Crowning glory in Coleman’s royal show

Crowning glory in Coleman’s royal show Olivia Coleman plays Queen Elizabeth in the Netflix production of The Crown. COURTESY OF SOPHIE MUTEVELIAN/NETFLIX

The Royal Family in Britain has been hitting the headlines recently and it’s not all good stuff. Coincidentally, I presume, the latest series of The Crown landed in its entirety on Netflix last week and I’m enjoying getting through it.

First hurdle for the programme makers was to effect the transition of actors – especially the role of Queen Elizabeth, with Olivia Colman taking over from Clare Foy who had made the role her own in the first two series.

The transformation was handled rather tongue-in-cheek, with the powers that be changing her face on a stamp to reflect that fact that she was getting older – but the profiles were so different! Jason Watkins is superb as Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson – all the more because he is more used of late to play comic roles – in the excellent BBC send-up W1A and the lacklustre John Cleese sitcom Hold the Sunset.

So far I’ve seen two exceptionally good episodes. Episode 3, ‘Aberfan’ centred on the disaster in 1966 when a coal mining pit collapsed killing 116 children in that small Welsh village. There was an emotional intensity that was fully genuine.

The mood was sober and sobering throughout as the country and the royals tried to come to terms with the scale of the disaster. The mass funeral scene was almost unbearable to watch. The drama centred on what might be the appropriate response of the royals to the tragedy – whether to remain distant and aloof in the tradition of the office or to show a human side and bring comfort to the bereaved locals.

The following episode, ‘Bubbikins’, was as good if not better. With huge echoes of another event from last week, we saw a royal (Prince Philip in this case) giving a car crash interview on TV. To mend that and give better PR to the Royal Family they agreed to do a BBC documentary and that went down like a lead balloon.


Early on we were introduced to an elderly chain-smoking nun looking after the poor in Greece, a feisty woman who turned out to be Princess Alice, mother of Prince Philip. Her arrival in the rarefied atmosphere of Buckingham Palace provided some of comic moments. But she was also devoted to prayer and stressed the vital nature of faith to Phillip who said his faith was ‘dormant’.

The main historical events are presumably accurate, but obviously all the private conversations are imagined, and I’m not sure that’s quite fair to people who are still living. However as drama it is intense, emotional, powerful and surprisingly relevant.

Meanwhile at home, there was a curious item on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) on Wednesday of last week. We had a government Minister urging the ordination of women in the Catholic Church – and they used to complain about Church interfering in matters of state!

Pat Kenny flagged this as a ‘debate’ but is it really a fair debate when there is a considerable imbalance? So, for the first third of the item we got a friendly chat between Kenny, Minister Madigan and Rev. Canon Gillian Wharton of the Church of Ireland.

Then, as I was getting increasingly desirous of a debate that wasn’t happening we got religious affairs commentator Margaret Hickey on the phone defending the Church’s teaching but being on the phone put her at a distinct disadvantage, as did the fact that it was two to one, at least.

Then to show that the echo chamber was still functioning over at RTÉ, last Thursday’s Late Debate (RTÉ Radio 1) had some female politicians celebrating the greater involvement of young women in politics – so far so good, but mainly they referenced those that had become active due to the Repeal campaign and the tone was so self-congratulatory.

Completely and conveniently written out of the script were the many young women that were active on the pro-life side during that campaign.

At very least I thought this point should have been made more clearly by presenter Katie Hannon, but there was only one aside (“obviously there were young women who didn’t have a positive experience because they were on the other side”), and a brief reference to the fact that there were women whose views were not represented by the National Women’s Council.

How easy it is to write a substantial element of the population out of ‘the narrative’.


Pick of the Week 


EWTN, Sunday, December 1, 9am and Wednesday, December 4, 8 pm

Prior of St Catherine’s Dominican Church, Fr Joseph Ralph, prepares Catholics for the upcoming weeks of Advent.

Songs of Praise
BBC1, Sunday, December 1, 1.15 pm

For the first Sunday of Advent, Seán Fletcher visits the stunning Blair Castle in Perthshire. TV star John Barrowman reflects on his Christian faith and performs ‘Be Thou My Vision’.

Fern Britton Meets …
BBC1, Sunday, December 1, 10.30 pm

Fern Britton meets American jazz singer-songwriter Gregory Porter, as he reflects on how the influence of his mother, a pastor and powerful force for good, lives on in his music.