The People's Princess and The Iron Lady
Can you really call them spoilers if they're history?
The Crown has been a staple of Netflix's catalogue for four years, spanning 43 years of Queen Elizabeth II's rule to date. Season four welcomes us once again into the hallowed halls of Buckingham Palace, Balmoral, and Kensington, as well as Downing Street to see the happenings of history with an eye on the royal family and its government. While we cannot be certain of the complete accuracy of character, the show has ten full-time researchers on the series to ensure it's always grounded in solid history.
It is important, before talking of themes or historical events, to address the casting for this season of The Crown. Every season has brought an unequivocally spectacular collection of actors to our screens. This season is no different with Olivia Coleman and Tobias Menzies reprising their roles of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip respectively, while Helena Bonham Carter returns as the enigmatic Princess Margaret. Josh O'Connor and Erin Doherty also return as Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
Two new characters, who we have seen across every piece of advertising, are Princess Diana, played by the astonishing Emma Corrin and Margaret Thatcher, played by Gillian Anderson. Corrin has a very short filmography to speak of, most notably DC's Pennyworth, but I do believe that will be changing very shortly for her. With the iconic swept fringe and coy smile, Corrin has embraced everything that the nation loved about Diana and her relationship with Charles, while also highlighting her struggles.
A major theme that runs through the core of this season is sadness and isolation. Every character, even if surrounded by those who love them, is sad in some way. Diana is the embodiment of this. She is abandoned by Charles for six weeks before their wedding, in Buckingham Palace of all places, where she is still learning the rules of court and her role as a princess. This is enough to make anyone feel unhappy, and alone.
As a coping mechanism, Diana turns to the one thing she can control, food. Seeing Diana's struggle was hard to watch, visceral and uncomfortable, but important to understand that even those who seem outwardly strong can suffer. Netflix has been extra vigilant to make the episodes where this features known with a card at the start of the episode.
Equally suffering, albeit for different reasons, Anderson's Margaret Thatcher begins the season forming a new government of men who seem hell-bent to tear her down. Add that to a royal family who submit her a rigorous and humiliating Balmoral Test, and it becomes possible to see how Mrs Thatcher would have deemed herself somewhat isolated.
The representation of Margaret Thatcher sits on the centre line of public opinion, much as the Queen does. As a conservative party leader and Prime Minister, Thatcher is a divisive character. The Crown is careful to show both sides of the "Iron Lady" rather than paint her as either a saint or sinner. Anderson plays her with the traditional clipped coldness we have all come to know through recorded footage. The plot, meanwhile, has provided moments of softness for even the most liberal to feel a little bit of sympathy for her, such as when her son goes missing, or even when her party turn against her.
One element that doesn't seem to be dividing the public, at least on Twitter, is that of Charles' treatment of Diana. The general consensus from a quick search of "Prince Charles" on the social media site is that, despite almost 15 years attempting to elevate and maintain his personal image, Netflix have arrived to remind everyone of the kind of husband he was. That is not to say that Diana was entirely free of fault, but when a husband has cheated on his wife from the moment they were married, it is hard to see how her few flings could be seen in the same ballpark.
A friend of the senior royal, speaking with Tatler, called The Crown: "trolling with a Hollywood budget" while Dan Wooton of talkRADIO had this to say on Twitter: "Can’t believe Prince Charles’ mates and staff are moaning about The Crown. What was Netflix meant to do? Pretend he wasn’t a horrible husband to Princess Diana who treated a naive 20-year-old like dirt before cheating on her consistently and brazenly with Camilla? THAT HAPPENED!"
Within all this nasty business of sadness and poor mental health, there are some moments of lightness. Watching Queen Elizabeth and Philip relieve their trip to Australia in 1954 on the projector, Charles and Diana at a ball in Sydney and Margaret telling Thatcher that she ought to take some time off to gather a sense of perspective come to mind. This period of time for the Royal family was not a particularly happy one, it would seem, but there are moments that cut through the gloom to bring about a smile.
Other historical events that arise in this season are the Falklands War, the discovery of close, hidden, relatives, the IRA and Michael Fagan breaking into Buckingham Palace (which is my favourite episode of the season). There is eleven years spanned in one season, and thus several events, namely due to Thatcher's government, were eliminated such as the miner's strikes, the IRA bombing in Brighton and the Westland Affair. While it is important that these elements are remembered in political history, their eradication from the season is simply due to the fact that it is not directly linked to the reigning monarchy.
Another event excluded is the wedding between Charles and Diana. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Josh O'Connor said: "Charles and Diana have to be a certain way on their wedding day, you don't see the nuance; whereas when it's behind closed doors, [like] the rehearsal, we have more license to create and fictionalize."
By depriving us of the actual wedding ceremony, we are forced to remember the isolation and trauma of the lead up to their marriage without it being overshadowed the pomp and circumstance of the fairytale wedding. Besides, if anyone wished to see the ceremony in full, it's available here.
Overall, there is a much darker cloud cast over season four of The Crown. Everyone appears to be lost, as the Queen herself states about her own children. There's no denying that the hindsight of Diana's death looms over the season too, with every joyous moment made bitter, knowing her demise. However, for every moment of tragedy there is distraction or joy, found in the wondrous acting, beautiful scenery and set design, or costuming, even down to the music throughout the season. Season four simply proves why The Crown is such an asset to Netflix.
Season four of The Crown streaming now on Netflix.
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