"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is a page-turning exploration into that multiverse known as rock and roll. But it is much more than a marvelous adventure narrated by a master storyteller...it is also an exquisite meditation on the very nature of alternate history." -- Jack Dann, The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Crown on Netflix: Peerless

We binge-watched The Crown on Netflix the past few nights.  It was especially welcome, entertaining, instructive, and appealing in view of what's going on in our current political news in the United States, on other screens.

The protagonist in this riveting 20th-century docudrama is Queen Elizabeth II (well played by Claire Foy), but I found the Winston Churchill story - a portrait of his final years as Prime Minister, after being ousted by the British electorate at the end of World War II as reward for his heroic service as PM and saving the nation during that war - to be a mini-masterpiece of politics and political philosophy in itself.   Indeed, speaking of portraits, my favorite episode was the penultimate, and the story it told of Graham Sutherland's painting of Churchill in 1954, which Churchill despised.  In this hour, we get a disquisition on the nature of art and the process of the painter and the subject - made especially compelling not only because the subject was Churchill, but because he was a painter by hobby himself.  John Lithgow gives a tour-de-force performance of Churchill in this episode, and in fact whenever he appears on the screen any time in the series.

Other than Churchill, my favorite character in the series is a tie between Elizabeth and King Edward (David), who in 1936 abdicated to be with "the woman I love," Wallis Simpson (a divorcee), which resulted in Elizabeth's father becoming King and eventually Elizabeth Queen.   Elizabeth and Edward are both bound by the monumental struggle about how to be a complete human being and wear the crown at the same time.  In a peak conversation, Edward tells Elizabeth, who is rent by a dilemma about whether to support her sister Margaret's intention to marry Peter Townsend (a divorcee), that even in abdication, Edward still feels himself to be two people, person and King, and he misses the King every day.

History repeats itself.   Edward and Margaret both want to marry divorcees, and Elizabeth is left in different ways to pick up the pieces both times.  It's easy for us in the 21st century - with Elizabeth still Queen - to congratulate ourselves on our moral superiority, which doesn't frown on divorce any more, let alone it being so unacceptable in the royal family.   That's progress, indeed.

But you know what?  When I think about who will soon be President of the United States, and I compare him not to Churchill but the worst politician depicted in The Crown, that doesn't seem like progress at all, does it.  See The Crown for an at-turns fascinating, at turns heart-breaking, narrative not only of how far we've come, but how far we've fallen.

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