Two new top-shelf Bri­tish se­ries de­serve to be wel­comed with great fan­fare

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell The Crown, One of Us,

Around of “Three cheers for the Queen” is re­quired as you ven­ture into the ea­gerly awaited The Crown, the splen­did new 10-part orig­i­nal drama from Net­flix, which gives us the in­ti­mate story of Queen El­iz­a­beth’s early reign. Drama­tised with cin­e­matic felic­ity by a group of distin­guished cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tors, the many per­sonal in­trigues, fil­ial af­fec­tions, clan­des­tine pas­sions and courtly jeal­ousies be­hind her as­cen­sion to the throne are as­sayed with a nicely witty edge. Based on the metic­u­lous re­search by a team that spent 2½ years por­ing through archives, bi­ogra­phies and cab­i­net min­utes, the se­ries chron­i­cles the lives of the Wind­sors from 1947 to 1956. El­iz­a­beth is played by Claire Foy ( Wolf Hall) and Philip by Matt Smith ( Doc­tor Who), and the show is re­ported to have cost about £100 mil­lion ($160m), mak­ing it the most ex­pen­sive TV show in his­tory. And you cer­tainly see it on the screen.

Cre­ator Peter Mor­gan ( The Queen, Frost/ Nixon) and direc­tor Stephen Daldry ( Billy El­liot, The Hours) re­unite with ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Andy Har­ries ( The Queen), with whom they worked on the Tony award-win­ning play The Au­di­ence, which dealt with El­iz­a­beth’s weekly meet­ings with the 12 prime min­is­ters of her reign. Mor­gan also penned the Os­car-win­ning film The Queen star­ring He­len Mir­ren, which ex­am­ined the re­la­tion­ship be­tween El­iz­a­beth and Tony Blair in the days af­ter Princess Diana’s death.

The se­ries be­gins in 1947. Britain is still reel­ing from the dev­as­ta­tion of World War II, en­dur­ing the drab, im­pov­er­ished eco­nomic cir­cum­stances of a de­feated coun­try rather than a vic­tor. But the na­tion is mo­men­tar­ily spell­bound by the wed­ding of the beau­ti­ful young Princess El­iz­a­beth to dash­ing naval of­fi­cer Philip Mount­bat­ten. Be­hind the scenes it’s a union with­out a sin­gle ally in court or gov­ern­ment. “Yet here we all are,” says the Queen Mary (Eileen Atkins), speak­ing of El­iz­a­beth’s quiet de­ter­mi­na­tion to marry Philip. “She turned us all on our heads and barely opened her mouth in the process.”

It’s the re­gal be­gin­ning of highly nu­anced and el­e­gant tale, an ab­sorb­ing nar­ra­tive of rec­ti­tude, loy­alty and self-sac­ri­fice. Its fo­cus is not only on the ar­cane rit­u­als, pageantry, cer­e­mony and theatre — han­dled with won­der­ful cin­e­matic verisimil­i­tude, full of sweep­ing crane shots and su­perbly cos­tumed ex­tras — but the quiet mo­ments where the real drama lies. And in­tense it is.

“There are the big pub­lic events that we all know so well, but it’s also the other scenes that are re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing — in the bed­rooms, in the quiet places you would never get ac­cess to,” says Daldry. “A lot of these scenes can be ut­terly heart­break­ing when you think about what the fam­ily have been through, put them­selves through, or in­deed, what we’ve put them through.”

The di­vide be­tween El­iz­a­beth and her rogu­ish hus­band Philip, who is re­luc­tant to walk in her shadow; the king’s (Jared Har­ris) grow­ing dis­may at his phys­i­cal frailty; the sex­ual ten­sion be­tween Princess Mar­garet (Vanessa Kirby) and the king’s equerry Peter Townsend (Ben Miles); and El­iz­a­beth’s ap­pre­hen­sion at just what is in­volved in be­ing a monarch: all are es­tab­lished in emo­tion­ally weighted scenes with space given to the ac­tors to find the truth of Mor­gan’s epi­gram­matic di­a­logue.

It’s al­most as if the cam­eras keep a dis­creet dis­tance to re­spect their pri­vacy; the artistry with muted colour, light and shadow con­trib­utes as much emo­tion at times as pages of script might. The cam­era doesn’t merely show, it re­veals. “We’ve tried to have as much scale as pos­si­ble on cam­era and we try to do jus­tice to these enor­mous his­tor­i­cal events,” says Philip Martin ( Prime Sus­pect), who joins Daldry as a direc­tor and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer. “But at the same time we’re mind­ful of the fact that what’s mov­ing about the show is this priv­i­lege to ac­cess the world of our char­ac­ters and to be able to be close to them, to be able to get in­side their heads, and to ex­pe­ri­ence the world as they ex­pe­ri­ence it.”

The in­ti­mate scenes — the se­ries is di­rected with con­sum­mate taste and dis­cre­tion — carry as much emo­tional weight as the spec­tac­u­lar set pieces in palaces and cathe­drals. Only pedants would com­plain of the pac­ing, which is ap­pro­pri­ately stately at times.

“Don’t you get sick of it all?” El­iz­a­beth asks her fa­ther, the king. “I do,” he replies. “And lonely?” she asks again. “Some­times,” he says slowly. It’s just one in a se­ries of beau­ti­fully played per­sonal scenes. The first episode qui­etly de­vel­ops the sub­text of El­iz­a­beth’s grow­ing un­der­stand­ing of what will be re­quired of her as queen. Later, in a speech she gives dur­ing a Com­mon­wealth tour she ac­cepts on be­half of her ail­ing fa­ther, she says: “There is a motto which has been borne by many of my an­ces­tors, a no­ble motto: I serve.’’ (Mor­gan says the var­i­ous his­tor­i­cal events weren’t what made the se­ries so in­ter­est­ing to write: “It’s been that this is a fam­ily, and within that fam­ily is the Crown, and the Crown is a bomb that changes the struc­ture of ev­ery­thing.”)

This is tele­vi­sion of the high­est artistry, and which at times is so mov­ing you feel your throat tighten. If the aim is to hu­man­ise those royal fig­ures usu­ally lam­pooned, ridiculed or po­lit­i­cally dis­dained, and who in re­cent decades have rep­re­sented all that is tawdry, ar­chaic, dimwit­ted and servile about Britain, then it looks like it is go­ing to work a treat. One of Us is the lat­est BBC First drama to come our way, a kind of pro­found moral­ity tale cen­tred on two Scot­tish fam­i­lies from writ­ers Harry and Jack Williams, who re­cently gave us the hit se­ries The Miss­ing. Like that show, One of Us is a story of how peo­ple move on af­ter a fam­ily tragedy; how it can drive them apart or pull them to­gether. And maybe also how they cope with what ap­pears to be ma­lig­nant fate.

Wil­liam McGre­gor di­rects with cin­e­matic Claire Foy as a young Princess El­iz­a­beth with Jared Har­ris as King Ge­orge VI in The Crown; Foy tries one on for size, above pol­ish; the di­a­logue is sparse and re­lies on mu­sic, noirish cam­era an­gles and he­li­copter shots to let the story un­fold. The drama is about how two long-feud­ing fam­i­lies — the El­liots, headed by al­co­holic mother Louise (Juliet Steven­son), and the Dou­glases, led by gloomy and highly re­li­gious Bill (John Lynch) — are af­fected by the mur­der of two of their adult chil­dren.

De­voted child­hood sweet­hearts, Grace Dou­glas and Adam El­liot grew up in the iso­lated ru­ral High­lands, their two fam­ily homes close to each other amid the de­serted wild coun­try­side. The High­lands’ re­mote­ness is a cru­cial part of this story, dwarf­ing the char­ac­ters right from the start when a weather warn­ing prom­ises gale-force winds. “Can’t move for all this talk about the frig­gin’ weather,” Bill Dou­glas growls as the fam­ily re­turns from church, Hank Williams’s The Lone High­way (“I’m a rollin’ stone all alone and lost”) play­ing on the car ra­dio.

We meet Adam and Grace through a video of their wed­ding (be­fore segu­ing straight to the mur­der scene). Af­ter go­ing to univer­sity to­gether they lived in Ed­in­burgh, had re­cently mar­ried and were full of ex­pec­ta­tion — un­til they were mur­dered by a knife-wielding man. When the killer ar­rives on the fam­i­lies’ doorstep on the same day as the deaths, vi­o­lently over­turn­ing a stolen car, they have to de­cide what to do next.

Is­sues of re­li­gious con­straints, aban­don­ment and al­co­holism are all present. Ab­sent El­liot fa­ther Peter (Adrian Ed­mond­son) ap­pears only fleet­ingly, pre­sent­ing an­other mys­tery within the mys­tery.

This is a dense psy­cho­log­i­cal crime thriller, dubbed “fam­ily noir” by Bri­tish crit­ics, that asks us what we would do in the same cir­cum­stances. (“We wanted to avoid the fa­mil­iar tropes, so do­ing it all from the vic­tims’ point of view felt like a more in­ter­est­ing way to go,” says Harry Williams of this quirk­ily dif­fer­ent ap­proach to a crime drama.) And just what are the moral con­se­quences of tak­ing the law into our own hands? Is that some­thing any of us is truly ca­pa­ble of?

What we are left with at the end of the har­row­ing first episode is an un­com­fort­able kind of recog­ni­tion, and a mod­ern mur­der mys­tery that is not only a lovely ex­er­cise in the con­struc­tion of a puz­zle but a dense, dark study of char­ac­ter. stream­ing on Net­flix. Mon­day, 8.30pm, BBC First.

Joe Demp­sie, Juliet Steven­son, Julie Gra­ham and John Lynch in the Scot­tish fam­ily noir drama One of Us

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