onsdag 10 januari 2018

Is The Crown sitting a little askew?

Most of the time, reading background articles about TV shows you're following is highly satisfying. However, there are exceptions. Before embarking on The Crown season two, I read an article where among others the creator of the series, Peter Morgan, was interviewed. It turned out he was a bit of a republican and all-round "progressive" - which is fair enough, as long as he can convincingly enter into the mindset of the Queen and her set, something I did think he pulled off well not only in The Crown season one but also in The Queen and The Audience. Maybe, though, that article is colouring my judgement subconsciously. Five episodes into season two, I imagine myself detecting a certain patronising tone that I never noticed in season one.

In many respects, The Crown season two is more of the same thing that we got in season one. It is still well-crafted, the acting is still great, the pace still a little to stately for my liking. But whereas in season one I bought into the idea that real events could actually have happened along the lines imagined by Morgan, this time around the illusion of authenticity doesn't hold up as well. I'm suddenly more aware that I'm watching a fictional version of Elizabeth II and the other "real-life" characters, and that they sometimes act in a certain way merely because it makes for better TV drama.

To tell the truth, I feel a little manipulated at times. Tory politicians, as depicted in this series, are all fusty and hidebound, the PMs especially: we see Eden holding a smug speech at Eton just before the Suez crisis. The courtiers representing a traditional viewpoint are always wrong, and those in favour of change are always right. What’s more, they become more an embodiment of the categories “traditional courtier” and “progressive courtier” than persons in their own right. In one episode, Charteris – the man that the royal couple wanted to have as their private secretary, according to season one, but weren’t allowed to hire in that capacity – visits the office of Michael Adeane, who did get the job, in order to discuss a possibly unfortunate wording of a planned speech for the Queen. Who should be sitting there, though, but tough-as-nails Tommy Lascelles, the former private secretary of George VI? He immediately shuts down Charteris’s concerns. I didn’t believe in this scene for a second, but because Lascelles is a traditional hard-liner and good at it he must needs be the one who symbolises the Bad Old Ways of the Old Court at every opportunity, whereas Charteris, because he wasn’t picked as private secretary, must be a good egg.

There are other scenes that don’t convince: a peer and owner of a small periodical is a warm and idealistic supporter of Change. He tries to discuss such weighty matters as the EC with his staff, but they’re much more interested in the home-made toffee which one of them has brought to the office. If this had been only a small skit, it would have been believable – who wouldn’t rather discuss home-made toffee than politics at the workplace? – but the scene goes on for far too long and makes its point far too heavy-handedly. Elsewhere, Prince Philip is usually cast as the voice of reason within the Royal Family – reason in this case meaning that they must move with the times etc. But old Prince Philip put the case for less people-pandering in The Queen, and quite well too. I’m aware that several decades had passed by then, but it’s still hard to believe that this is supposed to be the same man.

I’m quite content with The Crown not being too perfect. Small gripes keep me more alert than if everything had flown smoothly – especially since this is still not the most action-packed TV drama out there. Too transparent attempts to make me side with one faction against the other do, however, have the opposite effect on me, as per usual. Let’s hear it for ball-breaking Tommy.