The Crown, an original series on Netflix, is extraordinary viewing, especially for those who understand the captivating power of history. The truth is always stranger than fiction, and that adage is on full display in this drama set during the first years of Queen Elizabeth II’s rule. While watching, I often find myself turning to Google wondering, “Did that actually happen?”—and almost always the answer is yes.
One of the more surprising—and uplifting—parts of the second season has been watching the friendship between the Queen and an American pastor, Billy Graham.
Because of The Crown’s coverage of the relationship, People magazine covered the story:
“No one in Britain has been more cordial toward us than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,” Graham, who is now 99 years old and living in Charlotte, North Carolina, wrote in his autobiography, Just As I Am. “Almost every occasion I have been with her has been in a warm, informal setting, such as a luncheon or dinner, either alone or with a few family members or other close friends.
As head of the Church of England, the Queen has never hidden her strong Christian faith, but it is rare for royalty to speak openly about their religious beliefs. She surprised many when she wrote the foreword to The Servant Queen and The Master She Serves in Feb. 2016.
“I have been—and remain—very grateful to you for your prayers and to God for his steadfast love,” Queen Elizabeth wrote. “I have indeed seen his faithfulness.”
There are two remarkable things happening because of The Crown’s coverage of the Christian faith: First, viewers unfamiliar with Elizabeth’s strong faith are witnesses to it at a time when religious observance is becoming all but extinct in England. Second, pop culture publications such as People magazine are now discussing faith not only in the abstract, but also in the words of the Queen of England.
The Crown’s dramatization of the Queen’s religious beliefs is faithful to the experience of many religiously observant people. In the show, the Queen struggles with the idea of forgiveness, and discusses with Reverend Graham how to learn to forgive and follow Christ’s example in doing so.
A common misconception about religious people is that because they have faith, they are always certain of what they believe every moment of the day, never questioning life because their faith has replaced any doubts they may have. The Crown’s depiction of the Queen—the head of the Church of England who nonetheless doesn’t always feel she is measuring up—shows the humanity of one whose faith is strong, but never perfect.
In an era where few know modern history, The Crown has brought to life the 1950s and 1960s like few other shows have been able to accomplish. It has made the royal family feel a great deal more relatable, and taught a new generation about the interesting, winding road the Windsors have taken through abdication, marriage, divorce and scandal. Despite Elizabeth being the Queen of England, she also struggles to identify as a “simple Christian.”
While few Americans and fewer Europeans understand the experience of being religiously faithful or observant in the present day, The Crown shows a different era, one when a preacher could attract crowds numbering in the thousands in stadiums. The faithful who turn out to hear these ministers’ sermons aren’t portrayed as morons or lemmings (which the Duke of Windsor calls them at one point), but people who yearn to hear a message of hope during a time of great darkness. The Duke, the Queen’s husband, is viewed as an angry and lost atheist, a striking contrast to the grounded and faithful Queen Elizabeth.
Given the political turmoil of today, witnessing this positive and honest expression of faith on screen is a welcome and inspiring change. It’s hard to remember just how tumultuous the times were when a young Elizabeth took the throne, and how many wars and revolutions (both cultural and political) she withstood so early in her tenure. Yet Elizabeth and those of her generation were able to overcome, and The Crown persuasively depicts how her faith played a large part in her ability to do that. Her faith wasn’t perfect, but it was enough to carry her through some of the darkest and trying moments of her reign.