Season 4 of one of Netflix’s shining jewels, which covers the life of Queen Elizabeth II from 1977 to 1990, retains its lustre but the throne is on shaky ground after the explosive hit of The Queen’s Gambit.
After that headiness, one has to rearrange oneself to become immersed in the plummy, bratty, spoilt, troubled, cold, ceremonial and often dysfunctional British royal family.
Olivia Colman takes her second run at the role of the Queen, and with these tumultuous 13 years in history, she often seems to fade into the background a bit, while others’ stories are brought to the forefront. It was the time of Charles and Diana (and Camilla of course) so those relationships take up a large amount of screen time. So too does the country’s first woman Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
The soundtrack reflects the mood of the country perfectly, with closing credits rolling to the likes of Stand Down Margaret by The English Beat and Inglan Is A Bitch by Linton Kewsi Johnson, while Princess Diana dances alone to David Bowie.
The storytelling is deft in that the tales are not woven in a chronological documentary style, which can be dull. For example, after Mrs Thatcher mentions to the Queen that she has a favourite child (of her twins, shock!), QEII is quite taken aback. When Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) laughs – as much as one can with a hot potato in one’s mouth – at her reaction and tells her she too has her favourite and he knows who it is, she undertakes to spend one-on-one time with each of her offspring to try figure it out, while they in turn are suspicious of her motives for wanting this unusual closeness.
There are so many truths we’ll never know, but that doesn’t get in the way of The Crown being firmly grounded in recorded events with dollops of dramatisation to keep viewers engrossed.
Gillian Anderson plays Margaret Thatcher; the often strained relationship between these two female heads of state is worried at like a hangnail, and I can’t help but wonder if Thatcher’s deep and slow curtseys were awkward or passive aggressive.
I’m too young to remember what she sounded like, but the look is spot on, uncannily so. As for that voice, well no wonder she wasn’t popular with the people of Great Britain. Jokes aside, her politics didn’t warm the population to her, and unemployment sky rocketed during her time at No 10. This too becomes an episode, with the story of Michael Fagan (played by Tom Brooke), who managed without too much apparent effort, to gain access to Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom at Buckingham Palace in 1982, not once but twice. All he wanted to do was be heard, and it comes across as rather tragic.
At this point it’s good to remember that most of this series is speculation. Moments in history are captured of course, but the private conversations behind closed doors are little more than hearsay and rumours. Did Elizabeth, Princess Anne, Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter, who gets her own episode too) and the Queen Mother (Marion Bailey coming across as a real battle-axe in this season) really have a conversation about Charles and Diana before the wedding, with the younger royals saying it was a dreadful idea and it should be stopped, and the Queen Mother saying “nonsense, it’s how it is and she must learn to get used to it” – or words to that effect, on the Camilla situation?
Perhaps. Maybe the Queen did in fact have some empathy for her daughter-in-law as her unhappiness and hysteria increased proportionately, even as she wooed the world and overshadowed sulky Charles.
There are so many truths we’ll never know, but that doesn’t get in the way of The Crown being firmly grounded in recorded events with dollops of dramatisation to keep viewers engrossed. At the same time, it veers away from the too obvious and the overdone; we see different parts of the fairytale wedding of the century, and more often than not, the visuals are so nuanced and merely hinted at that you feel you are watching the real thing.
Emma Corrin doesn’t really look like Diana, but she has that shy looking-at-you-under-her-fringe move down, and the speech too. The costumes are familiar outfits photographed a million times and circulated around the world so as to be as recognisable as our own wardrobes. Josh O’Connor (The Durrells) still steals the show as Charles, even if the character is wholly unsympathetic at this time.
We meet Andrew (Tom Byrne) and Edward (Angus Imrie) in this season, and there’s a horrifyingly sleazy moment when Prince Andrew tells Mummy about his latest girlfriend Koo Stark’s role in a film (Cruel Passion).
Princess Anne (Erin Doherty) is the perceptive one, displaying surprising insight into her siblings’ lives. Emerald Fennell as Camilla Parker Bowles is another triumph of casting, hairstyling and direction, as is Jessica Aquilina as Sarah Ferguson, the fleeting glimpses we get of her.
“It does not feel like a coincidence that the first season of The Crown to cast Elizabeth in between two potent female characters is also the first season of The Crown during which Elizabeth becomes really interesting. In fading into the background a little, she paradoxically becomes more distinct,” says Vulture, headlining its review with “The Crown Has Finally Gotten To The Good Stuff”.