Why The Crown conquers Victoria

Helen Simonson, author of The Summer Before the War and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, on the royal drama she prefers.

the crown

I watch too much TV but I’m very partial to British shows and owe a debt of gratitude to PBS for the many years of Masterpiece Theater series that sparkled like gems in the barren wasteland of more commercial TV offerings—Downton and Grantchester, The Durrells in Corfu and Inspectors Morse, Lewis and what’s his name with the posh accent? But I’m sighing at the latest offering, Victoria, whose promise is being snuffed out by the superior charms of Netflix’s The Crown.

Both shows offer me that glimpse of home, those landscapes and institutions that become markedly more dear to the expat. Faced with the head-spinning politics of the USA, the royal family becomes more fondly remembered and both shows allow me to brush up on my royal facts so that I can maintain that slightly superior British air of expertise at parties:

“No I’m not directly related to the Queen,” I say, “But my grandmother’s house backed up to the Windsor Great Park where Victoria took Albert to impress him.”

Both shows offer familiar faces from that other great British institution, Doctor Who. Matt Smith is pretending to be Prince Philip on The Crown whilst on Victoria, Jenna Coleman is promoted from The Doctor’s assistant to Queen and Eve Myles from Torchwood (Dr. Who spinoff) is her dresser. Part of the delight of both shows is waiting and hoping for the Doctor and his associates to reveal themselves and unmask the alien Daleks hiding in the royal bedchambers.

Get recommendations for the greatest books around straight to your inbox every week.

But Victoria is a soap opera. Perhaps it has too much ground to cover but the dialogue is comfortably clichéd with every plot point resolved in two sentences. From Lord M’s dispatch of the Jamaica bill (an aversion to Caribbean slavery telegraphed in a pithy remark to Parliament) to making sure Episode Two’s title is loudly repeated. Yes, we know he’s the Clockwork Prince, Uncle Leopold, we can read the credits. My husband drives me crazy accurately predicting what everyone will say next. And Lord M and Albert are right out of a Harlequin romance central casting, aren’t they? I laughed so hard at Albert’s hair which was as ruffled as history could stand to make him sexy in that uptight uniform. Finally, the cheap special effects are killing me. It looks like someone painted Buckingham Palace and coronation crowds onto cardboard. I think the old Doctor Who from my childhood had a similar CGI budget.

The Crown, on the other hand, wins first by being binge-able (I think that’s now a word but spell check is not happy) with all episodes available at once. I’m finding it difficult to stop watching. And London in the 1950s is much easier to fake than Victorian times, but the settings seem pretty flawless. They spent some real money. Meanwhile, the writing makes this series into a compelling family drama. Costumes, lighting, cinematography—all seem to be working together on this series, such that when Princess Margaret is asked to fill in for the Queen, her likelihood of success is telegraphed not in dialogue but in a single shot of her walking across a highly polished floor in stiletto heels. She is doomed! While it is getting a bit repetitive listening to Elizabeth II say she’s in charge (we get it), the unfolding of the family story, along with Churchill and wider events in London makes for a full and satisfying experience.

Of course, though Victoria is as airy as a meringue and The Crown is a full English afternoon tea, both series serve my real aim in watching; which is to learn as much as possible about being a royal in case I should ever be called upon to step onto the throne. An unlikely option, given the millions of folks who stand between me and succession, and, well, I gave up all claim to foreign titles on becoming a U.S. citizen…but I can dream. Pass the remote control and the scones, please.


Featured image: Courtesy of Netflix

HELEN SIMONSON was born in England and spent her teenage years in a small village in East Sussex. A graduate of the London School of Economics, she has spent the last three decades in the United States and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. Simonson is married, with two grown sons, and is the author of the New York Times bestselling debut novel Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. The Summer Before the War is her second novel.

About HELEN SIMONSON

HELEN SIMONSON

HELEN SIMONSON was born in England and spent her teenage years in a small village in East Sussex. A graduate of the London School of Economics, she has spent the last three decades in the United States and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. Simonson is married, with two grown sons, and is the author of the New York Times bestselling debut novel Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. The Summer Before the War is her second novel.

[email_signup id="4"]
[email_signup id="4"]