Escape Post-election Drama With British Royalty Series 'The Crown'

Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts
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Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in 'The Crown.'
Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in 'The Crown.'Credit: Robert Viglasky, AP
Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts

Following the results of the U.S. presidential elections, many English-speaking Americans and non-American malcontents were drowning their despair in the unfathomable depths of the internet by recirculating the meme in which the Queen (you don’t ask which one – in the public mind for the last 64 years, there is only one Queen, Elizabeth II of Great Britain and the Commonwealth) revokes U.S. independence, as follows:

“To the citizens of the United States of America,

Following your failure to elect either a half decent candidate or man-monkey as President of the U.S.A. to govern yourselves and, by extension, the free world, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence. Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume a monarch’s duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories. To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, please comply with the following acts:

1. Look up ‘revoke’ in a dictionary

2. Learn at least the first four lines of ‘God save the Queen’

3. Start referring to ‘soccer’ as football

4. Declare war on Quebec

Tax collectors from Her Majesty’s Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all revenues due (backdated to 1776).

Thank you for your cooperation and have a nice day!”

That sounds incredibly rich coming – mainly – from Great Britain, where the majority of those who cast their votes in the referendum on EU membership opted for heading toward the gate marked “Brexit.” Unlike the majority – a mere 1.5 million, give or take a couple hundred thousand – of American voters who preferred “crooked Hillary” over “pussy-groping Donald.”

The spoof was not penned by John Cleese or any other Python, nor was it conceived as a way of out-Trumping Trump by laughing at him (since the joke is on the whole planet, us included). The author – as far as can be ascertained, according to info gathered on the web – was one Alan Baxter, of Rochester, U.K. (there is an Australian-British sci-fi and horror author of the same name, but it’s unclear if that’s the man) – and he penned it in November 2000, following the U.S. voters’ decision to put their trust (by electoral, rather than popular, vote) in George W. Bush.

Which just proves yet again that the most optimistic saw happens to be: “things can’t get worse than that.” And also that the WWW (World Wide Web, on which the latest U.S. election campaign was fought and lost) could be aptly renamed WW3, following WW1 and WW2. It is the vast no man’s land in time and space where once in a while all senses go berserk for a while, until the tide of history turns again and all return to common sense.

Anyway, having had a sad chuckle on seeing that meme coming to life again, I still needed a respite from the surfeit of comments about why and how it all went wrong in the New World of Unlimited Opportunities. What better sanctuary than a nostalgic peek into not-so-remote times past in the Old World. On November 4, a mere four days before the unthinkable turned doable, Netflix released all 10 episodes of the first season (of a projected six) of “The Crown.” This is a bio-series about the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II, created and written by Peter Morgan.

For viewers pondering the possible and impossible implications of an unpredictable, inexperienced and “different” person being at the helm of the ship of state, there is a lot to be learned by watching such TV fables. Whether based on actual events (like “The Crown”) or on a blend of facts and fiction, aka faction (like “The Young Pope”), the protagonists must come to terms with “greatness” (i.e. the clout that comes with the ruler’s mantle), be it achieved by them, or thrust upon them.

The first season of “The Crown” covers Elizabeth’s youth, marriage to Prince Phillip, unexpected ascension to the throne, and subsequent coronation. She is played by Claire Foy. It is a story of a crown being passed from the head of someone who did not want to wear it to begin with, George VI, played by Jared Harris. According to his mother and his wife, becoming king wore him down and eventually led to his untimely death.

His eldest daughter, a young wife and mother, must suddenly learn the ropes while going through the motions and machinations. She discovers that a ruler – an anointed monarch or elected head of state – wields a lot of power, but most of it is constrained by rules, regulations, habits, checks (and cheques) and balances.

True, there is a world – actually, an ocean and a common language – of difference between a constitutional hereditary monarchy in a country that is run by a cabinet that was elected by popular vote and a federation of states governed by an elected president. He can indeed sign executive orders, but has to cope and contend with the Senate and the Congress and the various states, and the mores and manners of a very varied population.

At the same time, events from the past acquire new hues when seen through a prism of events unfolding in the present. For instance, there is the whole issue of a woman in a position of power, and the way that position is shaped by and shapes her life as an individual, a wife and a mother. There is the predicament in which Elizabeth finds herself in dealing with male politicians (exclusively male at that stage) like Winston Churchill at the end of his long and illustrious career. (John Lithgow portrays him with relish; Harriet Walter plays his wife.) Here there are many parallels to what Hillary Clinton had to go through until the moment she tried to reach the top, and failed.

Peter Morgan is an expert at bringing events in the political arena to the stage and screen. He wrote the play, and subsequently the movie “Frost/Nixon,” which operated on the British/American seam (Frost being British, and Nixon American). He wrote “The Queen” (also a play and then a movie), which served as a nucleus for “The Crown.” The Americans, who won their independence from the British Crown in 1776, are fascinated to this very day by all things British, and are especially fond of British matriarchs (like the Dowager Countess of Grantham in “Downton Abbey,” as played by Maggie Smith). That sort of part – an Imperial woman who had seen it all and was not impressed – is played in the first season of “The Crown” by Eileen Atkins, as Queen Mary. The part of the royal spouse is played by the blond, sometimes sullen Matt Smith. Much of the plot of the first season has to do with the part he is supposed to play – or not – in the Palace.

Donald Trump is 70; he is supposed to be in the White House for four years (if he does indeed serve a full term, and there are those who doubt it). Elizabeth II is 90, and she has been Queen for the last 64 years. “The Crown” is projected to run for five more years. Let us hope that all concerned – including you and me and the planet – will be alive and well to see the last episode of season six. The second one has already been commissioned.