When I first binged the first two seasons of Netflix’s The Crown, at both my friends’ and my mom’s behest, I quickly realized why my loved ones were so obsessed. What looked like a stodgy period drama was, in fact, actually about Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II verbally ruining every man in her government who failed her.
So, basically, it’s the perfect TV show.
Scenes in which Foy’s Elizabeth tears into her prime ministers Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, and Harold Macmillan are the stuff of legend. One particular season two episode, “Vergangenheit,” sees Elizabeth positively destroy her uncle, the Duke of Windsor, for his Nazi sympathies. These scenes thrill because they’re such a subversion of what we know of the monarchy: the Queen is a figurehead, and the rest of the government works in spite of her. The Crown posits that, in fact, Elizabeth is the one thing standing in the way of these idiotic men destroying the United Kingdom. Only she has the sober vision to see the full picture, and only she has the position to light into her governors without penalty.
Foy is ideal for this characterization of Elizabeth thanks to her mixture of softness in expression and toughness in temperament. She looks so gentle, with the wide blue eyes of a doe, that men in her employ underestimate her. When she grabs them by the proverbial balls and ruins them with a few words, she teaches them to never underestimate her again. Moreover, she verbally lacerates them not out of petty beef, but because they are incompetent. Queen Elizabeth II is a manager, and her staff is bad at their jobs. And they dare to condescend to her while being fuckups! “Cathartic” doesn’t begin to cover how good Elizabeth’s speeches are.
To my delight, Foy does much the same as Janet Shearon-Armstrong in First Man, Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic in theaters now. Playing Neil’s first wife, Foy takes a fairly typical wife role and fucking runs with it. In her hands, Janet is not merely a concerned spouse, or even just an angry one. She’s a ball of complexity, one who stands in sharp contrast to her much simpler, and much more reserved, husband.
Screenwriter Josh Singer baked in two killer scenes for Janet: a confrontation scene at NASA, and a scene where she has to get her husband’s head on straight. The latter is a bit of a spoiler — as much of a spoiler as one can have in a biopic, that is — but it’s the former I’d rather focus on anyway.
During a particularly difficult mission, NASA’s Chief of the Astronaut Office Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler) cuts off Janet’s access to Neil’s audio feed. Furious, she storms down to NASA, demanding they turn the feed back on. Citing security protocol, Deke refuses, saying they have things under control. It’s his worst possible move.
“No, you don’t,” Janet says. “All these protocols and procedures to make it seem like you have it under control. But you’re a bunch of boys making models out of balsa wood! You don’t have anything under control!”
Okay so first off, Foy plays this scene like she’s a drunk Katharine Hepburn, and it’s incredible. Second, the way she hits the B in “balsa” is like it’s the final B she’ll ever speak, and she truly makes the most of her last one. Third, that final “under control” captures exactly what makes Foy’s Elizabeth speeches so thrilling: She makes perfectly clear that she doesn’t trust these dumb men with anything, that they’re plainly incompetent, and she’d rather march into the control room and do the damn thing herself. Because she could do a hell of a better job than these idiots could.
Claire Foy has become our finest destroyer of men. She will almost certainly earn an Oscar nomination for First Man (as she won the Emmy for The Crown), and it’s nigh-impossible to deny she deserves it. I would watch her rip into incompetent guys in anything. Long live the Queen.