As the announcement of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s desire to scale back on royal life continues to capture the press, Netflix’s “The Crown” gives us some intel into how a family, nicknamed “the Firm,” will deal with this unprecedented arrangement. Moving to Bayport, after growing up in Queens and living in the city for 10 years, was like an anthropological gap year (to use an English term) for me. For all the ethnicities and cultures in Queens, the only one we did not have were WASPs, and I now lived in a town that was so WASPy, it was actually settled by the Dutch. Having reported on events in the South Shore area for the past five years, I have fallen in love with the area that has invoked every cinematic small town, from Mayberry to all the little snowy hamlets of Hallmark movies. In addition, I have been an Anglophile since People magazine put Prince William on his Eton rowing team on the cover in 1995. This has led to a love of British on-screen villages, where everyone knows the vicar, the doctor, and the bumbling chief inspector. The royal family has always been a part of the magic of making England a universal standard for communities (granted, we could also say that was colonialism, but we’ll be nice) to emulate. The great appeal of the royal family in contemporary times, as the English royal family is without political power, has been their ability in the last hundred years to connect with common people, while paradoxically upholding the highest of tradition. In a way, Queen Elizabeth’s life has been to show how one can conduct herself with dignity in the face of never-ending scandal.
“The Crown,” whose third season premiered in November, is a chronicle behind the glittering façade of Buckingham Palace and all the grand estates, of the Windsor family’s adjustment to changing times and personal stakes in the 20th century.
In an area like the South Shore of Long Island, many people have grown up here and stayed to raise their children, creating multigenerational presence and reputations to be held. “The Crown” hits on those same plights of being true to tradition and family, while learning to carve out a place for yourself. And while the world stage involves billions of viewers, the ferocity of a small-town lens can feel the same. In essence, the constant focus on the royal family through decades has linked together all the tiny English villages as well as our own coastal small towns, because they have endured the same societal changes.
In Season 3, as the now nearly defunct “greatest generation,” Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip represent the old guard as their “boomer” children, Anne and Charles, step out into a more sexually liberated—and more headline-grabbing—‘70s that makes marriage more difficult to navigate. Watching each season, but particularly the third season that touches upon now-living generations, is like a history lesson for any family in a small setting, where the eyes of your peers are always around to remind you of what is expected. Knowing where the story will go (Charles and Diana’s epic split and his second marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles), the viewer is able to focus on the humanity of the characters who, while royal, are really everyday figures caught between family duty and personal wishes. As I have learned the history of the areas I cover, the same prominence and scandal can be found, with the same antidote: devotion to community. While stylized, “The Crown” portrays a matriarch from her days as a young woman struggling to establish control, to a trusted and true leader. In writing about the events of our community, it has been the same steadfastness, loyalty to community and an unending need to make it better, or at least preserve it, that guides each generation as they continue to sew into the fabric of the town. Prince Harry and Meghan’s announcement to leave has hit a bit of a sour note because it has struck as an abandonment of that duty and a refusal to be a part of the community.
The season ends on Queen Elizabeth’s silver jubilee in 1977, where we await the introduction of Margaret Thatcher, Lady Diana, and maybe even Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle. But like all small-town dramas, a part of you is always left with the village, even if you don’t stay.