When we are weighed down by expectations.

the crown

“Think like a human being and sister and not the head of state,” Philip  urges his troubled wife.

But we who have watched all ten episodes of The Crown know it is not as simple as that.  Elizabeth Windsor is now Elizabeth Regina; her role as Queen has altogether subsumed her life.

Sadly this magnificent series, beautifully acted, superbly written, splendidly produced (I’m running out of superlatives) is only available on Netflix.   It should be on the BBC but the BBC could never afford the £100 million production cost.

The upside is that you can view it whenever you want but Jacqui and I resisted the temptation – unlike one-time BBC Royal Correspondent Jennie Bond – to binge watch it.  We disciplined ourselves to one episode an evening.

But as Ms Bond reports “For all their privilege, luxury and cosseting, few of us would change places with the royals and swim in their goldfish bowl. In The Crown, we see how the palace machine takes over Elizabeth’s life from the moment her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated.”

However, you could argue that this lavish production undermines the Monarchy even as it praises it.   As an institution it is unrivalled in how our country is governed.  Very few of us would want a republic.  The problem is what the Crown does to the people who find themselves having to wear it.

This Monday we watched a film with a surprisingly similar theme but at the very other end of the social spectrum.   Ken Loach’s “I Daniel Blake,” being shown at FACT in Liverpool.

Here we follow the unfolding tragedy of a middle-aged widower who following a near-fatal heart attack becomes destitute by an impersonal DWP. So well acted, like The Crown, you think you are watching a documentary.

Moreover, the people involved are all very reasonable, even kind.   You can see the genuine concern of the DWP benefits advisor while the police handle a difficult situation very well.  The problem – as Loach would have it – is the System which forces decent folk to follow procedures and which blunts their humanity.

I wasn’t convinced.  I kept thinking “Just fill in the form, Daniel!”  As a production I found it too propagandist while the ending allows Loach a cheap vindication.

But like we see good people caught up in an system which is bigger than they are.  The danger is that they are held captive by the expectations of others, dehumanized by a whole set of administrative procedures.

“You either go along with the system – conform to what is expected to be a hit – or you have very tough going,” observes screenwriter Budd Schulberg.

In many ways Jesus was crucified by the System, by a whole group of men acting in role: Caiaphas as high priest, Pontius Pilate as prefect of the Roman province of Judaea and the unnamed centurion who oversaw the crucifixion detail.

So Caiaphas justifies his actions to his  council: “You do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” (John 11:50)

But at the same time it was more than just the system.  Each player has personal responsibility.

Just carrying out orders is not an adequate defence, witness the Nuremberg trials.  Pilate, no doubt wanting an easy life, failed to stand up to the Jerusalem establishment.   Moreover, “he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over.” (Mark 15:10).

For we are answerable to God for what we do:  we cannot simply blame our upbringing or our environment.   As I read this morning:  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due to us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (1 Corinthians 5:10).

And yet there is a sense that we face forces bigger and more powerful than ourselves, powers embedded in human affairs.  So the apostle Paul can write that “our struggle is . .  against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  (Ephesians 6:10).

Tom Wright writes (as I read yesterday in Paul and the Faithfulness of God): “Behind that (Adam’s trespass), though again never explained, there are powers at work that apparently seek to thwart the creator’s plan and that need to be overcome.”

“That much is clear from the promises about what will be put right, which also include the assurance that the forces which at present threaten to destroy the cosmos and thereby to undo the creator’s work, will themselves be defeated, indeed in a measure have already been defeated though the achievement of the Messiah”. (page 476)

In other words “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  (Romans 8:37).  We can thrive in any environment when we claim Christ’s victory, we may be empowered by the Holy Spirit even in our helplessness.  Nothing, not even the Roman Empire, can impede the Kingdom of God.

I’m not sure about Daniel Blake but this is certainly the case for our Queen.  As she shared in her Christmas broadcast of 2000: “For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.”

And that makes all the difference.