An Investigation Into Whether Liking 'The Crown' Makes You a Tory

Netflix's hit show chronicling the life of Elizabeth II returns for a third season this month.
London, GB
Olivia Colman as The Queen in the new season of 'The Crown'. Image courtesy Netflix. 

How can you tell if someone struggles to reconcile their love of The Crown with their staunchly republican and left-wing values? They’ll talk to you about it – at length.

As a new season of the hit Netflix show chronicling the life of Queen Elizabeth II drops next week, we’re due for a fresh bout of tantalising discussion over whether liking The Crown makes you a Tory. The introduction of Josh O’Connor and Gillian Anderson to the cast looks set to force a generation of Corbyn voters into fancying both Prince Charles and Margaret Thatcher, while the Telegraph has declared Olivia Colman unfit to play the Queen, on account of her "distinctly left-wing face". Is The Crown simply royalist propaganda, as many of its detractors claim? And if so, why are so many of your lefty mates obsessed with a TV drama concerning the most conservative institution in Britain?


The Crown is often spoken of as a guilty pleasure, but it’s not really an embarrassing thing to like at all. Based on the acclaimed West End play The Audience, the writing is prestige. Creators Peter Morgan and Stephen Daldry have several Academy Award nominations between them, not to mention Daldry’s The Inheritance recently being described as “perhaps the most important American play of the century.” The Crown is also one of the most expensive television shows ever made – and it really shows. From the Hans Zimmer score to the sumptuous set design and Oscar-winning cast (Olivia Colman replaces Claire Foy to play the Queen in the new season), this is proper box office telly. There’s no shame in finding it entertaining, whatever your political persuasion.

Andrew, 23 and a committed socialist, is a huge fan. “Lots of entertaining things have terrible politics. It's just a well-crafted period drama, isn't it?” he reasons. “It has all the elements you want: a good rolling plot, fleshy weirdos as characters, and I guess it satisfies a curiosity as to the home life of our own dear Queen.”

Princess Margaret, played by Vanessa Kirby in seasons one and two, is crucial to Andrew’s enjoyment, which he says is on account of him being gay. This is understandable. Margaret is a) hot and b) a terrible person, both of which make her prime Gay Icon material. Kirby plays her as a cross between a Tennessee Williams anti-heroine and Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous. She’s drunk, she’s brittle and if she’s not chuffing on a fag then you best believe she’s making a tart remark.


Of all its many crimes, the one for which I cannot forgive The Crown is making me "stan" Princess Margaret – a historical figure I now consider "relatable af", "a whole-ass mood" and, quite simply, "Me". It makes perfect sense that Andrew and many other millennials find her so compelling, an obsession that looks set to continue as Helena Bonham Carter takes over from Kirby to play the errant princess in season three.

But not all of The Crown’s fans are as unabashed as Andrew. Twenty-six-year-old Patrick from Ireland enjoys the show (“It’s a good period drama”), while also believing that it represents something pernicious. “In the past, the idea of deference was enough to make people fall in line,” he says. “But now, for the monarchy to maintain itself, it needs to force us to feel empathy. We can't dislike the Queen because we know she has had family problems – just like us! Prince Charles had to take extremely cold showers – that’s why he’s a stubborn bastard! The Crown exists to disarm people who would otherwise have very logical arguments for dissolving the monarchy.”

As Patrick’s comments show, many of the leftists who watch The Crown have conflicted feelings about the series. “It’s a massive PR exercise for the Royal family,” 25-year-old Gemma says. “The series is so in love with the monarchy, their glamour and their pain, that it can’t deal with the fact that sometimes they’re just plain awful and blinded by greed.” Gemma is also concerned about the historical accuracy of the forthcoming series: “I bet they won’t show that the Queen murdered Diana, will they? As a Diana stan, I can’t support that.”


Both Gemma and Patrick have a point: there’s certainly a reactionary strain to The Crown. Take its depiction of the 1956 Suez Crisis and President Nassar, the leader of Egypt at the time. Although the real Nassar wasn’t perfect (he rose from the military and had an authoritarian streak), he was, and remains, a hugely respected figure of anti-colonialist struggle. In the case of Egypt’s invasion by Israel, he was entirely justified in telling the UK to fuck off. The Crown, however, portrays Nassar as a sinister rabble-rouser – he’s basically Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Which is kind of funny when he’s reading a perfectly reasonable speech about the evils of British imperialism.

Unlike the snivelling Anthony Eden, however, Nassar is at least written with some dignity, even if he’s very much ‘the baddie’. The Crown wants to have its cake and eat it, appealing simultaneously to retired army generals who’ll declare, “That man is a menace!” and viewers all too aware of Britain’s ugly colonial past. You’d need to have a heart of stone to watch another scene in which Ghanaian socialists replace a portrait of the Queen with one of Lenin and not jump from your sofa shouting, “Yasss!” This dichotomy makes sense. Netflix has a large millennial user base (according to 2019 YouGov research, it is the most popular brand among this demographic), who are more left-leaning and opposed to the monarchy than previous generations.


Colman replaces Claire Foy to play the monarch in the third season of 'The Crown'. Image courtesy Netflix.

Indeed The Crown has not been unanimously well received by the conservative press. Despite the hagiography and nostalgia for the British Empire, the show doesn’t present a wholly flattering view of the monarchy. It also has moments of crudeness that are easy to imagine being construed as disrespectful. If you’re the kind of person who stands for the national anthem or subscribes to Royal Life magazine, are you really going to appreciate the scene in season one, in which Prince Philip asks HRH to get on her knees (presumably to suck him off)?

Royal historian Hugo Vickers, writing in the Mail on Sunday, attacked the show for its “sensationalist errors and quite remarkable lapses into vulgarity.” One example he offers is “a naked Matt Smith as Prince Philip.” A man obsessed, he returns to the theme of Smith’s derriere later in the piece: “American viewers might enjoy the sight of Matt Smith naked from the rear [but] British viewers will be less approving, and hopefully more discerning.” Needless to say, this estimation of the British public’s aversion to seeing Matt Smith’s arse proved to be optimistic.

We can laugh at the Mary Whitehouse-esque prudishness on display here, but it’s quite revealing. The Crown isn’t deferential to the monarchy. As well as appealing to left-wing millennial viewers, this warts-and-all depiction satisfies the larger number of people who, though they might support the British monarchy as an institution, see the Royals as gossip fodder. It’s not like everyone perusing the tabloids for details of William’s infidelity, or even Andrew’s links to a serial rapist, is a dyed-in-the-wool republican.

Still, I worry that the show’s humanising portrayal of the Royal family could spell disaster for the republican movement. How could you want to depose dear old Liz after learning how nobly she’s suffered for her country? Why, you’d have to be a monster! For all The Crown’s occasionally fruitiness (I am, of course, referring again to Matt Smith’s arse), if I were the Clarence House press officer, I’d be rubbing my hands with glee. The show taps into the liberal republicanism we currently see in the understandable sympathy for Meghan Markle, following her treatment by the tabloid press. It’s a sentiment that’s less “eat the rich” and more, “um, guys, we should abolish the monarchy because it’s unfair on the Royal Family :(”.

Ultimately, The Crown’s popularity among people who hate everything the British Royal family stands for proves that it’s possible to divorce aesthetics from politics. You’re allowed to enjoy a story even if it’s subject is morally repugnant. And anyway, you’ve already watched everything else on Netflix.