He’s not the most dynamic of dramatists, however, and what made those films special was casting — Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen in “The Queen,” Mr. Sheen and Frank Langella in “Frost/Nixon.” He needs great actors to put his words in motion, to supply the emotions underlying the history.
In the first season of “The Crown,” he had a great actor, John Lithgow, who enlivened things considerably with his shambling, towering presence as Winston Churchill (even if he probably wasn’t quite right for the role). Season 2 misses Mr. Lithgow, as well as Jared Harris, who played Elizabeth’s father, George VI.
That puts the focus more than ever on Ms. Foy. And while she is quite capable, her strengths are those of impeccability: Each thought, each idea is clearly delineated in her face and posture. She makes sure we don’t miss anything, and she’s engaging, but she doesn’t pack that much of an emotional punch.
You could argue that that’s the point: One of Mr. Morgan’s themes is the repression and self-denial that come with the crown. But playing repression doesn’t mean withholding emotion, as Ms. Mirren demonstrated in “The Queen.” (Ms. Mirren, by the way, has said that she won’t reprise her portrayal of Elizabeth for “The Crown”; Olivia Colman will take over the role in Season 3.)
Season 2 does have its moving and exciting moments, achieved with the help of capable directors like Philippa Lowthorpe and Benjamin Caron. A complicated sequence in which the louche photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode) shoots a portrait of a swooning Margaret, his future wife, while Elizabeth and Philip retire to separate beds, is cleverly handled. Ms. Lowthorpe wonderfully stages an episode-closing shot of Elizabeth and the Queen Mother (Victoria Hamilton) putting on smiles and going down a receiving line of commoners, invited into Buckingham Palace for the first time.
And because it’s a British prestige production, “The Crown” is dotted with stellar supporting performances. Jeremy Northam finds humor in the smug self-regard of Anthony Eden, the prime minister who succeeds Churchill. Mr. Goode was born to play the seductive Armstrong-Jones and Greg Wise is good as Philip’s uncle, Dickie Mountbatten. In a small role as the unhappy wife of Philip’s private secretary, Chloe Pirrie (a vivid Emily Brontë in “To Walk Invisible”) effortlessly conveys the rage and frustration you suspect Elizabeth must also be feeling.
Not everything Mr. Morgan tries works — an episode involving Elizabeth’s complicated feelings toward Jacqueline Kennedy, and a plot contrivance in which Philip is more closely linked to the Profumo scandal than history would suggest, don’t pan out. But the pleasures of high-class melodrama are always present, as is the comforting notion — increasingly hard to believe — that our leaders can be compassionate, intelligent and exceedingly well behaved.