Netflix has bet big on their latest series The Crown, which is the streaming service’s most expensive series to date. Its $130 million price tag even tops The Get Down for all-expenses-paid entertainment. The Crown’s costs will only be multiplied over six seasons, which have already been green-lit, though the show only premiered last week. The series plots the reign of Britain’s current queen, Elizabeth II, with the first episode recounting her wedding to Prince Philip and consecutive seasons spanning the six decades of her rule and the many trials of the world’s longest reigning monarch. What The Crown does not account for, however, is an answer to the single simplest question that every executive should ask before awarding a six-season green light: Literally, who asked for this?
Queen Elizabeth — bless her heart, queen of corgis and hats that will one day belong to Pharrell — is a famous person, but this does not make her an interesting person. The lives of monarchs are boring, at least when those monarchs take up the requisite duties that are passed to them along with the crown. Who wants to watch Queen Elizabeth take meetings and discuss Parliament and keep up diplomatic appearances? Tune in to C-SPAN2 every once in a while if that’s what you’re into. Or better yet, the Daily Mail could keep you drowning in wall-to-wall year-round royal coverage from now until the day you die without ever having to pay for a Netflix subscription.
Queen Elizabeth II is still kicking, as are her offspring, and her offspring’s offspring, which is why I prefer my reverential biopics about famous figures who are nice and dead. But even more importantly, if I must watch royals, then by god, let them be slutty. It is this sacred rule that is most egregiously ignored by The Crown — these royals are not at all slutty. Queen Elizabeth gets married in the show’s first episode, so, truly, where do we go from here? Prince Philip is still alive! There’s no twist: Queen E is gonna stay loyal — as far as we, the living public, knows — to this man her whole life, and so the cap on The Crown’s intrigue has been set. At least in entertainment, true nobility is a slutty royal and real royalty is a noble slut. This is why the Kennedys are the closest Americans have come to royalty — they couldn’t keep it wrapped up even at their own televised birthday parties. This is why there are 17 scripted TV versions of the rise and fall of the Borgias. This is why The Tudors somehow got four seasons despite a total lack of any human being who would admit to watching that show in public. Do you think people would still talk about Cleopatra if homegirl’s boudoir was less of a hot spot circa 49 BC? Would there be a new Marie Antoinette movie every year if Marie Antoinette weren’t getting busy before she got busy getting guillotined? Absolutely not. History’s greatest royals are history’s hottest messes — the one comfort of living under a system as obviously arbitrary and completely unnecessary as a monarchy is getting to witness the public exploits of people unprepared to be responsible with their outrageous privileges.
Let not The Crown wipe away all the fun of slutty royalty come and gone — slutty royalty is one of the most majestic and long-standing traditions of film and television. Cate Blanchett, queen of the screen and all else that she purveys, got her start playing the ho version of the virgin Queen Elizabeth I, and before her Bette Davis played the same. Rising star Alicia Vikander has yet to top the performance she gave in the Danish film conveniently called A Royal Affair, which recounts the, ahem, royal affair that kickstarted Denmark’s period of Enlightenment. Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette remains one of the most underrated masterworks of the 21st century, but don’t let ubiquity deter you from diving in on Farewell, My Queen, the recent and excellent French lesbian retelling of Marie Antoinette on Bastille Day. What would you rather watch: The Young Victoria, in which Victoria gently rests her long, Bluntian neck on her much-adored husband once after marriage, or Queen Margot, in which the Catholic Margot fucks her three brothers, her Protestant secret lover, and even on occasion her husband?
The difficulty in depicting the reigns of successful and responsible monarchs is that the lives of monarchs are relatively detached from the people they purport to rule, at least in the modern era, and so their supposed responsibility as leaders is simply in maintaining the appearance of responsibility. In Britain, Parliament controls the fate of the nation — as proven by the Queen’s complete lack of control over the fate of Brexit, arguably the biggest change in policy made in the U.K. this century. Queen Elizabeth is a figurehead monarch, and her life is decorative in relation to the human conditions of the country she represents. She has been a responsible figurehead — she hasn’t shamed the nation or her family’s history, she has produced heirs to the throne, and the traditions of Britain’s monarchy will unquestionably be upheld to the next generation. But if behaving appropriately as a royal is a no-doubt daunting task, it is also by no means a moving, exciting, or thought-provoking narrative. For as much as the royal sluts shirk their monarchical duties in shows like The Tudors or The Borgias — and for as much as those shows themselves shirk their own supposed duty to history — for the purposes of viewers at home, the immature and inappropriate transgressions in trash royal TV at least present a spectacle of resistance, however gilded, that resonates in opposition to our own respectable lives. We all have to keep up appearances — what’s the big deal in Netflix proving that the queen has done the same? When your protagonist’s most cited accomplishment has simply been staying alive long enough to replace Queen Victoria as Britain’s longest reigning ruler, perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere for the seeds of real drama.
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