Historical series misses the mark on female empowerment

Netflix recently premiered its highly anticipated series “The Crown,” an American-British television drama series written and created by Peter Morgan. The series debuted on the popular online platform on Friday Nov. 4 with 10 one hour-long episodes. Based on the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, the show stars Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth, Matt Smith as Prince Philip and Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret.

The series was met with a positive reception and generally favorable reviews from critics and viewers alike. It is also reported to be one of Netflix’s most expensive series, costing over $100 million to produce.

The series opens in post-World War II England, as Prince Philip I of Greece renounces his titles in order to marry Elizabeth. From the onset, the show employs a dark landscape to reflect the atmosphere of the time period. In contrast to the rich and bright colors typically employed in television shows centered on royalty, the color gradient is gloomier.

Following their marriage, Elizabeth and Philip are set to live relatively normal lives. Elizabeth is now the wife of a lieutenant, though she will one day inherit the English throne. But her ascension to the throne comes quicker than expected when her father King George VI succumbs to lung cancer. When she takes the throne, Elizabeth is only 25 years old.

While the show is meant to center around Elizabeth, her peers are often given a more interesting and appealing role. Winston Churchill is one such character, as the show began with his appointment as the Prime Minister of England.

The series has an obvious political focus, one that reflects England’s desire to reinvent itself with modern ideals following World War II, all while struggling to maintain its powerful image of the past. The series emphasizes England’s need for strong and steady leadership following the end of World War II.

Political atmosphere aside, Elizabeth’s character is rarely explored in her entirety at the start. While she remains the center of the show, she is explored only through the perspectives of the other characters. In the beginning, Elizabeth is seen through the eyes of her father as he struggles with his growing ailment and foreseeable mortality.

King George’s failing health is coupled with his deep concern for the future, and this manifests into his increased involvement with Elizabeth. The first episode centers on this father-daughter connection, foreshadowing the death of King George, as well as Elizabeth’s eventual ascension to the throne as the Queen of England.

Elizabeth’s personality is also explored largely through her husband, Philip. With Elizabeth fulfilling the ever-important role as Queen of England, Philip is reduced to a figurehead, meant to always stand by her side—only to result in issues of compromised masculinity. Their relationship is a reversal of traditional marriage and gender roles, something that Philip continually struggles with despite his love for Elizabeth. It doesn’t help that Elizabeth oversees Philip’s position as a naval officer, leaving him caught between the roles of husband and subject.

The issue with “The Crown” is that as it tells the story of Queen Elizabeth’s relationships with the people around her, it reduces her importance as a significant and strong female figure. Ultimately, we see how the men control Elizabeth in her life, typical of female monarchs of the time. By failing to show Elizabeth from her own perspective—instead of that of her father and husband—the show lacks character progression and leaves out indication of how Elizabeth overcomes these issues of control.

Although we are given small hints regarding Elizabeth’s intelligence and competence, and while the show is visually compelling, it would benefit from a shift in narration in order to achieve the strong impact it strives for. In short, we need to live Elizabeth’s story through her own eyes in order to truly understand the powerful, strong and independent leader she was and continues to be today.