Why season two of The Crown is better than season one

Looking forward to season two of The Crown? We've binge-watched the lot and this is what we think (hints but no spoilers)

‘The rumours still haven’t gone away’ says Claire Foy‘s Queen Elizabeth in the opening moments of The Crown season two. It’s 1957, and the Queen is in her cabin on the Britannia with a particularly moody Prince Philip (Matt Smith). Their marriage is in trouble. The D-word is mooted, but both know it’s not an option. ‘I’ve known more about humiliation in the last few weeks than I hoped I would in a lifetime’, says the Queen.

It’s a powerfully explicit opening to season two of Netflix’s sumptuous drama about life inside The Firm, one that begins ten years into the marriage of Prince Philip and the Queen, running into the 1960s.

the crown season two review

Netflix sank £100 million into the first season, and if possible the second outing feels even more lavish, as we watch Prince Philip set off on a five-month tour to open the 1956 Australian Olympics before sailing to the remotest parts of the Commonwealth – including a gorgeously unspoiled Tongan island – with his private secretary/partner-in-crime Mike (‘it’s a five month stag do’ says the waitress at the Bullingdon-style lunch club Philip and Mike attend).

The Crown season two review philip

Elizabeth, meanwhile, is left holding the fort in a draughty-looking Buckingham Palace with a never-ending pile of paperwork to keep her company. This is Foy’s last outing as the Queen before Olivia Colman takes over in season 3, and her performance – so crucial to the success of the show – is every bit as remarkable as season one. Often the camera simply lingers on her face, where a whole gamut of emotions can be conveyed in the twitch of a cheek muscle.

But the real breakout star of season two is Princess Margaret’s Vanessa Kirby, whose sadly comic drunken escapades perfectly off-set her older sister’s constricted life of duty. Kirby’s Princess Margaret is prickly and miserable, dry and rebellious, desperate to break away from the circles of horse-loving gentry she moves in. But – as the dapper photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode) puts it – she also doesn’t have a clue who she is.

In between the personal stories we’re fed slices of political context, like the events of The Suez Canal Crisis. But while season one spun away for whole episodes into Winston Churchill’s life as PM, season two keeps the Royal Family largely at the centre of the picture, cutting away to sub-stories rather than diving into them.

The show feels stronger and pacier as a result, helped by a gorgeous, timely soundtrack and the faster tempo of the 1960s that the Queen’s little sister is all too happy to embrace.

Rumour has it the Queen did watch season one of The Crown, encouraged by Prince Edward, and apparently she enjoyed it despite thinking some sections were overly dramatic.

What will she think of round two? The new series is a lavish triumph, but Peter Morgan’s script also sails closer to the wind in its exploration of the Queen’s private life. If she does watch it, she might need to do so when Philip is out – or else skip ahead to episode four.

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