There are plenty of things to appreciate about The Crown. Peter Morgan’s series about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II is a sumptuous, taffeta-swathed, jewel-encrusted doozy of a drama that earns every penny of its reported $13-million per episode price tag. Part historical saga, part soap opera, it gratifies the seemingly endless curiosity about the British Royal Family even as its central character remains something of a cipher. But, as became clear in the final scene from the first season, when the Queen posed for official portraits shot by a Wordsworth-spouting Cecil Beaton, The Crown is also a superhero show. If the first 10 episodes presented the origin story for how an ordinary young woman transcended mortality to become something akin to a goddess, as her Uncle David put it, the second season—released on Friday—explores the conflict between her two identities: Elizabeth Windsor and Elizabeth Regina.
It isn’t just the feverish Hans Zimmer score that frequently makes The Crown feel like a Christopher Nolan Batman movie, or the continual shots of a reluctant monarch surveying her terrain. It’s also the sense of duty inherent in Claire Foy’s Queen Elizabeth, a woman continually defined not by what she wants, but by what she senses people need from her. Morgan seems fascinated by the person he detects underneath the armor of protocol, Floris perfume, and color-blocked dress-coats—a woman he depicts reading bloodstock breeding guides in bed, and reproaching her mother for hitting the television because “it’s rented.” The most fascinating moments of Season 2 of The Crown zoom in on the Queen’s human side, as she experiences betrayal, humiliation, jealousy, and wounded pride. But Morgan is never able to entirely isolate the woman from the monarch, perhaps because, in the end, they’re inseparable.