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November 20, 2022

Breaking Down The Crown

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022, Netflix’s The Crown - which charts the life of Britain’s late monarch from her wedding in 1947 until the present day - became one of the most-watched shows on the platform. 

It has now returned for a fifth series charting The late Queen’s life through the tumultuous 1990s. 

What makes the show so great? Who are The Crown’s main characters? And what lessons can we learn by breaking down the structure of the first episode -Wolferton Splash - into a classic three-act structure

What are the main themes in The Crown?

The Crown’s central theme is duty. The sovereign must maintain silence to preserve the constitution and to accept the advice of the government, and the Prime Minister’s duty (or lack of it) to serve the monarch and the people. Phillip’s duty as a husband towards his wife despite the hostility of the royal family to him for being a foreigner. 

The show tracks the changing social attitudes of post-war Britain by dramatizing the relationship between Queen Elizabeth II and her prime ministers as well as her family members into the twenty-first century.

The complex nature of a constitutional monarchy is also explored and how The Queen often has to make compromises for the sake of the country that impacts her personal life is also integral to the series. 

If you're thinking about pitching a show to Netflix then be sure to consider what your main themes are and how strongly they are represented in your pitch and in your writing.

How long is The Crown

A hugely ambitious project which will eventually span 6 seasons and 60 episodes it is one of the most expensive dramas Netflix has ever made, with a budget for each episode to rival that of a Hollywood movie. 

Each season covers approximately a decade of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The first season depicts the years 1947 until 1955. It deals with the external conflict of social change and political upheaval through the internal conflict and personal struggles of the royal family.

Let’s now break down the main characters in The Crown and how they interact with each other. 

The Crown main characters in (Ep 1)

Who are The Crown’s main characters? They are the future Queen’s immediate family and government ministers.

Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh (later Queen Elizabeth II, Clare Foy)

King George VI’s eldest daughter and the heir to the throne. She is about to marry naval officer Phillip Mountbatten, a former Greek and Danish prince, and to begin what she believes will be a blissful period of married life. 

Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh (Matt Smith) 

A former prince of Greece and Denmark, Phillip has rehabilitated his family’s dark reputation to marry Elizabeth by renouncing his foreign titles and joining the British navy.

King George VI (Jared Harris) 

The beloved wartime King of the United Kingdom since the unexpected abdication of his brother David (Edward VIII) in 1936. He is gravely ill with lung cancer, unbeknown to the rest of his family. 

Princess Elizabeth wearing a white traditional wedding dress being led down the aisle by The King.
The then Princess Elizabeth being walked down the aisle by her father King George VI.

Queen Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, Victoria Hamilton) 

Elizabeth’s mother, she initially opposed the marriage of Phillip and Elizabeth but came around to it. She is the wife of King George VI and a popular Queen consort. 

Winston Churchill (John Lithgow)

The former wartime prime minister, ejected from power after losing the 1945 election, he returns to his position following the 1951 election to the delight of King George VI, his close friend. 

Breaking down The Crown episode 1 - Wolferton Splash

Let’s see how the first episode of The Crown successfully sets up the main themes and structure of the series through its three acts.

Act one 


In the opening image, George VI is seen coughing up blood and visibly struggling in a palace bathroom as he prepares to ennoble his son-in-law, Phillip on the eve of his marriage. 

Inciting incident

Elizabeth marries Phillip in the presence of the British establishment including Winston Churchill who expresses his disapproval at the fact Phillip is a foreigner and his family has Nazi links.

Elizabeth has also kept her marriage vows to ‘obey’ her husband also to the disdain of Churchill and other guests at the wedding. Queens usually omit this word from their ceremony because as sovereign their husbands, of lower rank, are expected to obey them.

Turn to Act two

Elizabeth and Phillip wave from the balcony of Buckingham Palace and embark on their honeymoon. 

Act two 

Premise/Fun & games

Elizabeth and Phillip set out to Malta on their honeymoon and where Phillip is based as a naval officer. In the montage cleverly instigated through super 8 footage we see their lives progress as they have two children, Charles and Anne, and lead an idyllic life away from the stuffy court of London. 


Phillip is promoted in the navy. 

Descent to darkest moment

Phillip and Elizabeth are forced back to London as George VI goes under an emergency operation to save his life. 

Turn to Act three

A year later George VI holds back the news that he has terminal cancer from his family as he doesn’t want to upset them over Christmas. However, Winston Churchill becomes aware of his diagnosis. 

Act three


The King prepares Phillip and Elizabeth for their future roles, taking Phillip out duck shooting and sharing with Elizabeth how he sorts through state papers in his famous red box.

Closing image 

The closing image is of Elizabeth examining the red government box. It is engraved with the words The King but we know it will shortly be her box with The Queen on it. This is subtle foreshadowing. 

The Crown Episode 1 sets up a saga narrative

The first episode of The Crown sets up a saga narrative in a great way. It introduces us to all The Crown’s main characters and uses foreshadowing to prepare us for the inevitability of The King’s early death.

The central conflict of the whole show between the public role of the monarch and the private individual is also set up as The King tries to explain this to Phillip over duck shooting. 

If you’ve enjoyed this article be sure to download the latest version of Arc Studio today.


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Breaking Down The Crown
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen using Arc Studio. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, Readers' Digest and Newsweek, amongst many other publications. He has just finished his second novel for young adults, set in a boarding school. He holds a BA in English from Loughborough University.

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