In the final moments of The Queen, the 2006 film dramatizing Elizabeth II’s muted response to the death of Princess Diana, newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) comes to understand the monarch’s reticence. “You were so young,” he tells Elizabeth (Helen Mirren), “when you became queen.”
“Yes,” she responds, her eyes drifting to the middle distance, to that long-lost time. “Yes, a girl.”
The new Netflix series The Crown, about the sovereign’s accession to the throne in 1952, could be spliced in right after that line as an extended flashback. Starring Claire Foy, the show examines another occasion on which Elizabeth had to step up following a death in the family—that of her father, King George VI, while the 25-year-old princess was on safari with her new husband, Philip Mountbatten (Matt Smith). The series was created by Peter Morgan, who returns to the royal trough after writing The Queen and the 2015 play The Audience (again with Mirren as her majesty). While it could be seen as a prequel to those efforts, it could just as easily be a kind of sequel to Downton Abbey, the show about the upstairs- downstairs dynamics at an English estate that went off the air earlier this year. The Crown is likewise fascinated with the business of maintaining an antiquated order and provides the same prurient thrill of peeking behind the velvet curtain, especially when it comes to Princess Margaret’s dalliances with a palace attendant. Foy imbues her character with a youthful vigor we don’t recognize from the ten-pound note. John Lithgow plays a plummy, postwar Winston Churchill as the walking caricature he had become. And Smith devours the (splendidly shot) scenery as a petulant, imperious Prince Philip. Available on Netflix November 4; netflix.com.