Netflix's new series The Crown puts a progressive spin on the royal family
It seems like every day we hear about a new show that Netflix has added to its 2016 slate of original programming — not that we're complaining. The latest addition? British period drama The Crown, which will tell the story of young Queen Elizabeth II's rise to power. Starring Wolf Hall's Claire Foy, this show is bound to fill the void left by Downton Abbey.
The Crown is also the most expensive show ever produced by Netflix, with a budget of £100 million (the equivalent of $156 million). It's not hard to see where the dollars are going — the cast includes television A-listers like John Lithgow, Doctor Who's Matt Smith and Mad Men's Jared Harris; the sets and costumes recreate iconic displays of opulence, such as the wedding of Elizabeth and Prince Phillip; and the entire six-season, 60-episode series will be filmed in the U.K.
It may not be a surprise, then, that the budget has been the focus of the majority of the existing coverage of The Crown. And, certainly, at this early stage, only so much information about the series is available; not even a precise premiere date has been announced. But based on the sizzle trailer, released just last week, one thing is clear: The Crown will be one of the most feminist looks at royalty we've seen yet.
"We have a new sovereign: young and a woman," Prince Philip tells Churchill and a room filled with other stately white men in the trailer for The Crown. "Let us give her a coronation that is befitting of the wind of change that she represents — modern and forward-looking." Indeed, Queen Elizabeth II's rise to power was one that forced her people to acknowledge the reality of female leadership.
But even Philip is put off-guard when he is forced to realize that his wife is objectively more powerful than he will ever be. When he asks, "Are you my wife or my Queen?" she answers simply, "I'm both." But the answer doesn't appear to satisfy him; the notion of a woman being in a more powerful role than any other man in the U.K. was shocking, even to the man who loves her most of all. The Crown, then, seems poised to address the ideas of equality in marriage, women in leadership positions and the rise of the women's movement head-on during its six-season run.
Moreover, 2016 seems like a particularly relevant time for a series like The Crown to premiere. We're now less than a year from the next U.S. presidential election, and right now — perhaps for the first time in history — the frontrunner is a woman. Anything can change over the next 11 months, but with former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in a prime position to be elected as the first female POTUS, it's no wonder that the notion of female leadership is occupying public consciousness now more than ever before.
Granted, the British monarchy is not perfectly analogous to the U.S. government; at best, the monarchs are seen as outdated figureheads rather than leaders with any actual power. We may enjoy watching their weddings and rituals, but we don't expect them to have any sway over lawmaking in the U.K. By contrast, the next POTUS will be someone who has an enormous amount of actual legislative power and responsibility. There's also the distinction that leaders in the U.S. are democratically elected, rather than coronated on account of birthright or marriage.
Still, the pearl-clutching on display in the trailer for The Crown is not completely unlike the concern-trolling that often clouds discussions about the possibility of a female president. It's unclear whether any female leaders in the U.S. feel any connection to a woman like Queen Elizabeth II. But should Clinton be elected to the presidency, it will be fascinating to watch the media discourse on her leadership unfold simultaneously with the airing of The Crown. The tragic reality is that, across decades and continents, the comfort with women in leadership positions remains contentious. I'm hoping that a large audience tunes into The Crown, if for no other reason than to experience a crash course in the struggles that women endure to be respected in their positions of power.
The Crown premieres on Netflix later in 2016. While you wait, take a peek at the trailer for a glimpse at the clothes, the romance and the feminism.