A staple of modernity in the United States is an unwillingness to take on responsibilities and recognize our roles in the broader picture. As it turns out, Netflix’s new season of “The Crown,” like the previous ones, gives us a model to follow.
In the third season of the hit drama, Claire Foy passes on the role of Queen Elizabeth II to Olivia Colman. Initially, I was worried about the shift — not because Colman lacks anything as an actress but because Foy’s portrayal of the queen set a tone of strength despite her becoming the head of state at 25 years old. The way Foy portrayed the queen’s sense of duty to country and church amidst dangerous situations made the first two seasons great.
Colman, playing an older, more steadfast Queen Elizabeth, carries this same sense of duty with aplomb. It’s something we can learn from in our modern world. While the queen refers to herself as an “old bat,” this transition into middle-age means she is no longer unsure of herself. She knows when and where to break the rulebook if she’s going to keep the nation and the monarchy thriving.
The theme of duty continues to run strong through “The Crown” in season three. Elizabeth does her duty, even when it conflicts with her emotions and her love for family. The second episode, “Margaretology,” illustrates this by contrast.
While Elizabeth becomes a bedrock for the nation, a necessary compass for her people, Margaret (played by the fantastic Helena Bonham Carter) flaunts about, wining and dining American elites.
In a flashback, Sir Alan “Tommy” Lascelles (Pip Torrens), private secretary to the monarch, tells a young Elizabeth that the crown is more than “an ornament to be worn.”
“It is a privilege and a burden which comes with formidable expectations and responsibilities,” he tells Elizabeth, who does not want the throne when she grows up.
Meanwhile, Lascelles instructs young Margaret — who desperately wants the crown one day — to “accept your position in life,” adding that “we all have a role to play.” As “The Crown” takes a Miltonic turn, it shows that when it comes to our duties to things higher than ourselves, we all must know where we fit in the larger picture.
With Elizabeth, the audience has an antidote to the hyper-individuality of the West. As a leader, she cannot afford to let her individuality creep in too much into her role as sovereign over church and state.
What “The Crown” presents is really a human issue. The show has always upheld the British monarchy as an ideal, a moral model for Britons to follow as good and virtuous citizens. Because of the human tendency toward vice, we all need people higher than ourselves — culturally, politically, spiritually — to demonstrate for us how we should live. But sometimes those above us struggle, too.
“The Crown” handles this tension remarkably. One of the highlights of the third season is the queen’s oddly calm yet stiff meetings with Prime Minister Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins). In episode three, “Aberfan,” the queen wrestles with her inability to show emotion after an industrial accident tragically kills more than 100 children.
Wilson points out that the average working man sees him as an ideal socialist, though he is “a privileged Oxford don, not a worker.” Even if leaders are not actually ideals themselves, they must work to seem so, in order to inspire their people.
In the same way, Wilson says the people don’t want the royal family to be normal. They want them to be ideal (to which Elizabeth retorts that “only God is ideal”).
“We can’t be everything to everyone and still be true to ourselves. We do what we have to do as leaders. That’s our job,” Wilson says.
Here lies the central struggle which “The Crown” examines. We can’t entirely sacrifice our individuality for the sake of doing our duty. As much as leaders need to strive to represent ideals, they will fall short.
But when it comes to serving our country at large or just our local community, we should be willing to set aside our own wants and desires for the sake of others. It’s this reality which ensures that “The Crown” remains not only entertaining but edifying.