Binge-worthy: 'The Crown' season 2 is a lesson in regal restraint
MANILA, Philippines – The second season of The Crown opens with feet scurrying across a rain-battered pavement. The urgency with which they run tells us that something is amiss – and the next scene tells us it has to do with the royal marriage. Between Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and Prince Philip (Matt Smith), there is a quiet, brewing intensity so powerful you might find yourself gasping for air before you even realized you’d stopped breathing.
As far as series openers go, this one packs a one-two punch. In just a few minutes of screen time, it quickly reminds viewers of (or introduces them to) what is perhaps The Crown’s greatest strength: the commanding presence and chemistry of its two leads. In the same breath, it defines the point at which we now find our main characters: no longer in the first blush of marital bliss, one of them settling deeper into her royal duty, the other continuing to cling to his former freedoms.
The compelling opening is rightly reassuring, if only because The Crown’s stunning first season is undeniably a tough act to follow.
After all, as the show continues without the fascinating character that is Winston Churchill (played perfectly in season 1 by John Lithgow), the noble father figure that is King George VI (Jared Harris), or the swoon-inducing early marriage of a young Elizabeth and Philip, one might say that The Crown comes into its new season rather crippled.
Yet in the British spirit of “Keep calm and carry on,” it moves along on its historical timeline unruffled. The stories continue to unfold with the same evocative gravitas and sumptuous production value as it always has.
A new era
The second season’s story starts in February 1957, when Prince Philip returns from his 5-month royal tour around the world. It then doubles back to a few months earlier, when Queen Elizabeth faces the 1956 Suez Crisis which her new prime minister, Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam), so incredibly mishandles.
As the show progresses, more historical events are covered: the Profumo Affair, Princess Margaret’s impassioned romance with photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy’s state visit, JFK’s death, and the birth of Elizabeth and Philip’s two younger children.
Through it all the show is anchored by – who else – the queen herself, portrayed by Foy, who in this season has elevated the wordless, weighted gaze into an art form. A less capable actress might have been a snooze in the role, but Foy manages to stare silently into the abyss for entire seconds of screen time without once losing the viewer’s attention.
Foy’s Elizabeth is equally powerful when she speaks with that staid, impeccably proper voice that constantly hints at both the monarch’s human insecurities and divine duty. She manages to make the queen at once plain, snarky, powerful, and irresistibly endearing, especially in her more private moments. These moments are plentiful in this season as we see the queen indulging in her personal quirks (spoiler alert: expect more corgis) and navigating life without her husband by her side.
The series may have powered through on Foy’s performance alone, but with Matt Smith as Prince Philip, its dramatic power only intensifies. Smith easily navigates through Philip’s troubled past and controversial present while managing to keep that unwavering roguish charm. We may doubt his fidelity to his wife at one point or another, worrying about whether the royal couple will emerge intact – but never for too long. Besides, the second season’s premiere comes at the heels of a huge spoiler: the royal couple just marked their 70th wedding anniversary.
More than marriage
Perhaps the marital trouble subplot is almost overplayed at certain points in the season, but to writer Peter Morgan’s credit that other plots juice the story up before a story gets too tedious.
For instance, there is the Margaret-Tony romance that brings a good dose of sex appeal to the show, with the couple brought to life by Vanessa Kirby and Matthew Goode respectively. Kirby, in particular, gives Princess Margaret a manic edge that makes you pity and root for her all at once.
This season, we also see Queen Elizabeth’s eldest son and heir, Prince Charles, become a character in his own right. In the show, a shy, sensitive Charles is heavily juxtaposed with his rough-and-tumble father and ultimately, more light is shed on an equally intriguing – though much less popular – member of the royal family.
The fleshing out of Charles signals a shift in the series – one that is both heartbreaking and exciting. When it ends, we say goodbye to Foy, Smith, and Kirby and prepare for a time jump in season 3 (The Lobster's Olivia Colman will play the queen next season).
For all the pomp and circumstance that covers the institution of monarchy – or perhaps precisely because of that – it is The Crown's candid, unceremonious scenes and overall restraint that make it worth the binge. It is, in a sense, regal, in that it never says more than it needs to, and never louder than it should be.
All 10 episodes of The Crown season 2 premieres globally on Netflix on December 8. – Rappler.com