The Crown Season 2 Review: Treating Royalty Too Royally

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Everything about the second season of The Crown is wonderful except the execution of the story. The grandiose sets and illustrious costumes make a stunning return in season two, with the series perhaps only rivaled by Game of Thrones or The Young Pope in terms of production design. The tone the show’s score, cinematography, and overall aesthetic strike is still appropriately grand. Claire Foy and Matt Smith are just as terrific as the Queen and the Duke as they were the first time around. But even while respecting all this greatness, The Crown is a bit of a chore to watch this time around.

Starting with Elizabeth’s limited movements around the Suez Crisis in 1956, the series depicts a royal marriage on the rocks. The political intrigue of season one take a backseat this year, especially with John Lithgow’s bravura turn as Winston Churchill sadly put to rest, with the show now turning the focus on the soapy drama of the royal family in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Elizabeth and Phillip spend more time apart than together in the early episodes, and that strain is largely put front and center very much in the same vein as House of Cards did in each of its seasons at some point (though definitely not the next one!). How these two figures struggle to stay together, with the eyes of the entire world on them, was a great component of The Crown in season one, and continues to be here, but this year it’s one of the show’s only winning factors.

Now, between royal musings, we have to sit through Princess Margaret’s (Vanessa Kirby) frustrations with her status in the family. Much of the fourth episode is devoted to the beginning of her troubled relationship with photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones (the undervalued Matthew Goode). Her competition with her sister evolves into something too petty to emotionally resonate, which speaks to a larger problem in season two’s overall structure. The deliberate pacing of these ten episodes, many of them a bit overlong, gives way to the sensibility that these small family dynamics have an actual importance in the well-being of the British government, a fact that, especially in times such as these, I find sad. Almost cripplingly so.

And yet, there is one shining bright spot in the season. The wonderful eighth episode, “Dear Mrs. Kennedy,” allows another global power couple to share the spotlight. Maybe it’s the American in me, but the arrival of John F. and Jackie Kennedy (Michael C. Hall and Jodi Balfour, both quite good, though the latter doesn’t hold a candle to what Natalie Portman pulled off in Jackie last year) gives the show so much life for the one episode they’re in. There’s something genuinely thrilling about Elizabeth and Jackie, two of the world’s most recognizable women of their era, both in difficult marriages with difficult men, sitting down to converse on the state of their royal worlds. The Kennedys are as close to American royalty as it gets, and seeing the two women who carry that weight on their shoulders find common ground, only to be driven apart by the cruelty of politics ends up being, is a unique take on what it means to be royalty.

But afterward, the season resumes its slog of storytelling for the final two episodes. Ultimately, The Crown seems so into the royal family’s drama that it feels cold from the outside. Not all these characters are worth rooting for, though most of them are. This season isn’t a complete misfire, and the show could easily reroute itself to success again in season three, though it’ll be trying to do so without the surefire excellence of Foy and Smith, who will be recast going into next season due to their characters’ aging. The show might not be the same without them, just as it wasn’t the same this year without Lithgow. So now, with a shaky sophomore season such as this, The Crown becomes a show where we’ll just have to wait and see. Grade: B-

By Matt Dougherty

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