Whenever you watch a historical drama, of course you wonder, "What is true in this?" Especially when you see the bend of the narrative, you wonder what has been left out as unhelpful or distracting. Now, there is nothing wrong with editing history for the sake of a tale; it's just best to treat any historical drama as fiction.The Crown
, the Netflix series about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, definitely has a bend. It is firmly on the side of "the modern" — that is, the Modern as worshiped these past many decades: the casting aside of all acquired wisdom because, well, we're not stuffy and oppressive anymore.
In particular it goes on and on about how the prohibition against divorce, and the disdain for divorced persons, is just so cruel
. Never once does it explain why
the prohibition exists or why people might think it a good thing
. For The Crown
, the prohibition is just a manifestation of adherence to outdated thinking.
In general, The Crown
is all about the modernization of the monarchy. One could say: the steady erosion of its dignity. The royals, especially Elizabeth, are shown as people beset and powerless. She is a Queen with no constitutional power who, because of the supremacy of the Modern, finds herself bowing to every modernization.
As drama, The Crown
is actually really good. And it is not disdainful, as such, of the actual dignity of the monarchy itself. By and large, especially with its honest (if agnostic) acknowledgement of the place of the Divine in the whole scheme, it avoids caricaturing the monarchy as merely
some gilded vestige. Elizabeth is presented quite sympathetically. And yet, its greatest praise for her comes when she modernizes; not when she awkwardly tries to protect the monarchy as it has been.
And I think that, in adhering to its bend, it shows Elizabeth as weaker than she truly was. While there is no question that this second Elizabethan age has been a disaster and Britain is truly dead now (frankly, because
of its descent into the Modern and, of late, its actual contempt for actual Britons), the real Elizabeth may have tried a little harder to resist.
In one episode (and in reality), Elizabeth concedes that there is something distant
about the monarchy and agrees to the televising of her Christmas message. In the broadcast she says the following:
Twenty-five years ago my grandfather broadcast the first of these Christmas messages. Today is another landmark because television has made it possible for many of you to see me in your homes on Christmas Day. My own family often gather round to watch television as they are this moment, and that is how I imagine you now.
I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct.
It is inevitable that I should seem a rather remote figure to many of you. A successor to the Kings and Queens of history; someone whose face may be familiar in newspapers and films but who never really touches your personal lives. But now at least for a few minutes I welcome you to the peace of my own home.
That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us.
To this point her speech has been identical to her actual speech in 1957; at this point, she then goes into a reading of a passage from Pilgrim's Progress
, the same passage she read in reality.
However, in reality, there was much else between "all around us" and Pilgrim's Progress
. I wouldn't expect The Crown
to repeat the entire broadcast, not least because it included some dull state-of-the-Commonwealth stuff. But some rather meaty content was excluded. Here is how the speech actually went:
That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us. Because of these changes I am not surprised that many people feel lost and unable to decide what to hold on to and what to discard. How to take advantage of the new life without losing the best of the old.
But it is not the new inventions which are the difficulty. The trouble is caused by unthinking people who carelessly throw away ageless ideals as if they were old and outworn machinery.
They would have religion thrown aside, morality in personal and public life made meaningless, honesty counted as foolishness and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint.
At this critical moment in our history we will certainly lose the trust and respect of the world if we just abandon those fundamental principles which guided the men and women who built the greatness of this country and Commonwealth.
Today we need a special kind of courage, not the kind needed in battle but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future.
It has always been easy to hate and destroy. To build and to cherish is much more difficult.
The Elizabeth in The Crown
would not say this. If she did, she would be resisting the narrative itself. Note especially how she calls out those who would have "morality in personal and public life made meaningless [...] and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint;" those who, in other words, would commit their adulteries, fornications, and divorces and then get all tetchy about any objections to or consequences for their actions.
I think it sad that the show did not depict this
Elizabeth, the one who at least cried out as she was being struck down. But The Crown
doesn't want to engage the arguments of the real Elizabeth. Rather it accepts submission to the Modern as inevitable and decides simply to depict the human drama of the Crown's submission.P.S.
A silly thing The Crown
does is reckon Elizabeth's sex
as a rationale for the modernization. You know: Women are breaking free of so much in this glorious new age! And now even the Monarch is a wahman!
As if the monarchy had no provision for a female Monarch; as if two of England's greatest Monarchs were not women; as if only a half century before Elizabeth there had not been Victoria. Very silly.