The post war political classes get a bit of a battering in The Crown, Netflix’s eye-wateringly expensive, beautifully written, dramatisation of the reign of our current Queen.
None of 1950-1964 crop of Prime Ministers come out of The Crown particularly well. By the end of Season 2 the Queen has lost patience, referring to them as a ‘confederacy of quitters’ – baffled by their failed attempts to deal with events.
In Season One, Churchill – back for a second term between 1951-1955 – is portrayed as old, ill and psychologically flawed, obsessed by past triumps in foreign policy while the country cries out for a strong domestic leader. Former PM Attlee, by now in opposition, appears as a dull administrator – fitting Churchill’s withering description of him as a ‘modest man with much to be modest about’.
In Season Two, an ambitious and arrogant Anthony Eden makes a huge political misjudgement on Suez, lies to parliament – and the Queen – and, rather than deal with the mess decides to disappear to Jamaica to recover from illness.
His successor, Harold Macmillan, is portrayed as a slippery cuckolded bore who loses the appetite for power in the wake of the Profumu Affair and appears to exaggerate medical advice so he can step down. As you can imagine, The Queen is less than impressed.
Of course, we’ll never know exactly what the Queen thought of and said to the men who occupied Number Ten during the early years of her reign, but you could forgive her for being a trifle disappointed with the quality of her leaders.
And, you can’t imagine that she’s going to be overly impressed with several of those waiting in the wings as there’s more self-inflicted political disasters to come. I can’t wait to see whether a forthcoming season explores the alleged tensions between The Queen and Margaret Thatcher.
But to be fair, other people – including members of her own family – also badly disappoint, failing to demonstrate the loyalty and sense of duty that she excels in. Again, this has to be a theme over coming seasons.
But if there’s a message in the first two seasons of The Crown, it is that the world is changing fast and in ways that no-one in the British establishment, elected or not, really understands or can deal with.
By the time we get to the early 1960s, the Queen is a spectator to Britain’s immediate post war decline but can do little about it. Not much fun when you are Head of State.
Seasons One and Two of The Crown are available to stream on Netflix now.
This blog first appeared in the Birmingham Press