Having just finished watching Season 4 of “The Crown,” I am once again struck by how powerful are the first few minutes of each episode. Perhaps before the end of Season 1, I knew it was important for me to watch each time as the somber music began and golden, back-lighted shapes appeared slowly on my screen, gradually. forming first a cross and then a crown. I even wrote a blog a couple of years ago, when “Victoria” also began to be shown in this country. I felt the powerful difference between one series’ calling itself by the first name of the queen it wanted to portray while the other focused on the object with which the young Elizabeth was invested when she was told she would no longer be “Elizabeth Windsor” but rather “Regina.”
Lots has happened since that first season and my first blog. We’ve seen people told they may not marry whom they love or pursue lives they are drawn to, that they must swallow or smother or outright deny and kill any thoughts or wishes that endanger that “crown” and the monarchy it represents. I’ve watched Elizabeth enjoy her corgis and her horses even if she can’t play with or extend much love to her children. Her sister Margaret has stumbled from alcohol to chain smoking to flamboyant and frequent sex even if she can’t be with the love of her life. The young Diana has been caught in the headlights of royalty even as she becomes more and more isolated and dismissed. And Charles has been driven into narrow lanes intended to end in marriage to some suitable young female instead of being allowed to make a serious proposal to the forbidden Camilla.
But not until I began seeing those first two minutes of shapes emerging onto my screen for these last ten episodes has their deep import become undeniable to me as someone fascinated by images and metaphors, verbal or visual. So what have I seen this season? Here is my clearest comprehension:
- As the music begins, golden tentacles at the far left of the screen grow, oozing out in beautiful\ albeit sinister fashion. These initial reachings cause me unease.
- These on the left of the screen vanish as others emerge from the far right of the screen, a little thicker but still squirming like alluring fibers that take on greater force as they move into the empty space that will become inhabited by one of the actors.
- As the music becomes a little more forceful, those tentacles become bars of gold that are brought into clashing contact, forming a collar that reminds me of similar iron ones fitted around the necks of enslaved Africans in the North American South where I grew up. My initial unease is becoming something tighter, more constrictive and constricting. I feel short of breath, like I want some people to get onto the screen and start talking, removing the images that pervade my consciousness.
- Solid gold bars become delicately carved squares that slowly become the vertical and horizontal arms of a giant cross, I try to find this comforting, but the sounds and the force of the cross emerging from the backdrop of the screen offer dread more than comfort. The “church” that houses this object holds out no forgiveness or protection or love.
- The cross metamorphoses slowly and amidst shrouded films that hide what is happening until we see, filtered through the haze, a golden metal circlet with a tiny Coptic cross at its top. The CROWN has been born from the altered substance that began as the golden tentacles reaching ominously out toward whomever and whatever might enter or be attracted into their aura.
It seems undeniable to me, looking back now upon the seasons preceding this one, that whomever designed these opening moments and wrote this opening music understood where this fictional story of Elizabeth’s long reign was headed. S/he knew enough to enclose the action and actors inside the inescapable and gorgeous web or net or prison we have been asked to imagine. I am so admiring of that person or those persons for providing me with this frame that keeps on making its way deeper into my consciousness, causing me to decide that the cost of being part of the British monarchy is high and harsh. So I will continue, when watching the next season promised us late in 2021, NOT clicking on the little box at the bottom of my screen that says “Skip Opening,:” That “opening:” is the gloss for how I am to enter what follows, no matter how oppressive it has become.