Throughout the last three seasons of The Crown, the acclaimed Netflix show has managed to portray the British Monarchy with clear-headed proximity and consciousness. The latest 10 episode season continues its dramatisation of the Queen Elizabeth II, taking off from 1979 and ending at 1990. The main cast, accordingly, has remained the same from Season 3, with Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies returning as Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, Josh O’Connor and Erin Doherty as Princess Charles and Princess Anne respectively. This time around, they are joined by two formidable icons, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana- derailing ideas and dismantling age-old traditions of royalty to make the ballsiest, most ravishing series yet.
The focus, as evident in the often deliberately palpable interplay of metaphors and themes in Peter Morgan’s screenplay, has always remained on the institution. In this season too, the episodic structure remains playfully close to the monarch, or at least tries to. ‘Fagan’ and ‘Favourites’ (a play on Colman’s Academy winning act in ‘The Favourite’) belong to Colman’s Queen, and she gives a surprisingly distant, refined performance this time around. But bless her heart, it is Diana that takes the ball.
Keeping in tandem with her real life persona of a natural show-stealer, The Crown’s Princess Diana has an equally electrifying presence. Played by Emma Corrin with incandescence and poise, she is the star of this season, taking hold of the core tenderness of Diana perfectly, switching from innocent and playful to lost and achingly vulnerable with tremendous poise. The Crown covers her initial years before becoming a princess with clarity, and storms onto the image as a princess with delicious dramatisation. “Fairytale” and “Avalanche” belong just to Diana, just as “The Balmoral Test” and “Terra Nullius”. The episodes are exacting in their precision, moving from one scene to another without any iota of chasm. It seems as if the creators fully understand that this time around, they have finally come to the better part of history, as so much of it is still ingrained in our cultural memory. We all know where it leads to.
The cue here is keeping a balance. With Diana, the creators have to keep in touch with the other imprints of the British history too, and it is here where Margaret Thatcher arrives. In Anderson’s hands however, Thatcher becomes somewhat of an old puzzle- the voice, the hairdo- everything is matched from toe to toe, and yet, Anderson’s performance falls short of a transformation. In “The Balmoral Test” and “48:1” we observe how nonchalantly Thatcher stands her own ground and effectively creates her own rules. The episodes are brilliant in giving us a peek into a more tethering, funny Thatcher, as with the blistering and chilling side- Anderson marvelously does the low curtsies to the Queen, and her gait is just as precise. The scenes that involve a face-off between the Queen and the Prime Minister (and there are many) are a delight- packed with quiet explosions of their differences and ethics.
Whereas most shows try to cram in as much as possible, The Crown headlines some of the most smartest narrative choices. The one that would top in this season would be to not dramatise the richly scrutinized royal wedding, but to leave it just there. We know exactly what took place on that day, so that does not require any further information there. Instead the assassination of Lord Mountbatten, the pre-wedding lunch of Diana with Camilla (an apt Emerald Fennell), the bulimia that Diana suffers from, and the war over the Falkland Islands- make for terrific interpretations. Particularly unsparing is “The Hereditary Principle” where royal secrets/cousins are taken out of the shadow. Unsurprisingly, it ticks all the usual departments with style- Amy Roberts’ costumes are magnificent, and the original soundtrack of Martin Phipps give the episodes a dizzying swell.
Needless to say, with this season Netflix has struck nothing less of a sensation. Benjamin Caron’s assured direction is richly mounted and framed with breathtaking eye for colour- one can only imagine how well The Crown would make for gorgeously long, late-night viewings. Aided with a vastly brilliant supporting cast- Josh O’Connor and Helena Bonham Carter warrant special attention here, this season is unarguably the best yet. As with fine television, it leaves us with good old drama- and a lot to savour to. The questions it asks through the time it chooses to represent are painfully resonant still now- the price one pays for putting duty over choice, the relevance of an institution, and the choice to break out. How far have we come ahead from these fundamental questions? Are these figures for adulation, for striving towards an ideal- or are they a reflection of the most basic of our conscious framework?
One can only anticipate how the next cast will roll in with the next season. Till then, savour it and ask these questions.