Peter Morgan: Platform Capitalism’s Rudyard Kipling

Just as Stanley Kubrick translated 18th century paintings for film shots, such as William Hogarth’s Marriage A-La Mode and John Constable’s Malvern Hall, The Crown watches as if each scene is a painting from the Royal Academy. The Britain of the Crown is the Britain of the National Portrait Gallery, Rules Restaurant, the Royal Opera House and St Pauls. It is a joy to view these areas in high definition and have London’s greatest spaces bought to life by its most famous family. My affection for the films of Eric Rohmer has created a pining for Britain to be captured with the same care and attention. Britons are not confined towards the physical and etymological parameters that breed the intimacy of films like Rayon Vert and Il Vitteloni, and often our best and brightest get usurped by Hollywood. The Crown offers some of the Noveau Realist geist, yet it is American money invested in a story about Royalty and thus fails to capture the quotidian charm, of say, French seaside towns in the summer. Moreover, just as these films have the arrogance of not expecting western viewers, every episode of the Crown is positioned as the opening of the London 2012 Olympics. These portraits are built to last and characterise.

Netflix is the world’s largest platform streaming service. At the end of 2019 there were 183 million Netflix subscribers, a third of these were American. The Crown introduces the entire planet to many cultural and political figureheads that would otherwise be unknown. The Crown is the 21st centuries most important tool for British historical memory. The political portraits in The Crown are likely to supplant a number of collective memories of 20th century British history and will undoubtedly be deployed in schools to stop yet another showing of Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain.

Through curating stories of Britain’s most culturally significant family, Peter Morgan, the series creator, has become one of the country’s most powerful writers. The significance of both writer and family is of great entertainment. The former’s significance comes through the ability to design the imagination with the funds and reach of Netflix, the latter through their omnipresence within the historical collective conscience. Aside from Charlie Brooker, it is difficult to imagine a modern popular writer who has the ability to radically transform geopolitical institutions through story telling. Whereas Shakespeare once dramatized dead monarchs to please the court of Queen Elizabeth, Morgan caricatures the present Royal Family to win favour amongst the emperors of Platform Capitalism. The Crown feels like Surveillance Capitalism’s Elgin Marbles or Cleopatra’s Needle with appropriations of former empires robbed, repurposed and distorted to legitimise modern ones.

What are the political impacts of Netflix’s Rudyard Kipling? I fear The Crown has weakened the future of the Royal Family. The fourth season depicts an institution in which the most capable and commendable members, aside from Princess Anne, are from an older generation, and thus, the family get less likeable with age. This of course would lead to a conclusion that, beyond the Queen, the Royal Family has no significance in the 21st century. Prince Charles is represented queerly, in a manner similar to Bertie Wooster (with Camilla as Jeeves) or Alan Partridge (with Diana as Lynn). I would make the claim that Morgan uses the Crown to encourage Charles to abdicate, continually littering the series with question marks about accession, with Olivia Coleman’s final speech probing whether Charles’ really expects to be king. He does. Prince Harry, the only individual with the memory, experience and training to effectively support Prince William long term, has left the Royal Family. Given Megan Markel’s line of work his decision must in some way be influenced by Morgan’s depictions. If the Crown fails to provide sufficient support to Prince William, either through lionisation, or transforming Prince Charles’ caricature, then the series can legitimately be described as a threat towards the future of the Monarchy.

In the Empires of Platform Capitalism, the court Jester has become king. Morgan and his players are keen to enter the minds of collective historical memory to assure their position in the future, and yet, they will need to do more to protect the Royals or risk hurting the family they love to represent.