United Kingdom

A Swinging Return for ‘The Crown'

In its second season, the Netflix series tracing Queen Elizabeth II's reign tackles the turbulent 1960s

British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, in the circa-1955-set finale to the first season of "The Crown," tells twentysomething Queen Elizabeth II: "We must not forget that times are changing, morality is changing, the country is changing."

The middle-aged Eden is being disingenuous, giving Elizabeth false hope his cabinet might sign off on Princess Margaret's plan to marry divorced military man Peter Townsend.

But truer words were never spoken on the show, which returns to Netflix Friday to tackle Elizabeth's journey through the turbulent 1960s.

Heavy is the head that wears "The Crown," as the royal drama goes from the departure of Peter Townsend to the emergence of rockers like Pete Townshend, and "heavy" takes on a new, mod meaning.

In its first season, the drama brilliantly bounced through time, interspersing Elizabeth's girlhood with her 1947 marriage, her ascension to the throne five years later and into the mid-1950s. She’s shackled by bejeweled handcuffs as she learns on the job, trying not to be played by the likes of Eden and Winston Churchill.

But her toughest struggles stem from the conflicts inherent in juggling duty to both family and nation. She finds herself shunting off her husband, Philip, who feels emasculated, on ceremonial trips, and trying to rein in her spirited sister, Margaret.

Sure, the program, buoyed by strong writing and performances, underscores the enduring fascination with the Royal Family, an arrangement that seems at odds with modern, supposedly enlightened times.

But "The Crown" makes Elizabeth the star of the show, depicting her life behind the scenes in a dramatized, if not overly fictionalized fashion. She's a lot more than the seemingly stiff figure whose record, ongoing 65-year reign began with the age of television and stretches into the streaming era.

Elizabeth learned the hard way – no more so than after Lady Diana's death in 1997 – that things can't stay the same. Recent case in point: Elizabeth and Philip's gracious welcome-to-the-family message to Meghan Markle, the American divorcee engaged to Prince Harry.

That's a big turnaround for a 91-year-old who reluctantly crushed her sister's relationship with Townsend and owes her very position, indirectly, to the 1936 abdication of her Uncle Edward – the king shunned for proposing to (and later marrying) American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

Eden's proto-Dylanesque declaration about changing times heralds a new season (the excellent Claire Foy's last as Elizabeth) certain to be rife with scandal spurred by challenges to tradition and the monarchy itself.

The Queen might not be amused. But "The Crown" shines with the promise of another entertaining and incisive peek into history through the royal blinds.

Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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