I first came across mention of this series on my fave fashion blog Tom and Lorenzo, and yeah, basically it was the costume porn and general spectacle that called out to me.
Because otherwise, the current Queen Elizabeth doesn’t seem to have had a very storied life right?
Well, having watched the series, I can say wrong.
Of course, the series has likely added it’s own masala, but many of the conflicts are believable given the circumstances:
- Elizabeth is the daughter of King George (he of the stammer described in the movie, The King’s Speech) who was the brother of Edward who Abdicated. The scandal of Edward looms over the monarchy and is something to keep in mind in terms of the paranoia with which everyone reacts.
- The voice of questioning the role of the monarchy is attributed to Prince Philip, Elizabeth’s husband who is an outsider to the pomp and ceremony, in the sense that his own father lost his kingdom and he grew up outside the fabled castle environment. Though he was the nephew of Lord Mountbatten, last Viceroy of India and generally influential person, so he was not quite a nobody.
- I always thought of Philip as generally a person without any colour. But apparently, he was quite the catch and playboy even. And Elizabeth had a bit of a ruckus of her own insisting that he wanted to marry him.
- The series sets up a contrast between Elizabeth and her sister Margaret – the former is the goody-two-shoes, the latter, the rebel. While initially the two are very close, Margaret has a scandal of her own and Elizabeth’s choices during that time drive a wedge between them (or so the series tells it). That was rather sad, because the unity between the sisters was something I loved watching.
- The most interesting thing for me was the dynamic between Elizabeth and Philip. Their marriage threw up many of the gender conflicts at a time of transition that many of us face at a less grandiose level. For example, once crowned queen, Philip was technically his wife’s subject. He had to bow to her at her coronation, a requirement he tried to get around but which she insisted on. He had to give up his career, and follow her around on boring official duties where she was the main act. His children would even take her name. Each of these moments provides drama in the series that is very relatable. For her part, Elizabeth tries to balance her roles as queen and wife, softening her stance around her husband.
- Finally, this was the end of the British empire and as a postcolonial subject, my viewing position is different than say a Britisher or an American viewing it. Winston Churchill was a firm believer in colonialism and while he is the loudest expressor of the colonial viewpoint, one can only assume the monarchs agreed with him, though Prince Philip expressed concern over how long they could hang on, while fully enjoying the benefits of such hanging on. However, I also think that the series opens up spaces to show how ridiculous the whole colonialism thing is, like when Elizabeth goes on tour of the (remaining) colonies and there are all these black and brown people fawning and Prince Philip is basically racist and the tribal chiefs are not amused etc.
Anyway the whole thing is very well done, visually beautiful and I can’t wait to watch the sequel.