We’re back, darlings! Back for all the drama! All the intrigue! All the flared nostrils and raised eyebrows! All the coats, hats and gloves! ALL THE FREAKIN’ TIARAS!
Yes, The Crown is in our lives once again, which means our world has been taken over by dimly lit rooms the size of airplane hangars, cups of tea quivering in their saucers with hidden rage, cigarettes stamped out in disgust, Phillip being an idiotic child, Margaret being a spoiled brat, and Elizabeth, ever stalwart. Also, enough pearls to choke Betty’s favorite horse.
We had much fun diving into an examination of the costume design last season. Michelle Clapton did a wonderful job of both remaining true to the historical record (Elizabeth being one of the most photographed women of all time, her wardrobe and style choices all tend to have been exhaustively detailed over the years) while making strong, character-based interpretive choices that served the story well and helped to deepen the meanings of each scene.
While there’s no less sense of artistry in the costume design this season, the story has moved on to a more publicly recognizable Elizabeth (note the scene this season where she got her iconic haircut for the first time and how big a deal was made of it); a person who settled on a look around 1960 and did little to change it in the many years since. In other words, many of Elizabeth’s costumes this season are not only faithful recreations of actual things she wore at the time, some of them are barely indistinguishable from how the Queen dresses now. So while the interpretations may be a bit light this time around, the visuals are no less enjoyable and worth discussing.
The look evokes a traditional sort of femininity (pearls and pink) while being notable unfussy, unlike her usual ensembles, which even then tended toward an older lady’s sense of style. This, on the other hand, is of the moment. Not exactly Vogue cover material, but stylish and modern in a way we don’t always see from her. There’s an immediate sense of her being much more comfortable and confident in her role, both as a queen and as a wife. This is not the girlish, unsure Queen of the early years of her reign. This is, we’re shown, a modern, confident woman who demands respect and the rights afforded to her. And she never wears less than three strands of her Pearls of Power (last season, the number of strands coincided with her level of power in each scene).
This will not be a look she repeats any time soon – and that’s of a piece with just how little of that modernity was seen from her regarding her relationship with Philip this season. In other words, the confident femininity seen in her interactions and her costume here will largely be set aside for dutiful wifely silent suffering in conventional, stuffy clothing.
This discovery of Phillip’s secret portrait of his maybe-lover (this show LOVES a very aristocratic English sort of ambiguity in all its most torrid plotlines) kicks off a major emotional arc that will dominate most of this season. At the same time, a minor sort of color motif is established.
We’ll call it “Betty’s Brown Sweaters of Disappointment.”
This one costume bridges three scenes; one of her alone, discovering a secret that breaks her heart, one of her in a professional setting, with a man she finds weak and disappointing, and one of her with her husband, eschewing any sort of interest or engagement with him, due to the established feelings of hurt and disappointment.
It’s a motif that will repeat over and over again in the first two episodes:
Elizabeth is longing, Elizabeth is disappointed, Elizabeth disapproves. Brown sweater, brown sweater, brown sweater.
Now, it shouldn’t be taken as if we’ve cracked some sort of hidden code in the costume design. It’s true that brown and blue are both strong color motifs in these episodes. Some of that has to do with the appropriate palette to use for the period and some of that comes down to being true to the real Elizabeth’s slightly dowdy and unfussy style choices, not to mention that Claire Foy looks good in brown. There are a range of reasons as to why a costume designer makes the choices she does, but these kinds of analyses are less about divining those reasons and more about digging out meaning from the results. Betty’s Brown Sweaters of Disappointment.
It seems all disappointed wives in this story are fated to keep their disappointments to themselves and their colors appropriately muted. Put a pin in Mrs. Parker and her subtle tones. She won’t remain muted for long.
While her disgust with her husband is evident from a thousand yards away, Elizabeth is trying mightily to keep a public face on and her feelings hidden. In her case, she buries them under a brilliant green coat:
All the better for pictures and standing out in a crowd, even as her mask crumbles.
As for Mrs, Parker, you can sort of see her struggle throughout the story as played out in her costumes.
She remains muted and traditionally dressed, for the most part.
Neutral browns and grays paired with contrasting pops of color; a sense that something is struggling to break free from inside her.
Note how the club waitress stands out in this street scene through the use of framing and costume. Her costume is one of the most boldly colored and starkly graphic looks in every frame. To Mrs. Parker, she burns brightly and colorfully, standing out strongly as a desperate sort of key to her salvation.
Note how the brilliant blue of her street wear is picked up in her cocktail dress so we literally don’t lose sight of who we’re looking at. She’s not a central character in any way, but she’s important to the plot for a brief time and the costume design is smart and economical about searing her into your memory.
Then, when Mrs. Parker gets what she needs, note how the dynamics of the street scene changes, from a visual perspective:
The waitress is the more muted of the two while Mrs. Parker fairly explodes on the screen with color, pattern, and modernity. She’s got her ticket out.
Meanwhile, when she’s not drowning in brown sweaters, the Queen has got the blues:
In the ballet scene, there’s a real sense of oppositional costuming as each female figure is either dark or light, either dripping with diamonds and embroidery or kept in simple white with a flower crown. Power vs. subservience. Movement vs. stillness. Wife vs. Mistress.
For another example of light vs. dark oppositional costume, check out Philip’s misadventure:
Her style is a little glamorous and a lot more modern than Elizabeth’s When she was a girl in the background that Philip had his eye on, she dressed in mostly inoffensive clothes in bland tones. When she showed up for the interview, she sported this dark and graphic dress, which adds some visual tension in the scene and also serves to highlight the curves of her body, which is what he’s most focused on until he realized what she’s there for. He thinks a seduction is going to happen and everything about her presence indicates an antagonistic tone rather than an inviting one.
Back to the Queen, feeling the blues:
Like her Brown’s of Disappointment, Betty’s Blues speak of a similar restlessness, if not disapproval – with just about everybody around her.
But we think more importantly, there’s a sense in many of these scenes that she’s not connecting with certain people; that events and circumstances keep her apart (from the ballerina, from Philip) or unable to connect with (the Prime Minister, the events unfolding in Egypt, Philip again):
Which is kind of interesting, because when Philip most needed to connect with his wife, his family, and his country…
He wore a blue sweater.
Whereas she …
Dressed the ENTIRE FAMILY in shades of disappointment. Such a drama queen, that Queen.
Anyway, the divide between them has not been bridged, even if the holidays and some nice speeches lowered the tension momentarily. You can see it in their words, in their performances, and yes, even in their costumes, if you look hard enough.
MUCH more to come, darlings.
[Photo Credit: Netflix – Stills: Tom and Lorenzo via Netflix]
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