The Crown (2016) tracks the lives of the royal family of England through the eyes of Queen Elizabeth II and every two seasons, changes to an entirely new cast to accurately represent the stage of the lives of its characters. After three critically acclaimed seasons, full of awards and praise, it would have been easy for a show to rest on its laurels. However, the general consensus was that season 3 had been the weakest so far, but the time period that was approaching for season 4 promised a seismic change, full of drama and intrigue, and that is what got.
The 1980s were an incredibly seismic time for Britain, and the entire world, with this having a direct impact on and occasionally being a result of, the Royal Family. There was the Falklands War, Thatcher’s dismantling of the working class and resulting mass unemployment, the wedding and resultant marriage of Charles and Diana, the Aids epidemic, the IRA attacks and much more, so Peter Morgan all of a sudden has a lot of ground to cover. Some of those topics he gives a lot less time to than others, but the way in which he weaves together the narrative is very impressive, and it is even more impressive that in many ways he uses the previous seasons of the show as an almost unofficial villain origin story for the Royal family, who now firmly take their place as a mob like organisation.
From a purely technical point of view, The Crown has always been the very pinnacle of Television ever since it launched, with remarkable production and costume designs to really make you feel the grand nature of the life the royal family lead. The cinematography is continuously impressive, with the image being the most crisp and high definition of any of TV right now, and in particular a scene this season with Charles and Elizabeth in the Palace, as fireworks explode outside, is visually stunning.
The performances across the board are superb, with the entire ensemble really shining in their roles and providing just the support that the main cast needed, with the likes of Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter, and Emerald Fennell particularly standing out, and really stepping up when they had the time to shine. However, the show focuses very much of four perspectives and it is those four actors that really shine.
Gillian Anderson takes on the incredibly difficult role of milk snatching Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and as well as taking on a strong physical transformation, with both her posture and voice completely becoming Thatcher. Sometimes performances like this can stray too much into straight up imitation and not allow for a real performance, and I do feel at times this happens here with Anderson. However, when she is alone with Olivia Colman’s Elizabeth, she absolutely comes into her own and watching these two powerhouses go at each other is a joy to behold, and real won me around on this portrayal. There is a definite concern with Thatcher that she will be overly ‘humanised’ despite the pain she caused, but the show brilliantly starts like that and then quickly shows you her real side as her tenure continues.
Olivia Colman, one of the finest actors of her generation, is again superb in the central role of The Queen, and the best thing she does is embrace how hardened and cruel Elizabeth has become by this point of her reign. Claire Foy portrayed a character much more-full of heart and youthful ignorance, but Colman’s Elizabeth is far from that and even though she is given moments of vulnerability, a lot of her scenes act as almost the antagonist of the season, putting her role as Sovereign ahead of the happiness of her family and loved ones. Colman was completely perfect in this role.
Josh O’Connor, the talented young star of God’s Own Country (2017), returns again in the role of Prince Charles after spending season 3 as the emotional heart of the show and a very sympathetic figure. The same cannot be said here though, as he increasingly becomes self-centred and treats Diana with growing contempt, becoming an antagonistic figure, with O’Connor not afraid to lean into that. What he does brilliantly is he makes Charles into a fully rounded person, with his insecurities clear to see and his attempted cries for help continuously rejected by his parents, leaving him in a marriage he did not want, and a life he is unhappy leading. One of the finest young British actors working today.
The real stand-out star here is newcomer Emma Corrin in the role of Princess Diana. At the time of her death, it was reported that Diana was the most photographed woman in the world, and arguably the most famous, so anyone taking on that role has a huge task ahead of them because everyone has so many pre-established ideas and conceptions of who she was. Corrin takes her on a journey from teenager who falls for a Prince to the peoples Princess stuck inside an unhappy and adulterous marriage. Corrin brings a real kindness and vulnerability to Diana that makes you immediately root for her through everything she goes through, and in her brutal and accurate portrayal of Diana’s eating disorder, she shines. However, as the season goes on, she also starts to show off the famous Diana the world got to know as she grew more confident, and Corrin manages to pull focus in scenes with stars like Colman and O’Connor, which is incredibly difficult to do. Elizabeth Debicki will take on the role for the next season, and she has a real challenge to match the heights Corrin reached.
Overall, this is the best season of The Crown and was one of the finest pieces of TV of 2020. It perfectly used the storytelling and character developments it had established in three seasons of TV, and switches it on its head to reveal a complete other side to the characters we knew and in doing so, reveals a dark heart of the Royal family.
Rating = 4/5