At its heart The Crown is the story of a young woman coming to terms with her new job and a young family with its new circumstances, albeit that those circumstances are of course somewhat extraordinary. Nothing much of anything happens. But writer Peter Morgan squeezes every last drop of drama and pathos out of what was likely lived as a fairly slow sequence of events. After the death of her father and her rise to power, three stories dominate the 10 episodes - the health of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his battle to hold on to power; the doomed love affair of Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend, equerry to the late George VI; and the growing realisation of the young Queen that her life is no longer her own, that her every decision is now subjugated to whatever is best for the Crown.
The result is a fascinating, often moving and entirely believable (even if exaggerated) drama that held us spellbound over its 10 hours. Even as the Queen becomes more Royal, more cold and calculating under the tutelage of her mother and a succession of politicians and private secretaries, she becomes more human. Her overwhelming loneliness and isolation, the essential sacrifices she made for her role, are strangely surprising. Claire Foy brings the young Elizabeth to life beautifully, mastering the uncertainty and vulnerability of the early episodes, then later the inner conflict and her growing confidence and assertiveness. BAFTAs and other awards surely reckon.
Foy is surrounded by a glittering supporting cast of royals and courtiers. Jared Harris is suitably understated as George VI, a shy man thrust into an unwelcome limelight, while Victoria Hamilton is spiky and challenging as his widow, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The late Queen Mother, regarded with reverence, might be one of the few royals to come out of the show with her reputation dented. Hamilton plays her as a tough almost unpleasant figure, the stolid defender of the royal realm. Alex Jennings is typically superb as the Duke of Windsor, wearing his forced exile with a self-centred sense of injury and injustice, illuminated by the occasional blinding flash of insight and inspiration. His commentary on his niece's coronation from a Paris society party was one of the cleverest pieces of writing in a series that was exquisitely scripted. (Morgan truly is the star of this show).
And then there's Phil the Greek, the Duke of Edinburgh played by Matt Smith. The Duke has rarely been one to elicit a lot of sympathy from his wife's subjects with his air of superiority and a history of rudeness and gaffes. But here Morgan reveals the great difficulty of his position, married into a life that has stripped him of his freedom, his career and even his name - his masculinity if you like.
Matt Smith plays him as a restless cad, gadding about with his friends and coming in drunk at all hours while his tortured wife worries her way through another constitutional crisis. It's a strange performance, dominated by a coquettish-knowing-smirk-cum-smile delivered from underneath blonde locks. But just as the Queen Mother comes out as a much less sympathetic figure than the royal saint of tabloid yore, with Phillip the reverse was true. You genuinely wouldn't want his half life.
Also living a half life, in the shadow of her sister is the most radiant of The Crown's jewels, the lovelorn Margaret, played by the iridescent Vanessa Kirby. Margaret begins the series as a carefree party girl with an effortless cool, finishes it in the sloughs of despair. But Kirby, beautiful and elegant, shines regardless. We are going to see a lot more of her.
And then there is John Lithgow as Churchill, struggling with mortality. I never quite came to terms with Lithgow's face, but his movement, demeanour and speech captured the final age of Winston Churchill quite brilliantly and emotionally.
Naturally the whole thing - Netflix's most expensive original series - looked utterly magnificent. The 1950s may have been an austere decade of renewal and rationing, but it didn't much look like that in the Royal planes, trains, boats, automobiles and palaces. Costume and set design was absolutely spot on.
I've no idea what Netflix's plans are for The Crown, but if they come back for more, I'm with them.