God save the Queen! With Netflix’s royal intrigue The Crown returning for a second season on Dec. 8, we present a guide to Her Majesty’s onscreen exploits.
What It’s About
The life and times of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) and her family get the small-screen treatment from creator Peter Morgan, who — as the writer behind the 2006 film The Queen and the 2013 play The Audience, both starring Helen Mirren as the Queen — is no stranger to dramatizing the 20th century through the monarch’s eyes. The Netflix series, an awards (and Anglophile) magnet that nabbed three Emmys and two Golden Globes in its first season, examines Queen Elizabeth’s personal history as much as it does England’s, with plans to follow her to present day by the end of its six-season run, switching principal casts every few years. Now that season 2 is streaming, here’s your chance to dive into the merry lives of Windsor.
A princess ascends the throne as the new queen, just as a celebrated politician enters his final act.
1. “Wolferton Splash”
Meet newlyweds Princess Elizabeth and Philip, who hastily return from a stay in Malta when King George is diagnosed with lung cancer. Elder statesman Winston Churchill also returns to London for a second term as prime minister.
Crowning Achievement: Elizabeth gives birth to Prince Charles and Princess Anne. Aww.
2. “Hyde Park Corner”
When the King dies, Elizabeth and Philip cut their Commonwealth tour short to mourn. Elizabeth is now the new sovereign.
Crowning Achievement: A safari brings Elizabeth face-to-face with giraffes and elephants — a far cry from the fauna (read: corgis) she sees at home.
Edward, who abdicated the throne, returns for his brother’s funeral, ruffling the royal family’s feathers, and counsels Elizabeth on how to deal with Philip’s demands.
Crowning Achievement: When Churchill delays the coronation to maintain power, Elizabeth uses it to her advantage. (Divine right, indeed.)
4. “Act of God”
The Great Smog, caused by London’s pollution, descends on the city, leaving thousands dead and Churchill potentially shouldering the blame. The Queen is pressured to ask him to step down. A tough hour to watch — especially for those invested in Churchill.
Crowning Achievement: Elizabeth holds her own opposite both a bullheaded Churchill and her equally bullheaded advisers.
5. “Smoke and Mirrors”
When Edward and Wallis fail to receive an invitation to Elizabeth’s coronation, Edward protests the, uh, oversight. Can’t anyone remember he was once king?
Crowning Achievement: Elizabeth literally gets coronated, but her speech to Philip telling him why he must kneel — to his queen, if not his wife — is the real winner. We won’t judge if you want to replay that scene again and again.
The good news? Elizabeth’s sister Margaret has fallen in love with equerry Peter Townsend. The bad news? Elizabeth must obey an antiquated law and prohibit her sister from marrying Peter until she’s 25.
Crowning Achievement: Her Majesty dons a magnificent fur wrap while visiting Northern Ireland. It’s a sartorial achievement, at the very least.
7. “Scientia Potentia Est”
It’s back to school for Elizabeth, who seeks to further her education after the Soviet Union detonates a hydrogen bomb. Churchill, meanwhile, has a stroke — which is kept secret from the Queen.
Crowning Achievement: Elizabeth passes Berating Politicians for Lying About Their Health 101 with flying colors.
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8. “Pride & Joy”
Margaret takes the spotlight at royal engagements while Elizabeth and Philip tour the Commonwealth (yes, again). Abroad, the pair have an argument (row?) so heated, photographers manage to record it.
Crowning Achievement: Elizabeth persuades the photogs to relinquish their prize, even as she and Philip reach a difficult impasse.
That impasse hits a breaking point when Philip avoids Elizabeth, and she seeks more time with her friend Lord Porchester (Joseph Kloska). The couple reconcile by the time they attend Churchill’s 80th-birthday dinner, a milestone Churchill tries to ignore. Sorry about the portrait, Graham Sutherland!
Crowning Achievement: Saving a royal marriage counts, doesn’t it?
Margaret is now 25, but Elizabeth must once again reject her sister’s wish to marry Peter, or else anger the Church of England and Parliament. Churchill resigns, leaving Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam) the new prime minister. All in all, it’s one of the series’ most heartbreaking episodes.
Crowning Achievement: Elizabeth finds a seemingly perfect solution to make Philip — and his ego — happy.
Season 2 (Spoilers Ahead!)
The Queen faces troubles both at home and abroad, but some are more personal than others.
Picking up soon after the events of the finale, season 2 opens with Elizabeth questioning Philip’s loyalty after discovering possible evidence of infidelity, just before he leaves for his five-month tour of the Commonwealth (yes, again).
Crowning Achievement: Even with thoughts of Philip on her mind, Elizabeth manages to advise Prime Minister Anthony Eden on the Suez Crisis.
2. “A Company of Men”
Philip giddily goes on tour, free from the public eye, a proper razor, and, most of all, from Elizabeth’s shadow. But a scandal brews in London when the wife of Philip’s private secretary and closest friend, Mike Parker (Daniel Ings), seeks a divorce. A man is known by the company he keeps…
Crowning Achievement: Elizabeth delivers a touching Christmas speech that brings Philip to his senses.
In a single episode, Elizabeth confronts Philip about his behavior, Eden gets ousted, and Philip obtains his royal title in exchange for joining Elizabeth on her “second act” (a.k.a. more children). Phew!
Crowning Achievement: Her Majesty gives His Royal Frat Bro a glare at their reunion that’s so icy, it says it all.
Margaret finds a new paramour in Antony “Tony” Armstrong-Jones, a seductive photographer. Yes, he’s played by Matthew Goode (!!!), but you’ll be rooting against him soon enough.
Crowning Achievement: When a nude photograph of Margaret appears in the press, Elizabeth looks past it. (Then again, why would she stare?)
A magazine editor publishes a scathing critique of Elizabeth’s image, but Elizabeth (begrudgingly) decides to listen to his advice.
Crowning Achievement: Elizabeth recognizes her shortcomings and televises her Christmas speech for the first time. She even meets with British citizens — alongside her corgis, of course.
Bored, Edward tries to land a role working for the royal family just so he has something to do. Too bad the Marburg files — damning intel of his friendship with Nazi high command — resurface in an episode that takes a harsh look at one of the worse chapters in Windsor history.
Crowning Achievement: Elizabeth rejects her uncle’s request. It’s not betrayal if Edward betrayed the family first, right? Right?
After learning of Peter’s upcoming nuptials, Margaret dives headfirst (over heels) into her romance with Tony, who if nothing else is… willing to be her spouse.
Crowning Achievement: Despite her misgivings, Elizabeth wants to ensure her sister’s happiness. If only there were another law she had to uphold!
8. “Dear Mrs. Kennedy”
The Kennedys — well, mainly Jackie (Jodi Balfour) — dazzle Buckingham Palace. And though Jackie badmouths Elizabeth behind her back, her criticism ends up inspiring the Queen to use charm as a diplomatic weapon during a visit to Ghana. It’s a memorable hour that ends on a somber note, when news of JFK’s death reaches the Queen.
Crowning Achievement: Elizabeth dances the fox-trot! It’s her most triumphant moment — and it’s all in her smile.
Philip sends Charles off to the torturous boarding school Gordonstoun and flashes back to his own difficult childhood.
Crowning Achievement: The episode largely sidelines Elizabeth, but she stands by Philip’s call to toughen up the heir to the throne. So, good luck, Chuck.
10. “Mystery Man”
When a political scandal threatens national security and the royal family’s integrity — it turns out Philip may be connected — Elizabeth weighs her feelings for her husband against her duty to her nation.
Crowning Achievement: Elizabeth not only gives birth to her fourth child but also chides her latest prime minister for quitting and mends her relationship with Philip. Long live the multitasking Queen.
Total Time to Binge
19 hours, 20 minutes
A Royal Succession
After season 2, it will be 43-year-old Olivia Colman who assumes the crown from Foy. She already boasts a long line of steel-willed women on her résumé, including detective Ellie Miller on ITV’s Broadchurch and intelligence officer Angela Burr on AMC’s The Night Manager, a performance that earned her a Golden Globe. And Elizabeth isn’t her first royal: In the 2012 film Hyde Park on Hudson, she played Elizabeth’s mother. Colman, it seems, truly is destined for greatness.
The Crown season 1 and 2 are streaming now on Netflix.