Claire Foy and Matt Smith, who play Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in period drama “The Crown,” aren’t keen on the prospect of wearing prosthetics to play older versions of their characters. (Nov. 22)

No Winston Churchill? No problem. 

The Crown, Netflix’s chronicle of the reign of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, returns Friday (★ ★ ★ out of four) without John Lithgow’s performance as Winston Churchill, which won the series an Emmy. Lithgow’s performance was strong and stunning, but The Crown was never about Churchill. And Season 2 does just fine without him, thank you very much. 

The new season follows Elizabeth (the ever-excellent Claire Foy) and the royal family from roughly 1956 through 1964, as Elizabeth settles into her reign and Britain begins its transformation from the Edwardian empire of her father to a more modern society, with different ideas about the role of its sovereign. It is a season defined by tension: between the old and the new, married people, ex-lovers, sisters, countries and between a people and their queen. It is nearly as masterful as Season 1, and might even have out-paced it if the series had given more screen time to Foy and avoided some unnecessarily pedantic episodes later in the season.

More: Behind the scenes of ‘The Crown’ Season 2

The Crown retains the drama and intrigue, luxe costuming and Foy’s withering glares. The new episodes, which sometimes jump around in time and cover years in a single hour, are structured more thematically than chronologically. American viewers can’t be faulted for looking up some of the quintessentially British events and players depicted (though John F. and Jackie Kennedy show up).

The season turns its focus away from Elizabeth a bit too often, and lacks as deep a portrait of her as it does some of those around her, affording her less sympathy and less self-reflection. But this may be unavoidable as she’s now an older, more assured Queen, one who more resembles the monarch we know, though still often mysterious. The Crown, although thoroughly detailed and researched, remains a piece of informed speculation rather than history. 

Still, it’s a bit of a shame that Foy didn’t get to do more in her final season on the series (she will be succeeded by Oliva Colman in later…