Season 3 of The Crown dropped on Netflix on Sunday (17 November), and the world went mad Googling to fact-check historical accuracy, and articles warned of spoilers far more than they’ve ever done for fictional series in which we don’t actually know what’s going to happen.
Liberties have been taken, and timelines have inevitably been condensed: while this is a portrayal of the British royal family and the circumstances surrounding them, what happens behind closed doors is anyone’s guess. But if you’re going to watch and treat this like a purely fictional piece of work – which you certainly can – then there are indeed spoilers ahead. You don’t absolutely have to watch the previous two seasons, but do it anyway – it’s great television.
The all-new cast is frightfully good
The life and times of Queen Elizabeth II resume in 1964 and the 10 episodes take us to 1977, when the monarch celebrated her Silver Jubilee – 25 years on the throne, and a time of reflection for her as the once-great country she rules seems to be crumbling.
She’s doubting herself and her family’s place in the world, especially after an ill-conceived TV documentary intended to present the family in a favourable light, doing “normal” things to prove their worth to the tax-paying Britons who support them. It fell short of its mark.
Olivia Colman assumes the role of Queen Elizabeth, taking over seamlessly from Claire Foy. It’s an interesting concept to choose different actors rather than age them with makeup, special effects and/or prosthetics, and it’s certainly to the benefit of the series. The long-term plan is to do this for all the cast members in future seasons.
Fun fact: the only actor who appeared in Seasons 1, 2 and 3 is John Lithgow, who played Winston Churchill.
Colman is, of course, brilliant; we expected nothing less. Helena Bonham Carter plays wild, vivacious yet troubled younger sister, Princess Margaret, whose marriage to Lord Snowden is in tatters, and Tobias Menzies is outstanding as Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, husband to the Queen. His performance captures all the pompous, heavy-footed blundering for which he is unfortunately known, and a fair amount of awkward waffling.
The Crown is already well-known for matching actors with uncanny resemblances to the real-life characters they portray. Sometimes this is physical, sometimes it’s the way they talk, or mannerisms, or something almost indefinable and magical. While we can appreciate (say it with an “s” sound on the C, like the Queen does) these performances, in this season it’s the ones who play the children who shine the brightest.
Erin Doherty enters Philip’s study (after he inadvertently broadcasts his summoning of her as “Sweetie” over the entire palace’s PA system) and is immediately recognisable as Princess Anne. She continues to be outspoken and often cynical throughout her scenes, and she is integral in a significant storyline of Season 3 – the budding relationship between her brother Charles and Camilla Shand (Emerald Fennell), and the polo mallet in the works, Andrew Parker-Bowles (Andrew Buchan).
See where it all began, and went wrong, for Charles and Camilla
Popular opinion has it that Camilla was the wicked witch in Charles and Diana’s marriage, but the storyline in The Crown suggests she was in fact Charles’s first true love, dispatched through the meddling of Lord Mountbatten (Charles Dance, Game of Thrones) and the Queen Mother (Marion Bailey). Emma Corrin will appear as Diana in Season 4.
Charles is played to sheer perfection by Josh O’Connor (The Durrells). Sure, the ears help, but it’s way more than that. What a pleasure to watch such incredible, nuanced acting. Some of the characters get their “own” episodes in which the focus is on them more than others; Charles’s investiture as the Prince Of Wales, and how he learned to speak Welsh for a bit, is one of the more touching ones.
Find out about the Queen’s biggest regret
But for the most harrowing – and superbly constructed – episode of Season 3, look no further than episode 3, Aberfan, which also takes place in Wales. In October 1966, the village was nearly destroyed after a colliery waste tip collapsed.
“An avalanche of slurry buried Pantglas Junior School in Aberfan just one day before the school was scheduled to go on a half-term break. The disaster resulted in 144 deaths, 116 of whom were children. The incident, the Queen’s delayed response – she waited a full eight days before she finally visited Aberfan – and the strong emotional sentiments surrounding the tragic event were portrayed as accurately as possible,” writes Janice Williams, Newsweek.
Queen Elizabeth’s emotions – or apparent lack thereof – have been called into question on many occasions (like when Princess Diana died), and this tragedy evokes introspection on her part (in the series, at least), concluding with the postscript that it remains her biggest regret.
The Crown is classy television that shows us we’re still very much in the glory days of streaming.