It looks like Matt Smith is establishing himself after retiring from Doctor Who three years ago. He does a fine job as Prince Phillip in the Netflix mini-series, The Crown, which is about the early years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. The series premiered last week on Netflix. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section at the end of this review.
Spoilers to Follow
We’ve had 13 Doctors in 53 years of Doctor Who, some of whom have had steady acting careers when their time to leave the series came. Patrick Troughton appeared in several TV shows and in The Omen, Tom Baker was in an episode of Blackadder II, and Peter Davison has been in several movies and a London revival of Gypsy that recently aired on PBS. David Tennant has been very successful with Broadchurch, Hamlet and Jessica Jones.
This ten-part series shows the clashes within the Royal Family and within England, in general, between the past and the future. Prince Phillip, the Queen’s husband, thinks he’s seen by the rest of the royal family as an outsider and his concern is shown throughout the series. When he is first shown, it’s pointed out Elizabeth married him in 1947 over objections from the Royal Household since he was the former Prince of Greece and Denmark. He was happy in the Navy and doesn’t like the idea that he’ll serve as a symbol of the British Empire as she’s expected to be. Still, he’s told by her father George VI (Jared Harris) that in the future, “she is the job” Phillip will have and he’s reluctantly all right with that.
While the Prince is on a tour with his wife, Smith shows a bit of the familiar Doctor Who goofiness as when the Prince notices some of the Kenyan Army offices have the same medals he has. Later the Prince shows daring by distracting an elephant so he can go to the luxury tree house where they’re staying.
It becomes apparent once Elizabeth becomes Queen it’s difficult for him to have a significant role. His family’s request to change the name of the royal house to Mountbatten is turned down, which upsets him because normally a wife takes her husband’s name. However, since traditions and the government are involved it’s not a normal situation.
When he’s made Chairman of the Coronation, he has ideas to make it more accessible to the subjects, including the radical idea of televising it. A tense scene between Elizabeth and Phillip shows the dilemma they faced. He wonders if he should treat Elizabeth as his wife or the Queen. She says both, but since she is Queen and ranks above him he should kneel in the ceremony. He does and the look on his face tells it all, and Smith does a wonderful job of showing his resignation of his real role. As her dad said, she is the job.
Towards the end of the series, the tensions do increase, including a fight accidentally caught by newsreel photographers. The Queen does what she can to make sure Phillip has a major role at home and in the monarchy, including opening the Olympics in Melbourne. Still the fact he’ll always be second fiddle to her wears on him. It’s bad enough he has to get permission from Cabinet to learn how to fly because he’s always wanted to do that.
It’s also difficult for the young Queen, played with determination and resolve by Claire Foy. The reason the series is called The Crown, and not “The Young Elizabeth,” is that she has an image to uphold, one that has lasted for nearly a thousand years. No hint of individuality is allowed. That’s what led to her uncle’s abdication, as she is often reminded. She does what she can to show she should be respected, even by Prime Minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow). She continues to feel the weight of the crown when she has to deal with her sister Princess Margaret’s romance with Peter Townsend. As she is told by her grandmother and uncle, the Crown must always win, as much as she is her husband’s job.
The Crown is a fascinating look at the early years of Elizabeth II, and of Prince Phillip’s marriage to her. Fans of Doctor Who should also be interested on how regal Jenna Coleman (aka Clara Oswald) can be when Victoria airs on PBS early next year.
Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section at the end of this review.