LONDON – “The Crown,” the glossy, costly Netflix series about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II that launched Friday, has received a mostly regal cheer from British critics, although almost all have their quibbles.
The staunchly royalist Telegraph newspaper called the show “magnificent,” while the equally staunchly republican Guardian declared that “Netflix can rest assured that its £100-million [$125-million] gamble has paid off. This first series, about good old British phlegm from first to last, is the service’s crowning achievement so far.”
There were some reservations over the slow unfolding of the story of Princess Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne after the death of her father, King George VI. London’s Evening Standard complained that “the plot moves at a glacial pace, with half-defrosted royals bumbling carelessly through matters of historical significance while polite, undynamic onlookers mumble rhubarb,” but in the end, “like the monarchy, it shouldn’t work, but it does.” The Daily Mail tabloid predicted breathlessly that the series could “change the way the world views the royal family.”
Interest has been running high in “The Crown” here in the country where the series is set and whose ruling family is its subject. On Tuesday, the first two episodes received a red-carpet premiere in London’s Leicester Square befitting that of a star-studded movie. All 10 episodes of the show’s first season are available on Netflix; five more seasons are expected, with the second season already in production.
Reviewers were united in their praise of the cast, especially Claire Foy (“Wolf Hall”) as Elizabeth and American actor John Lithgow as an unlikely Winston Churchill. The Guardian said that Foy “steals the show”; the paper also lauded the “quiet power” of Jared Harris’ performance as Elizabeth’s dying father.
The relationship between Elizabeth and Prince Philip, played by former “Doctor Who” actor Matt Smith, came in for praise as well. “That the coupling was one of love is in no doubt – Matt Smith and Claire Foy share a touching, easy chemistry that makes the longevity of the union easy to understand, and renders the couple not just sympathetic but human,” the Telegraph said.
The paper congratulated director Stephen Daldry on “a delicate yet sure touch” that never allowed “the scale and grandeur to smother the humanity.” But the Guardian took issue with the amount of exposition – probably written with a global audience in mind – which had the characters “speak[ing] to each other like nurses on an amnesia ward.”
“The Crown” is the latest in a wave of British-royalty-related projects for both the big and small screen. “Victoria,” a recently aired series about the 19th-century monarch, earned high ratings for ITV; it has been renewed for a second season. Also in the works is the movie “Victoria and Abdul,” about the unlikely true friendship between the queen and a courtier from India, with Judi Dench playing Victoria on film for the second time in her career.