After a historical interest disconnect of the first two and a half seasons, The Crown hit its stride towards the end of season three. Whereas earlier episodes were retrogressive, suddenly there are specifically remembered events or characters inserted into the narrative. Season 4 is, for the most part, dominated by the Royal Family’s relationship with two women – Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) and Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin).
As Queen Elizabeth, Olivia Colman remains her indubitable self, faced as she is with the assassination of her uncle, Lord Mountbatten (Charles Dance) along with the challenge not only of a somewhat forceful new prime minister but the ongoing saga of Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Camilla Parker-Bowles (Emerald Fennell). Not even the eventual marriage between Charles and Diana puts to rest the relationship between the two.
Written by Peter Morgan, The Crown is an enthralling, salacious royal soap opera of epic proportions as the private rooms at Buckingham Palace, Balmoral, Highgrove, Kensington Palace and the like become the settings for intrigue, domestic pettiness and full blown arguments. Charles and Diana’s marriage falls apart as both transgress outside the royal bedchambers and with the future King of England struggling with the immense popularity of his estranged wife. Service and duty at all costs is Queen Elizabeth’s maxim: she struggles to understand the personal emotional needs of her eldest son and daughter-in-law, in spite of the failed marriages of her sister, Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) and daughter, Princess Anne (Erin Doherty) in her immediate vicinity. And if her family is not enough, the Queen is somewhat concerned about Thatcher’s policies in the country and a dismissive attitude towards the Commonwealth.
It’s a fun ride as we see past the facade of public life and into the (projected) concerns and conversations of the Windsors and the government of the day. Those returning family members – and Colman, O’Connor and Bonham-Crater in particular – continue the excellence of the series’ ensemble and Gillian Anderson adds to that depth. Only Emma Corrin unbalances the whole as a somewhat simpering and petulant Lady Diana. It’ll be some time before Season 5 but Elizabeth Debicki taking on the doomed princess role will add significant gravitas to the role and series as a whole.