredible guidance and one can’t help but trust in their casting choices. Next season will be different, but hopefully in a really good way. It will be interesting to watch Charles and his siblings grow. Right now we as fans can say no one can do Queen Elizabeth better than Claire Foy, but perhaps this time next year we’ll be saying the same about Colman. Watching for the changes and similarities in how Colman portrays Elizabeth versus how Foy portrayed her should prove intriguing. A lot is set to come and it should be one heck of a season next year.

This review couldn't cover every exceptional moment from this season, so please use the comments to discuss all those moments. Tell us what you loved the most about the season and what you liked the least. Did you have a favorite episode? Will you miss this cast? Are you nervous or excited about the new cast? Who would you like to see play Prince Philip, Prince Charles, and Princess Margaret?


 
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