Belfast Telegraph

Review: 'Coursing with blue blood' - The Crown returns

Alpha dog Smith reigns supreme as Queen's number 2

By Jonathan Bell

A story of life, love and loss and the struggle of a monarchy dealing with an evolving 20th Century Britain.

That was the pitch thrown at me as I lounged on the sofa too tired to enter into the nightly search for something to watch. It wasn't exactly the teaser that got me on the edge of the seat but I acquiesced. But since the coronation of The Crown on Netflix last year I have been enthralled.

That backdrop of recent history coupled with those tales of life and loss intertwined with major world events make it unmissable viewing. Strong writing, solid character development and a stellar cast lined-up to play actual royalty, it's a show that courses blue-blood.

Friday sees the dawn of season two - the last with leads Claire Foy and Matt Smith on their thrones - before a new cast move into the palace. And does it disappoint? In short no.

But then with Netflix's now trademark dedication to quality and that one season of such depth, that was never in doubt. If anything it's a massive improvement on what was a gold standard show already.

While season one had John Lithgow as Churchill stamping his authority all over the show (the story on parliament's gift of a painting to the veteran politician among the many highlights) we have the sickly Anthony Eden in the early episodes.

While Eden is much more assertive with the Queen than his predecessor, there is a yawning gap for a dominate male and up steps Matt Smith as the Duke of Edinburgh - not that he was in any way a lesser character in season one.

The first three episodes pick up where the last season left off with the Duke preparing for his solo tour of the outer reaches of the Commonwealth and the opening of the Olympics.

And he enjoys himself, and too much.

His Philip is the ultimate Alpha male, and marauding around the world in the Royal yacht commanding a group of men as his dutiful wife waits in London, he is in his element. And Smith clearly enjoys it.

The Duke revels in the attention and pushes the boundaries, but when others go too far the weight and the weight of the Crown bears down on him and he reverts to an almost child-like version of himself, unable to look people in the eye and blame others for a downfall all of his own making.

Like his journey around the world, Smith's performance is a tour-de-force. His mannerism, witticisms, the way he struts around the place, you would nearly think it was the younger sprightly - and innovative - Duke himself.

I may have to declare an interest such is my man crush.

But he is a part of a glistening well-oiled machine. Claire Foy, Vanessa Kirby, Matthew Good all star in their own right. Foy as the lead shows the strains of a monarchy desperately in search of relevance and trying to adapt in an ever-increasingly changing world. The impervious Tommy Lascelles makes a much welcome return. Although I'd never heard of him before, one can't get past the impression Pip Torrens' take on one of the 'men with mustaches' is anything other than bang on.

But it's the world events, the reality of our not too distant past, that for me makes it the epic must-watch blockbuster of a show it is.

The seasons opens with the Suez Canal Crisis and the ruptions it brought right to the heart of government and all the way to the Crown itself. We have the personal tale of Princess Margaret's love life and how the Duke became a Prince.

It's a time when it's ballerinas that catch a prince's eye and not American actresses.

The Windsors are a family with plenty of dark corners in their history that the The Crown doesn't shy away from and in fact it takes them on with devastating effect. The story of the abdicated King's determination to bring about a return to public life is told with such skill it leaves you disgusted and yet it's told with such skill, it is a pleasure to watch.

While I got the entire second season of The Crown, I can't binge and got half-way through so can't vouch for the entire series. Like a good red, I like to savour and enjoy and this is a series to wrap yourself up for these cold dark nights and drink in.

The monarchy, as Philip puts it, has "no room for mistakes, no room for scandal and no room for humanity". The same could be said for The Crown - except it has bags of humanity.

The Crown season two is available from Netflix from Friday, December 8.

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