Olivia Colman quiets fears that the Netflix epic would be any less beguiling, as we all peep behind the curtains of Buckingham Palace at the Royal Family once more.
Starring Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Daniels, Jason Watkins, Marion Bailey, Erin Doherty, Jane Lapotaire, Charles Dance, Josh O’Connor, Geraldine Chaplin, Michael Maloney, Emerald Fennell, and Andrew Buchan.
I must confess, Claire Foy turning into Olivia Colman is a very bizarre transition to happen within a year. Furthermore, I know that Matt Smith has previous experience of this, but regenerating into Tobias Menzies was a bit much, wasn’t it? It’s certainly a large visual change that has happened within a year, and, in some cases, a rather jarring personality change that comes along with it, but if you ignore the little amount of time that has transpired between the seasons, The Crown is just as brilliant as it ever was, if not even more so. While season 2 was mainly entrenched within Philip’s cheating scandal, and the drama between the two royals, this season definitely focuses more upon the family as a whole and the weight and constraints that being a royal places upon its members.
What Went Well
The production value: The Crown looks as gorgeous as ever. I vaguely seem to recall that The Crown is the most expensive TV show ever made, and I honestly believe it. The level of detail and precision that is put into every single set, as well as the costumes are painstaking. Every royal room looks absolutely stunning, and it’s a joy watching for that alone.
Characterisation: This is technically three different points, but they all come under the same overall umbrella about the brilliant storylines that the characters face throughout this season due to the weight that the crown bears down upon them.
Prince Charles: In the hands of Josh O’Connor, Charles is turned into a deeply sympathetic figure. It is very easy nowadays to remember Charles in relation to Diana and demonise him, but here he is presented as genuinely striving to do what is best for his people. He speaks about the constraints that he feels within his role, feeling almost redundant, or that he is waiting, but the event that he is waiting and hoping for is similarly a moment of dread, as his ascension to the throne – his purpose for being, as he views it – entails the death of his mother. It’s a truly bizarre situation, and one that has always fascinated me, that the event that truly confers purpose is also one that is tinged with so much sadness, and yet the tone of a coronation is always celebratory instead of commiseratory. His interactions with Camila towards the end of the season are brilliant in giving him something to fight towards, as well as highlighting the somewhat toxic nature of the crown, as higher powers seek to divide the union by instead setting up Charles with Diana (which I’m sure will work out splendidly).
Prince Philip: Prince Philip, who has been shown to struggle with his role before, especially his role as the subservient and “lesser” to Elizabeth (but who wouldn’t be Claire Foy/Olivia Colman’s bitch?), is for the most part a complete dickhead. Unremittingly so, in fact. In one episode, however, some humanity is afforded to him as he encounters his midlife crisis and confesses that he feels lost. It’s a nice moment of being genuine, but it still doesn’t remove the fact that this is also the man who complains to the press about having to sell a palace, as if somehow this is meant to attract sympathy from the masses. However, he is wonderfully played by Menzies.
Helena Bonham Carter: Princess Margaret’s story is a massive highlight of the season. We start to see underneath Margaret’s party girl veneer as her marriage dramatically crumbles. We also delve into her history, as someone who longed to be Queen and constantly lives within the shadow of her sister. She goes against convention by being the more relatable royal, allowing the country to gain an important economic deal with the Americans. Within every room, she commands attention, yet struggles to keep her marriage together. When she turns to her family to support, she is the subject of derision. One of the best scenes of the season is when Elizabeth visits Margaret following her suicide attempt, and cries, admitting that Margaret is the single most important thing to her. It’s a brilliant moment of vulnerability from both sisters, and sorely needed.
Princess Anne: She is a sassy bitch and I love it. The rebellious second-generation royal, who goes around having casual sex and talks in a superb accent. We just have to stan. Erin Doherty is my spirit animal. As you were.
Aberfan: The third episode of the season revolves around the real-life disaster that occurred in the Welsh mining village of Aberfan in October 1966. What unfolds is genuinely affecting and harrowing. Focusing upon the lives of the children and the families within this small town before the disaster strikes is a very bold move, and I felt like I was holding my breath for the entire episode. It also nicely highlights the extent to which Elizabeth has started to hide behind her crown, and become embedded within her policies and the role that she plays, losing some of her focus upon the public and what they need from her.
Even Better If
More Elizabeth: The scenes involving Colman battling with her morals, while being constrained by her position are some of the most powerful and heartbreaking, but they are all too few. We rarely see behind her steely exterior, and spend most of this series feeling alienated from Elizabeth and her actions. After all, it is her show, but this season has definitely tipped the lens away from our central figure and towards the other members of the family. Which I suppose is related to my next point…
Middle Age: Our main characters have reached middle age. With it has come a more assured nature to their role within the royal family. There is little to fight against and to resist here, and lots of those aspects fall to Charles to perform. There’s little in the way of interpersonal drama here, instead it more revolves around specific historical events.
Foreshadowing: The Crown benefits from being presented as one long story, allowing creatives the time to properly plot out a season before it being ready for public consumption. It is curious, therefore, that large plot elements, such as Camila and Charles, with her later being married off to Andrew, are handled so quickly. Additionally, Margaret’s storyline is largely crammed into the second and the tenth episodes, with very little development in between, which is surprising considering the high peak to which this storyline culminates. It might have been nicer for some of these bigger storyline elements to have been interweaved with the rest of the season for a better effect.
Abrupt change: All of the cast here portray these characters brilliantly at this stage of their life. However, their beginning portrayal seems a far cry from where we left the characters at the end of Season 2. Were there to have been a significant time between the two seasons, this would make some sense. However, since it is, in actuality, only a year or so between, it seems somewhat jarring for this to have occurred. A brilliant portrayal, but slightly stilted when looked at as an overall narrative.
The Crown is currently airing on Netflix. Season 3 was released on November 17th 2019.