Thursday, November 10, 2016

LIZ SMITH: "The Crown" Glitters

Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in "The Crown."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

"The Crown" Glitters Brilliantly for Netflix ... Can Thandie Newton Save "Westworld?"

“THE QUEEN is here, your majesty.”
“Could you be more specific. Which queen?”
Eileen Atkins as Queen Mary in "The Crown."
Queen Elizabeth, ma’am.”

“Which one? There are two.”

“The young one.”

“Ohhh! The queen.”

“I thought you was all queens.”

“We are. I was the queen for so long as my husband was alive. But since he died, I am no longer the queen, I am simply Queen Mary. My late son’s widow was also the queen, but upon the death of her husband she became Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Her daughter, Queen Elizabeth is now queen, so she is ...?”

The queen.”

THE ABOVE is a conversation that happens between Eileen Atkins as Queen Mary, and a justifiably confused lady in waiting, in episode four of the fabulous new Netflix series “The Crown.” (Miss Atkins then proceeds, in this scene, to counsel the queen on duty as said monarch, and why a monarchy is so valuable — it is a God-granted right so that all the wretched people in England have something to admire. Atkins is one of the many actors in this show sure to be Emmy-nominated when that time arrives.)
Princess Mary at King Edward VII's coronation, 1902.
We know far more about Queen Elizabeth I who ruled England from 1558 to 1603, than we are ever likely to learn about Queen Elizabeth II — the queen; the one who occupies Buckingham Palace today.  It is unlikely that we would really want to know very much about the current monarch.  She is, according to Peter Morgan, the series creator, “a woman of limited intelligence and imagination ... and she would likely agree with that assessment.” (Morgan also wrote 2006’s film “The Queen” for Helen Mirren and — also for Mirren — 2013’s “The Audience” in which she again played QE2.) 
Queen Elizabeth I.
But just as Morgan was capable of making us care deeply about the older Elizabeth, dealing with the death of her irritating daughter-in-law, Diana, here, in “The Crown” we come to have a tremendous affection and sympathy for a young woman at first unsteady and unsure in the role thrust upon her. (Elizabeth must learn to “do nothing” but do it with dignity and to stamp out individualism, should she even care to experiment with such a thing — an anathema to Britain’s royal family.)
The ten episodes that air this year, dealing with the first years of Elizabeth’s reign, after the death of her father, King George VI, are among the most lavish, luscious, compelling and brilliantly acted television I have ever watched. Of course, the personal conversations are mostly invented, but nothing veers so off-track that realism is thrown out the palace gates.
King George VI.
Claire Foy as Elizabeth, is so very good in a role that requires such restraint, with just enough fire quietly simmering — a fire that can never become a blaze, indeed never more than an ember.  And in time, the ember itself must be extinguished.   There’s plenty of malice in the palace (Pip Torrens as Tommy Lascelles, will swiftly become the courtier you love to hate!)  But this is not “Dynasty” with crowns.  Each character and every interpretation gives a full measure of humanity. 
Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II.
Matt Smith is a sexy and discontent Prince Philip ... Vanessa Kirby, edgy, betrayed and rebellious as Princess Margaret ... Victoria Hamilton breathing womanly life into the caricature of the Queen Mother — she was not always a flask-carrying, hat-wearing slightly dizzy figure of amused affection ... Alex Jennings as the disgraced Duke of Windsor, alternately vindictive and sentimental, genuinely aggrieved that he cannot be forgiven his abdication for “the woman I love” (an extremely clever Lia Williams serves as his Duchess) ... and an astoundingly effective John Lithgow as Winston Churchill.
Matt Smith as Prince Phillip.
Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret.
Victoria Hamilton as the Queen Mother.
John Lithgow as Sir Winston Churchill.
Alex Jennings as King Edward VIII with Lia Williams as his Duchess.
Also excellent, Jeremy Northam as Churchill’s rival Anthony Eden, and Jared Harris as King George, who never wanted the crown, but duty called after his brother gave it all up for a rather homely American divorcee with large hands and a harsh voice. 

“The Crown” is said to be one of the most expensive TV productions ever, and it looks it. Every penny exquisitely spent. 

I cannot recommend this series highly enough.  It is so well done, you don’t need to know a thing about the real royal family. Younger viewers could leap right into it. 
Jeremy Northam as Anthony Eden.
Jared Harris as King George.
Between this, and “The Queen” and “The Audience” the actual Queen Elizabeth owes Peter Morgan a knighthood, at least.  (He is already a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.)

Few historical figures have been as adeptly humanized as Elizabeth has been, at the hands of one man. And in her own lifetime, too!
Eileen Atkins (sitting) Victoria Hamilton, Matt Smith, Claire Foy, and Vanessa Kirby in "The Crown."
BIG Shout-out to Thandie Newton, who has emerged as the only interesting character on HBO’s still-confusing, not-very-engaging “Westworld.”  I suppose, in fairness, I should add “yet” to that critique of the show, only five episodes in.  But I know I am not alone in feeling that watching the series is already something of a chore. 

However, the beautiful Ms. Newton, as the increasingly troubled robot, Maeve Millay, who runs Westworld’s bar/bawdy house, is making the most of her every second onscreen. 
Thandie Newton as Maeve Millay in “Westworld.” 
Although she has worked steadily since 1991, Thandie hasn’t quite broken through.  It seemed to me she has been “on the brink” for some time, and was generally the best thing in films such as “The Truth About Charlie,” “The Leading Man,” “Crash,” “Mission Impossible II,” “The Chronicles of Riddick,” “The Pursuit of Happiness,” “Norbit,” “RocknRolla,” “2012.”  (This is just my opinion, of course.  Ms. Newton herself may feel she’s “broken through” quite nicely, thank you very much.)  
With Mark Wahlberg in “The Truth About Charlie."
With Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happiness."
In “Crash.”
Those with a good memory will recall she appeared briefly as one of Tom Cruise’s terrified victims in “Interview With the Vampire” and she somehow survived the execrable misfire that was 1995’s “Jefferson in Paris.”  In that she played Sally Hemings to Nick Nolte’s Thomas Jefferson. (Newton is marvelous as the slave who became Thomas Jefferson’s mistress. Nolte is embarrassingly inept. Maybe it was the wigs.)
Tom Cruise slobbering over Thandie in “Interview With the Vampire."
Thandie has also been a welcome TV presence in “ER” “The Slap” and last year’s “Rogue.”

It is impossible, of course, to predict how “Westworld” will unfold. HBO has sunk a lot of money into it, and certainly expect at least four seasons.
Perhaps those (like me) who are criticizing it, will be pleasantly surprised.  We are perhaps impatient. Or, not intelligent enough to appreciate the slow-burn subtleties  and the intellectual “who is really human” themes that propel the story? 

In the meantime — while we hopefully become more intelligent — Thandie Newton’s Maeve is turning into a woman/robot you do not want to mess with! Brava to this excellent actress.
Contact Liz here.