We’ve reached the conclusion of season two of The Crown. It’s also our final episode with Claire Foy and Matt Smith as the leads, along with much of the rest of the cast, potentially. Fortunately, Foy and Smith reminded us of exactly how phenomenal they are in this show with a quiet, but poignant, finale. I love Olivia Colman as much as the next British person with any sense, but I will be sad to lose Foy’s titan performance.
That said, much of this episode was unexpected in its focus, pulling us right back to the ‘Philip is a cad’ storyline and despite extensive promotional coverage, covering a political crisis from an impassive distance. The Profumo scandal has the potential to leave so much comment on how standards have changed in parliament since then (ahem), as well as an interesting discussion on public pursuit through the media, so it felt odd that it simply used as a background propellor for Philip and Elizabeth. There’s no doubt that they should be the focus of the show, and are, but this was a strange artistic choice for our last hour with Foy and Smith.
Harold Macmillan also made an exit from the role of prime minister, handing in his resignation while in the rather dramatic seat of a hospital bed wheeled into the palace. Note to all: if you’re really having to sell a sick day to a boss, this is certainly one determined method. It doesn’t pull the wool over the eyes of Elizabeth however, who recognises that this illness comes with a recovery and that Macmillan is probably using his hospitalisation as a perfect get-out-of-jail-free card. The royal family don’t like people who duck out of a job, so she then proceeds to give us our third best verbal throwdown in season two, calling him and all her prime ministers: ‘A confederacy of elected quitters.’
I mean, ouch. For reference, I’m ranking this behind Margaret’s breakup speech to Billy Wallace in second place, and first goes to Elizabeth’s furious scolding of the Duke of Windsor before his exile (again). That’s one thing to really thank Peter Morgan for – he’s given us some of the best cutting lines in television today. Eminently quotable, they may get their own list on this site at some point.
Through all Philip’s continued shady dealings, Elizabeth is dealing with a difficult pregnancy. I think the timelines got a little muddled here, since both sisters are pregnant at the same time. The problem is, real-life Margaret’s first child was born in 1960, as was Prince Andrew, who, according to The Crown, was born over a year ago by this time. Someone can check my maths on this one, but it does seem to be a case of artistic license with basic historical dates.
But hey, it does mean that we still got to see the fabulous Vanessa Kirby and Matthew Goode for a couple more delicious scenes. Time has passed since their grand wedding but they have already settled into their dysfunctional, mutual apathy. It will be interesting to see if the actors behind these characters will also change, since they may well feature much less in future seasons.
Through all the anguish and political scandal, the final ten minutes of season two brought it together in scenes so final that it could act as a conclusion for the entire series. Philip and Elizabeth face his potential infidelity for (hopefully) the last time, as Philip reaffirms his devotion and states that ‘you are the essence of my duty’. As a long time fan of Matt Smith, it’s been difficult at times to judge Philip as impartially as needed. Smith is such a charismatic actor, but perhaps that’s right for the part. Despite raking her over the metaphorical coals for a large proportion of season two, it’s still easy to see how he could convince her that he’s changed his ways. Although a little uncomfortable, it comes across as authentic in Smith’s capable hands, which can’t have been an easy task.
Their relationship does change in those last few minutes, at least in the husband’s eyes, as Elizabeth gives birth with Philip present for the first time. There, he seems to see the full, vulnerable strength of the real woman behind the great institution. It’s a beautiful moment carefully portrayed, with Foy being truly transformative at the centre.
No one else could have played the role of Elizabeth in these years as well as Foy has. She’s been working hard over the last ten years, mainly on small BBC and ITV dramas. The Crown has propelled her into the big leagues, and she’s shown her work to an astonishing level. It’s so apparent in those final two scenes, where she gently lets down the rigid facade that Elizabeth carries with her as monarch and she becomes just another woman performing something truly miraculous.
Then, in the next moment, we see the family gather for a photo for Prince Edward’s christening. That mask is back on and it’s identifiably a perfect replicant of the real Queen’s face that we recognise now. There’s a pause, a look and suddenly all the complexities of this drama’s character are drawn back to the simple, guarded image that she must always have in her role. Foy’s talent doesn’t rely on marks of grand, showy acting – instead, she perfectly understands the strength that comes from small, human actions. It’s rare to see something like this onscreen.
As well as being the swan song for its leads, The Crown season two has been a marked change from its first season. Your opinion on which is better will rely exactly on what you enjoyed in the earlier episodes. The second season definitely has more fun with speculation and rumour, becoming a little braver in the suggestions that it makes about the dramatised lives of real people. It also steps back from political angles and takes an even more personal look at the Queen and her husband.
Just as with most tv dramas, some episodes in the season are stronger than others – episode nine and six are particular highlights, episode eight is a low point – but the rich attention to detail, sharp writing and fantastic central performances all give it a compelling heart. How season three compares will be fascinating, but wherever the drama goes, it’s proven its quality a hundred times over in my eyes with two fantastic seasons.
Thanks for following Lost In Drama’s reviews of The Crown! Let the season three speculation begin (I nominate Paul Bettany for the role of Philip, please!)…