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The Crown review

Credit: Netflix Streaming Services

In the third season of ‘The Crown’, Queen Elizabeth II listens to a recording and, begins to cry. But she is the Queen, someone who must appear firm and display no emotion. But when the aftermath of the Aberfan disaster hits too close for her to ‘show’ real emotion, she seems visibly worried. Has she forgotten how to feel? She realizes that her entitlement to the throne had made her rigid, and that she cannot cry at all. But at the end of episode 3- quite effortlessly one of the most heartbreaking moments appear. For a brief but resolute moment, she manages to bring out that elusive tear. She cries privately, but when she does, it has the effect of a dynamo. Colman inhabits this scene with such control and strength, it manages to dig out sensations of a lifetime. There are many such moments where Colman is just a passive reactor to the unfolding situations, and although she imbues each scene with a dazzling sensitivity, it is here that she seems to own it fully.

Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ is one of the most expensive series ever made, with its two earlier seasons sumptuously met with audiences and critics alike. Peter Morgan’s epoch-spanning chronicle of a monarchy reached Season 3 with a new cast, Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II, Helena Bonham Carter as her sister Princess Margaret and Tobias Menzis as her husband Prince Philip. For anyone who is acquainted with the show’s last two seasons, will realize how the new season has evolved in terms of tone and preoccupations- not just in the new cast, but how the real-life monarchs that are portrayed have now settled. Season 3 begins in the mid-1960s with Queen Elizabeth II now being a “settled sovereign”, in control of her position. The major element of conflict that arises is the advent of modernism- the binary between tradition and duty, individual and the state.

What makes ‘The Crown’ so accomplished still is how it chooses to narrate incidents without necessarily occupying a tendency of political presuppositions. Peter Morgan places his characters before the situations, evolving them as individuals first, royals thereafter. Each episode in Season 3 has a different taste, a new preposition for a character- “Moondust” becomes Philip-centric in his brooding dissatisfaction and then grows into becoming a sensitive regard for science and religion to merge and achieve meaning and “Margetology” revolves around Princess Margaret’s (a fiery, vivacious Helena Bonham Carter) lavish tour of the US. Special mention to “Bubbikins” for its deeply felt realization of a forgotten Royal member that has one of the most poignant moments in the history of The Crown’s legacy. But it is Josh O’Connor’s standout act as the shy, vulnerable and sensitive young Prince of Wales that is one of this season’s rounded achievement.

Credit: Netflix Streaming Services

Although Morgan’s script here feels more of a rounded embroidery of distinct events and personal legacies, what distinguishes the third season is how even the tone changes. The visuals that are shot interiors are mostly in muted colours, and only when the camera faces outside the hallways of Buckingham Palace, the focus is matched to a certain penchant for brighter shades. The costume designer Jane Petrie, uses the Queen’s wardrobe to offer a sense of someone who is no more relatable. Whereas for Princess Margaret, the colours are always vibrant and colorful, as is reflective of her freedom and indulgence. Martin Childs, the show’s original production designer has a vast array of space to reflect- from  Princess Margaret’s grand tour of the U.S. to the Apollo moon landing to the harrowing Aberfan disaster. Reportedly, with around 400 sets, Childs faithfully recreates the oversized interiors and amasses a singular achievement in terms of local prop houses to symbolize the  working class. The immaculate level of detailing in the replication of the classroom where the Aberfan disaster unfolds onscreen is absolutely stunning.

‘The Crown’ never critiques monarchy in a way that is must exist or not, but views it from a position that unsteadily interrogates its firmness. The attempts at maneuvering the present to create less wreckage from a personal acquisition reveals less as much as it celebrates. The larger perspective on the family as real people is what singularly works here, to a point that Season 3 feels more like an ensemble piece than the Elizabeth-driven first two seasons. With its ten episodes an hour long, Netflix has taken the premise further, serving for more thoughtful viewing. It is a sensitive and dazzling achievement.

Santanu Das

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