Over the course of its rather lengthy run on Netflix, The crown has proven to be one of the streamer’s best series. The series tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II, beginning with the earliest days of her reign and continuing as she ages through the story, and has been remarkably successful at fusing real events with a copious dose of fiction.
Along the way, The crown has also featured a remarkable cast of performers, all of whom have more than proven their skills in inhabiting these people who have shaped recent history. Choosing a list of best Crown performances is like picking a favorite kid, and yet we’ve managed to narrow it down to our 10 favorites.
Casting American John Lithgow as the most famous prime minister in British history seems like a recipe for disaster, but it turned out to be a huge hit. Lithgow’s version of the character is older, less robust, and exists primarily as a guide for the young Queen Elizabeth as she learns what it means to carry out her duties.
The Queen’s meetings with the Prime Ministers have been a constant each season The crownbut the fact that the show opens with Churchill so alive makes it all feel even more cinematically fulfilling.
Erin Doherty gets more value from her minutes on screen than any other actor in the history of The crown. She doesn’t play a big role in the story, yet every time we see Anne, it’s easy to get the urge to follow her out of the scene and into whatever else she’s up to.
Anne has her own issues, but these mostly remain off-screen, and it’s up to Doherty to bring that context to her on-screen portrayal. Anne is the only one of Elizabeth’s children who really seems to understand the world, and Doherty’s performance brings her to life brilliantly.
Matt Smith is busier as Prince Philip than Tobias Menzies, and he’s really gorgeous, but Menzies brings a kind of aged brilliance to the role. We understand that this version of Prince Philip is solid in his marriage but doesn’t feel fulfilled in his life in general.
It’s a mesmerizing, dour performance that Menzies pulls off brilliantly. He remains Elizabeth’s staunch partner, but also seems to be searching for a purpose of his own in a world determined to deny him any chance at agency.
Margaret Thatcher is another British historical figure who doesn’t exactly shout sympathetically. After all, they are remembered today for their brutality towards the Irish and their harsh attitude towards the common good. Gillian Anderson manages to bring a spark of humanity to the character and helps us understand how her attitude came about and how she came to see the world the way she did.
Is this portrayal of Thatcher entirely responsible? Maybe not, but it certainly proved that Anderson was doing far more than impersonating the famous prime minister.
Jared Harris is only in the first two episodes of The crown, but it’s hard to overstate how crucial his performance is to everything that comes after. When we play King George in his last days, we immediately understand how much he loves his two daughters and how burdened he is by the duties of the monarchy.
King George’s legacy weighs heavily on Elizabeth, and his death forces her to become queen long before her time. What will stay with us the most, though, is how much he seemed to genuinely love his children, even as he forced them into a role he never wanted himself.
Inheriting the show from a strong cast was no easy task, however Olivia Colman took over as Queen Elizabeth at the perfect time in her own career. After winning an Oscar, everyone knew Colman would be able to take on the role, and she did so with aplomb.
Colman’s Elizabeth was a natural progression from Claire Foy, a character older and wiser, but also more stubborn and less open to input. Much of the drama moves away from Elizabeth and toward her children during Colman’s run, but that made Colman’s ability to hold the screen all the more impressive.
Every era of the royal family had a wild child, and Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret provided the template for what those archetypes would look like. Kirby’s Margaret is the perfect opposite of Foy’s Elizabeth; She represents sharp edges and big emotions, while Elizabeth von Foy keeps everything as close to the waistcoat as possible.
Kirby exploded out The crown becoming a big star, and with good reason. She made Margaret feel real and alive even when she and Elizabeth were completely opposites.
One of the dazzling performances The crown ever came from Emma Corrin, who was such a perfect match for Princess Diana that it was easy to forget not to watch a documentary.
Corrin plays Diana in her younger years as she grows from an overwhelmed teenager to a mother who will eventually become the family’s downfall. Diana was the character of many Crown Fans had been waiting for this for a long time and thanks to Corrin, she wasn’t disappointed.
The crown feels like an institution now, but when it started it sat squarely on Foy’s shoulders. Foy, an almost total unknown when the show debuted, was cast to play Elizabeth in her younger years, and her performance was the foundation of the show’s continued success.
Foy was compelling from the second she appeared on screen, showing how that burden happened to fall on Elizabeth when she was quite young, and how the Queen ultimately rose to the challenge.
You shouldn’t like Prince Charles. Of all the members of the royal family, he’s the easiest to hate, and for pretty obvious reasons. And yet, thanks to Josh O’Connor, it’s easy enough to understand him even if you can’t quite like him.
O’Connor nailed all of Charles’ mannerisms, but what he really nails is the way Charles feels totally constrained by a mother-turned-icon when he comes of age, and which will tower over him at all times for most of his adult life.
You can stream all 5 seasons of The crown on Netflix.