How Does Our Heroine Fare in The Crown’s Season Two?


Before the premier of The Crown’s second season, I addressed some of the controversy caused by its first, primarily criticism that the show didn’t focus enough on Queen Elizabeth, but rather went off on tangents on the men in her life. And while it’s true that Season One spent a lot of time covering Prince Philip, George VI, Winston Churchill and Edward VIII, I also argued that the split in screen time was mostly logical and Elizabeth was still well-covered.

I stand by that when it comes to the first season, but I’m feeling a little less charitable about Season Two.

Having gone through all 10 episodes – and a few of them more than once for the purposes of recapping the show here – I’m hard-pressed to point to anything Elizabeth actually did. The most agency she showed was, what, asking Philip what it would take to shut him up in the first and third episode? We see her discover her husband’s infidelity in the first episode. We see her confront him about it in the tenth (or seven years later, if you’re keeping track). We know that she decided she wanted more children and gets them, but we only know her supposed reasoning thanks to Philip telling someone else offhand.  There’s quite a bit going on with Charles and Anne, but we don’t know any of it from Elizabeth – and certainly not from her interactions with them.

The Profumo Affair was a watershed moment for Britain, but the only time Elizabeth appears to invest in it is when her husband might be wrapped up in the scandal. Her feelings are hurt by Jackie Kennedy and in a rare moment of humanity she lets it push her to show true courage in a trip to Ghana, but linking the two is borderline contrived nonsense.

The problem, to me, is less that the show is more interested by its male characters, but the fact that the show is afraid to touch the Queen. Consider the opening sequence of Philip working out in the finale, or the scene in which Margaret drunkenly trashes her bedroom – the writers are incapable of taking such liberties with Elizabeth because she is, well, the Queen. Opening Elizabeth up means dabbling in honest to God fiction because there is so much we don’t know for sure, but while the show has the gumption to do it with every other member of the Royal Family, they (somewhat ironically) quake before the actual crown.

Season One did some admirable leg work in establishing Elizabeth’s insecurities as she wrestled with her new position. In my opinion, Season Two added nothing to her character’s narrative. And I liked the second season! What it did, it did well. But what it didn’t do was grow its central character.

The second half of that issue is what they felt comfortable showing, which was delving into the pathos of Philip. Much more so than last season this felt like it became his show at the expense of Elizabeth. But what was shown was also unfair to the real Prince Philip, because it’s a one-sided depiction. For all that the series is sympathetic to some of his supposed weaknesses by way of flashbacks to his childhood, it also shows a man that spends the majority of his time drinking, going to his lunch club and complaining. In reality, Prince Philip spent much of these years building and working with the charitable foundations which he still patronizes today. This is but nodded at this season thanks to a reference to the World Wildlife Fund, and even then there’s the question mark of whether he’s lying.

Margaret and Philip are fascinating figures – arguably both are more compelling for writers thanks to the number of times their personalities shine through their role. Such is not the case with Elizabeth, but that central point, which the series did such a good job of explaining in the first season, was simply taken for granted this round. Beyond a woman frustrated by men, we’ve no real idea of who The Crown’s Elizabeth was between 1956 and 1964, so here’s to hoping they get a bit more comfortable with their subject matter in Season Three.

3 thoughts on “How Does Our Heroine Fare in The Crown’s Season Two?

  1. I think the first season was much better. I don’t think this one was a waste of time, but like you said it didn’t explore the Queen as much. Additionally, they could have focused more on Princess Margaret and her marriage instead of moving right past it. They were able to control different stories in the first season, but this one (especially the second half) felt like it missed a lot of opportunities. But, even when The Crown is not as good, it still deserves an 8/10.
    Also, enjoyed reading all your reviews. Your writing makes me feel like I am reading a story!

    1. I totally agree – not as good as the first season, but still very well done. I also felt the exact same way about Princess Margaret’s marriage – there’s so much in those first few years to dig into and it would have been fascinating to see. After so much detail in the courtship, it felt strange to skip four years ahead without much else. And thank you very much!

  2. I think they had focused enough on Margaret. I didn’t want her overwhelming the season. She is not the leading character. Besides her marriage to the Earl of Snowdon didn’t really begin hitting the fan until the mid-to-late 1960s.

    And yes . . . I found the second series’ portrayal of Philip a bit one-dimensional.

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