The Crown, the Queen and their colonies


Netflix displays a costume from ‘The Crown’ series at an exhibition in Los Angeles, California, US, May 6, 2018 PHOTO/Lisa Richwine/Reuters

“Let us start with the unrest in Egypt, where anti-colonial passions continue to run high, and where our soldiers continue to come under fire from nationalist insurgents.” This is UK Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, as depicted in a scene in the first season of the widely popular Netflix original series The Crown. The reference is, of course, to the anticolonial uprising led by Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956 that eventually led to the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. 

It is both jarring and curiously entertaining to see how historical events of monumental importance for the world at large are depicted in a biopic mostly about the private life and palace intrigues of Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom.    

“It is vital that we remain and successfully defend the Suez Canal,” Churchill continues to huff and puff and report to Her Majesty the Queen, “a point that I will be making in person to the Commonwealth heads, when I host them for the weekend at Chequers”.  

Both in this episode and in the rest of the series such references to British colonialism abound. Though they are entirely tangential, almost prop-like, to the actual plot of the biopic, such references give us a clue as to how the British public at large cares to recall their colonial atrocities around the globe. The prose and politics of the series are drawn entirely to the queen’s personal and public traumas; her colonial possessions serve for a bit of narrative seasoning.

At the epicentre of the series is also the predicament of the British monarchy during Queen Elizabeth’s long and troublesome reign. Tommy Lascelles, Private Secretary to both King George VI and to Queen Elizabeth II, portrayed superbly by Pip Torrens, epitomises the radical sentiments of the British monarchists.

Monarchy is God’s sacred mission

The central theme of The Crown is the survival of British monarchy as an institution in a fast-changing world. Queen Elizabeth, played so far with astonishing versatility by Claire Foy (seasons 1–2) and Olivia Colman (season 3), is depicted as initially more interested in her “egalitarian” husband Prince Philip than her duties as queen, but eventually she grows into her role as the monarch of the United Kingdom, the head of the Church of England, the Defender of the Faith, and the head of the British Empire.

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