Last year Netflix released the series The Crown which is about the life and times of Queen Elizabeth II. It’s a gorgeous series, with enormous amounts of money being spent on the sets and costumes, which is obvious in every scene. However, the show seemed to struggle to really connect with the central character, which I assumed was Queen Elizabeth II. It turns out that the problem might have been my understanding of who the central character was, and who the people making the show thought the central character was.
As mentioned by the the ladies of Go Fug Yourself, the creator of The Crown has said that season two will be focused on Prince Phillip. Or I should say MORE focused on Prince Phillip since anyone who watched the first season listened to enough of Matt Smith whining about his fragile masculinity to last a lifetime. To be specific, Peter Morgan told Elle magazine, about Prince Phillip; “I find him extraordinarily interesting—his childhood, again, you couldn’t make it up. The soul of season two is about his complexity.”
Now, I’m not going to deny that Prince Phillip is an interesting historical figure. The political shifts in Europe in the 20th century pulled his family back and forth across the continent, he ended up on the other side of a war from his sisters, he took on a traditionally feminine role in his marriage as the Royal Consort, and he has sat next to the longest serving head of state for her entire reign. I’m sure that he is a fascinating human being in his own right. But I have a suspicion that people watching a show called The Crown are tuning into see, you know, THE WOMAN WEARING THE CROWN not the dude pouting that his wife has a more important job than him. You see that bit there about the “longest serving head of state”? I’m sure she’s a pretty complex and interesting person too! But I suspect that at the heart of it, it’s about how it’s easier for the (only) men writing and directing the show to conceptualize the character of Phillip than it is for them to understand the character of Elizabeth.
Frankly, this is not a new problem, but hopefully it will be an old problem soon. There’s prestige TV centered around women with Big, Little Lies, Feud, and only the Viola Davis parts of How to Get Away With Murder. Game of Thrones has several prominent female characters who are only becoming more central as the series goes one, the same goes for Westworld. Scandal, Pretty Little Liars, and Grey’s Anatomy are woman-centric shows that have been killing television ratings for years now. In the last five years woman-led films were the top grossing movies of the year three times, with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Force Awakens, and Rogue One all winning their respective years. Stories about women are finding audiences, among all genders, and bringing in money. Viewers are, shockingly, able to connect to and sympathize with characters who are women.
If men who create, write, and direct shows are having problems connecting to the women in their shows then maybe they should go find some people who do. I’m sure plenty of women would love the chance to explore the complexity of Queen Elizabeth II if Peter Morgan can’t figure it out.