Netflix's The Crown Is A Love Letter To Aviation
The show's attention to detail in how it depicts the intersection between aviation and the monarchy is a triumph that other shows should strive for.
After capping off its fourth season, it is no secret that Netflix's The Crown, which follows the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, is a cinematic tour-de-force. While the acting, writing, sets, and costumes all get much acclaim, one element of the show's world-building magic that doesn't get enough attention is its near-perfect attention to detail in how it portrays aviation's intersection with the Royals' lives. In fact, I would go as far as to say that aviation is another supporting character of The Crown's superb and ever-morphing cast. When watched through its current four-season run, it becomes clear that the series subtly acts as a love letter to aviation in its own right.
I came to watch The Crown via a circuitous route. I checked out the first episode half a decade ago when it premiered and, for whatever reason, found it a bit dour. In retrospect, I quit not just due to that first impression really, but more so because of distractions from other shows that were released around the same time. As it went on to win award after award I never found the time to come back to it—I wouldn't call myself a big enthusiast of the Royal Family and the never-ending aura of palace intrigue that surrounds it.
Then, with the release of season four, and knowing that it would span the 1980s, including Margaret Thatcher's time in office as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and many geopolitical events I was interested in, I gave it another shot. What I quickly learned is that not only was the show absolutely incredible in pretty much every way, but it really wasn't just about the Royal Family's notorious insider melodrama, it was just as much a political drama as anything else.
A couple of episodes into season four, I was hooked, big time.
Since then, I have watched the rest of the series in chronologically reverse order, which, oddly enough, worked out amazingly well. While the earlier seasons of the show were definitely stuffed with period romance, the kind of which the last two seasons couldn't compete with due to the portrayed progression of time, the level of writing and the complexity of the storytelling evolved triumphantly throughout the series back half. Some episodes are working on so many levels that you have to really take a step back to admire just how well written and edited they are. Still, the production—that marvelous production—really is worth the price of admission in itself.
Throughout the globe-spanning and at times almost dream-like ride The Crown takes us on, and even as the cast switches completely every two seasons, one constant that stands out above all else is how much care was put into every single scene involving aviation. And there are a lot of them, to say the least. I have never seen a show so removed from transportation technology at its core, yet work so hard to make its transportation technology set-pieces so accurate. Each and every scene that an aircraft appears in just oozes passion for the topic.
Aviation was and still is a huge part of the Royals' lives, with the show kicking off in 1947 and ending its fourth season in 1990, it has aircraft, and the use of air transportation in general, seeded throughout. In a way, it gives a unique depiction of aviation history, including the progression from the piston engine age to the jet age, just as it does of U.K. history. While the writers definitely brandish their artistic licenses in crafting the show's plot, it doesn't do the same with the aircraft it features.
Not only was flying a staple act for Royals executing their duties, but there are large plot threads based around Prince Philip learning to fly and the death of many of his exiled family members aboard a Nazi Junkers Ju 52. Even a flashback of a flyover of Windsor Castle by Avro Lancaster bombers during World War II is executed in a way in which you feel like your standing right there looking up. Those types of scenes also make you happy you invested in good home theater audio as the sound editing is fantastic.
Not a single aircraft is glaringly out of time and place throughout The Crown's four seasons. From the soon-to-be Queen flying off to Kenya on Douglas DC-4 in the early 1950s to Princess Diana jetting off on her New York tour aboard a Franco-British Concorde, it's all there, and it is absolutely gorgeous.
It is so refreshing to see reasonably accurate depictions of the real and somewhat obscure aircraft flown during each period of time the show covers, not just some convenient stand-in plane picked off the shelf. And they are all there. As you move through the series and the decades you will be showered with Vickers Viscounts, De Havilland Devons, and so much more. And yes, the RAF Red Arrows flight demonstration team also make an appearance.
All that being said, if you really dig through every aircraft and date, you will be able to find one or two discrepancies, but these would be extremely trivial in nature, like an aircraft showing up a year before it entered service or in a different livery. A couple of flying sequences may be a tiny bit embellished, as well, but they serve as key plot points, so that is understandable. Overall, it's very impressive, and really, when it comes to production, this is what The Crown is all about—extreme attention to detail that immerses the viewer in a rich historic bubble. How they make this happen is fascinating in itself, but for the aircraft, they use a mix of real aircraft, practical sets, and CGI to make them come alive in the moment.
Just to underscore how much of a triumph The Crown's homage to aviation is, take another big-budget show streaming right now that is actually all about aviation—For All Mankind. I am a fan of this show. It is engrossing and it doesn't play the alternate timeline/reality card too heavily considering it underpins its premise, which allows it to work well. The acting and characters are great. Yet, amazingly, what it is inconsistent at, at best, is actually depicting the aviation and spaceflight events the plot demands with believability and accuracy. It can go from engrossing to distractingly cheesy in an instant when it depicts flying sequences. This is not nitpicking from an aviation nerd, it really takes you out of the moment with how cartoonish these scenes can get. I consider this a huge loss and overall missed opportunity for what is otherwise a good show. It almost seems that somehow For All Mankind's production team thought that good drama could just paper-over rickety aerospace action sequences. Clearly, I would beg to differ in that regard.
This comparison provides a stark contrast. That The Crown is not about aviation at all, but it goes so far and works so hard to give its aerospace-related moments such wonderful treatment, which largely separates it from the pack. The fact that it does flying sequences remarkably better than a show about flight also proves that The Crown's attention to detail is an equal opportunity proposition—nothing gets a pass.
There is so much in The Crown for other transportation aficionados, as well. The cars increasingly take center stage as the show moved forward—Jags, Aston Martins, Rolls Royces, and Land Rovers galore. What's better is that they all 'feel' lived in, replete with whining breaks and faded canvas tops. We also get great depictions of other forms of royal transport, like the royal train and the iconic royal yacht, HMY Britannia.
So, if any of this interests you, you should start streaming The Crown immediately. While you may have come for the planes, trains, automobiles, you will end up falling in love with everything else this marvelous series has to offer.
Don't say I didn't warn you.
Rogoway's review rating: 8 out of 9 G.
The Crown is streaming on Netflix now.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com