When I saw this one being advertised, I was determined not to touch it with a barge-pole. It was almost certainly going to be a slavish, grovelling tribute to an aristocratic, parasitic family of European in-breeds, better known as Britain’s Royal family. I’ve always despised the very notion of monarchy, religious hierarchy or any form of hereditary power. I certainly was not going to voluntarily buy into this latest chapter of mindless deference to this archaic medieval institution. But I was badgered into giving this latest Netflix offering a go and hey presto – it was quite intoxicating. Not without a few historical errors but intelligently portrayed and anything but deferential. In one of the early episodes Prince Phillip denounced the entire House of Windsor as a bunch of hyenas with ice cold blood in their veins. Now I can go along with that.

Everywhere the Royals are portrayed as very human and like us all, very vulnerable and insecure. The monarchs are shown to be nothing more than high paid civil servants but with almost no ability to influence events. On the contrary, the young Queen Elizabeth is thwarted at every turn as she tries desperately to give the British monarchy a twentieth century uplift.  Even her own sister must be denied her own personal life for fear of upsetting the religious and political establishments. By the end of the first series the key protagonists are to be pitied more than despised.

The acting and direction are quite magnificent. The flashbacks to earlier times work perfectly and the interspersing of British social and political history only serve to enrich the whole production. I now must confess I’m eagerly awaiting future episodes. But historically, it was far from perfect. Edward VIII is portrayed as a very human figure who was forced to abdicate the Top Job in favour of his true love. Airbrushed totally out of the story was his persistent flirtation with German fascism. But this was not an innocent flirtation, far from it. The records show that Edward was being groomed by the Nazis to resume the Crown under a Nazi occupied Britain. Why was this not mentioned? Too politically sensitive perhaps? This key omission seriously detracts from the veracity of the script.

Secondly, despite one early episode showing the Princess Elizabeth in Kenya, no mention is made of the Mau Mau uprising nor Britain’s ruthless colonial suppression of that wholly legitimate demand for independence. There was a brief shot of unsmiling Kenyans at the airport but those not aware of Britain’s brutal colonial past would not make the necessary connections. Having just fought a war supposedly for democracy and against fascist concentration camps, Britain proceeded to perpetuate that very same fascist ideology in its shrinking colonial empire; in Malaya, in Southern Africa and in Kenya, to name but a few. On all of this, the young Queen Elizabeth and her court have nothing to say. Is this because she literally had nothing to say about Britain’s shrinking Empire or that again the writers thought it prudent to airbrush it out of our thoughts. I suspect the latter.

Thirdly, there is the question of the newly created welfare state. We see plenty of the reinstated PM Churchill but very little of Attlee and Co. What we do see of them is rather dismissive almost to the point of being outright demeaning, despite the Labour Government having recently enacted the most profound social welfare legislation in England’s two thousand year history. What did the Royal Family think of the Welfare State? Did they have any thoughts? The writers deem these questions to be of no importance. A pity.

Finally, there is the portrayal of Churchill himself. Brilliantly acted for sure, but the audience is left with the notion that Churchill was only concerned with the survival of British democracy. A complete nonsense. Churchill’s real concern was for the continuation of Empire which he arrogantly conflated with civilisation. As the Kenyans would no doubt testify, nothing could be further from the truth. Churchill was in fact advocating eugenics long before Hitler started to put it into practice. Churchill was many things but a democrat he was not.

It may seem that I have been overly critical but that is only because I believe a great production could have been even better. By her own admission, Queen Elizabeth was ignorant of the world other than the broad contours of the constitutional settlement between parliament and the Monarchy. Having survived a dozen Prime Ministers, one can’t help but wonder what type of human being she develops into. My guess is she just remains an unthinking, uncaring aristocrat who dutifully carries out her ceremonial duties. Future series of the Crown will no doubt take a different view.

End JPK Copyright 7/12/16

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