Often my family will gather around to watch a slightly dowdy woman discharge her duties with poise, intelligence, and a wistful, inward-looking gaze that makes her a fascinating figure.
And when they’re tired of hanging out with me, we just turn on The Crown.
Now in its third season, the Netflix series chronicles the reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended to throne in 1952 as a young bride of 25 and has stalwartly remained there ever since. The dramatized story of her life doubles as a look back through seventy-odd years of history: one minute dwelling on the 1969 moon landing, a “giant leap for mankind,” and in the next scene cutting to Princess Margaret’s extramarital affair, a rather smaller leap into the arms of a handsome landscaper named Roddy.
The Crown has something for everyone, in fact. Born into 21st century California, my children are fascinated by mid-century Britain. Back then, it seems, a working mom was always beautifully coiffed and attired, and never snapped: “Who do you think I am, the maid?” The Queen of England had maids, real ones! It would be cool to have a mom who never got mad at you for leaving dirty socks lying around. Instead, the Queen was always dressing down some prime minister or other for things like “wrecking the economy.” While she was busy, you could get away with a lot.
Our family has learned many life lessons from The Crown. Here are a few:
In any conflict, refer to yourself in the Exalted Third Person. Which sounds more convincing? “I don’t want to go to that party. I just don’t feel like it for some reason.” Or: “The Crown does not attend holiday potlucks. The Crown only attends catered events hosted by heads of state.” And, if you have to press the point: “The Crown does not make casseroles. You make the casserole, if you’re so keen on – see! I knew you wouldn’t.”
If you need to borrow money from someone, stoop down to their level. In season three, the Queen’s fun-loving sister Margaret, played by Helena Bonham Carter, goes on a tour of the United States, where she is roped into having dinner with President Lyndon Johnson. England needs a massive financial bailout from the Johnson Administration, so the White House dinner is a delicate task. But Margaret bonds with the potty-mouthed LBJ over drinks and dirty jokes, getting the bailout and saving her country. The moral: That bawdy limerick you scrawled on the middle school bathroom wall might, under the right circumstances, be worth $100 million pounds. Try to remember it.
Sometimes you just have to forgive people and muddle through. After season two, which covered the years 1956 through 1963, my preteen daughter held a grudge against Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, for his rumored dalliance with a Russian ballerina. How dare he insult The Crown in such a fashion!
“Loyalty is my thing. It’s very important to me,” she explained in a mature new voice. “So if my husband were disloyal to me, I’d probably have him killed.”
“Well, I’ll never betray you now,” I said slowly. “I mean, I’d never betray you anyway. But now I’m afraid to betray you.”
My child seemed suited to a bloodier era of the British monarchy, when errant spouses were hustled off to the Tower and never seen again. But Queen Elizabeth II – played in the first two seasons by Claire Foy – merely looked pensive in her twinset, fiddling with her pearls and keeping busy with matters of state.
Eventually, the young couple patched things up. As I told my daughter, whatever missteps Philip allegedly made in the 1950s, he and the Queen had now been married for an astonishing 72 years! They still laughed at each other’s jokes and walked the dogs together! All was well.
She looked skeptical. I’m planning to stay on her good side, just in case.
Work isn’t supposed to be fun. That’s why they call it “work.” According to The Crown, Elizabeth Windsor never wanted to be Queen of England. She hoped for a quiet life in the country, raising horses with the help of her horse-obsessed friend Porchy. But when her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne so he could marry an American divorcee, his younger brother George became king, making George’s elder daughter next in line for The Crown.
While others (like Margaret) might kick up their heels as Queen, Elizabeth stoically assumed the burdens of the job. It is instructive for today’s youth, who plan on being professional YouTubers and bitcoin millionaires, to see what work really looks like: hauling yourself into a carriage for a lonely ride to your Silver Jubilee when you’d much rather be at home with your feet up. As played in season three by Olivia Colman, the Queen is a mature, self-sacrificing woman doing her job, come rain or shine. Sometimes, when a prime minister is nattering on, she gazes sadly at a large painting of a horse and then says: “Sorry, what?”
Cut corners if you must, but never stint on interior design. After three seasons of The Crown, our family has a new appreciation for the trappings of outrageous wealth. Life’s ups and downs are easier to bear, we’ve learned, if your surroundings are fabulous to a degree unmatched in human history. When the royal teenagers, Charles and Anne, mope around Buckingham Palace in season three, their troubles are dwarfed by the red-carpeted Grand Staircase and rooms filled with priceless paintings, crystal chandeliers, velvet curtains, and Corinthian columns. We should feel sorry for them because their private lives are subject to the requirements of The Crown, but we are distracted by their opulent surroundings. Pretty sweet!
All and all, the show has made us feel fond of England. The British have given us Hercule Poirot, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and now – with The Crown – HRH. From one complicated modern family to another: Long Live the Queen.
Featured image: Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II and Tobias Menzies as The Duke of Edinburgh, appearing in the third season of the Netflix show, The Crown. (PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)