It may be a love letter to all things royal, but you don't have to be a monarchist to be charmed by Netflix's new series, The Crown.

With a reported price tag of about $177 million, Netflix's historical drama is far from a stodgy period piece. It breathes with life and energy as it peels back the curtain to cast a light into the world of a young Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and Philip (Matt Smith).

The story starts in 1947 as the royal couple are preparing to walk down the aisle. In post-war Britain, the wedding is a national affair designed to bolster its citizens' spirits, much like Kate and William's wedding did in a post-GFC Britain 64 years later.

The early years of the Princess and the Duke's marriage fly by in a series of happy moments until they're called back from Malta, where Philip's naval career is thriving, due to the King's (Jared Harris) bad health.

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King George VI dies not long after and Elizabeth is thrust into the global spotlight at only 25 years old.

Britain is on the cusp of modernity and the Queen and monarchy is the epitome of tradition. It's an interesting time socially, with the winds of change in the air.

Philip, whose own family were displaced from Greece by a restless populace, wants the royals to update and embrace the new age, leaving behind the fading empire. But his wife is honour-bound to her duty, not just because of tradition and her family's legacy but an unyielding belief in it.

While she is being harangued from all quarters, all with their own agendas, Elizabeth finds the strength to manage and parlay with old men used to getting their way, and with certain expectations of a monarch.

The Crown is an almost-extension of series writer Peter Morgan's play The Audience, which looked into the Queen's relationships with her Prime Ministers through decades of her reign. In the first series of The Crown, some of the best insights come in her weekly briefings with Winston Churchill (John Lithgow).

Image from The crown, new Netflix show.
Image from The crown, new Netflix show.

This tussle between the old and the new is also reflected in Churchill's plight. Having steered Britain through World War II, the man who fancies himself "the father of the nation" is under pressure from political enemies within and in the Opposition. Cabinet colleagues are baying for his blood, keen to see him make way for the younger Anthony Eden.

The Crown also delves into the complicated and strained relationship between the Queen and her carefree younger sister Margaret, a style-setter and social maven.

You can easily see where all that money has been spent because the richly textured set design and lavish costumes are spectacular. The scale of the production is breathtaking - Downton Abbey, eat your heart out.

The performances are also great. With the help of voice and dialect coaches, Foy and company embody what you imagine the very private royal family were like behind closed doors during turbulent moments in history, offering up an imagined version of something you will never know for certain.

The Crown.
The Crown.

But the series' scene stealer is Alex Jennings (who previously played Prince Charles in the Morgan-penned 2006 film The Queen) as the Duke of Windsor. Elizabeth's uncle abdicated in the 1930s over a scandalous relationship with thrice-divorced American Wallis Simpson, elevating Elizabeth's father to the crown.

Jennings deftly channels the Duke's resentment and contempt for his family and England, evidenced by the cruel nicknames he invents and the insults he sneers, all born out of ill-will over his rejection and exile. This man is the kind of character you can't stop watching and can't help but empathise with despite the ugliness he is hurling at his family.

This is the kind of ambitious and exuberant project that will be talked about in years to come.

Early on, right after learning of her father's death, Elizabeth turns to Philip, almost defeated, and apologises. "I thought we would have more time," she tells him.

That moment symbolises the crux of the tension in The Crown. This isn't a path they chose but one that demands the sacrifice of everything for a concept greater than individual desire. They're ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances they didn't pick and can never cast off.

The Crown is available to stream on Netflix now.