I just finished watching the first season of “The Crown“, the historical biopic of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II on Netflix. I’ve never been much of a fan of biopics or of shows featuring historical events/personalities. To me, they always seem overly sensational and romantic. At the back of my mind, I know that the film version (of any history) has to be “sexier” and more interesting that the “real thing”, but I cannot help but rant against the screen every time I watch films in this genre. Possibly, that’s the reason why I work with history and not in the film industry.
Back to “The Crown”. Surprisingly, the 10-episode series grew on me. One can be picky about certain casting, but the production quality is stunning: the costumes, the sets, the pastiche of the period, the music. It grew on me, to the extent that I became very emotional while watching it. I yelled at the screen, cursing the curmudgeons and ingrates, and cheered for the misunderstood.
Was it 100% accurate? Of course not. But instead of being the grumpy historian picking apart the show as I often do, I approached it as an interested viewer, piqued to learn more.
Reflecting on the show, I came to an obvious truth – we can never really know what happened in the past or what anyone really was. The public persona is always just that – a persona. The private is private and what is made public is but a partial view. As the character of the painter Graham Sutherland said in episode 9:“One has to turn a blind eye to so much of oneself just to get through life.”
We see what we want to see. ”If you see decay, it’s because there’s decay…If you see frailty, it’s because there’s frailty.” The truth (or lack of it) lies in the eyes of the beholder.
“The Crown” is in stark contrast with another show – “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” -which I binge watched in the last couple of months of 2016. The Australian series was based on a series of crime novels by Kerry Greenwood. Set in the 1920s in Melbourne, Australia, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, is possibly best described as a more upbeat, fun and jovial Agatha Christie whodunnit. The TV drama series at least. Unlike The Crown, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is more a period drama.
The protagonist is Phryne Fisher, a wealthy woman and private detective. She’s thoroughly modern – flies aeroplanes, races cars, wears trousers (it was the 1920s, remember), rescues girls from slavery, sleeps with an assortment of men and a whole other list of things which women were not expected – and probably still not these days – to do.
Every episode reflects the Australian history and culture, especially of Melbourne in the 1920s. There’s always a sense of familiarity hearing the Aussie accents and terms, names of places and the like, simply because I’ve spent a few happy years in Australia, loved it and have kept up with friends over there. Watching the show reminds me a lot of my happy times there. The sets are stunning, as are the costumes, especially Miss Fisher’s.
Would I be watching more historical biopics and history-inspired dramas? Probably. It’s always interesting to see how history is brought to life. No one can re-create history in its entirety; we can only aspire to, whether it’s in film, exhibition or books. But as long as it is in the right spirit, and that it inspires people to want to find out more, that’s a job well done.