Ah, the monarchy. Whether you love it, hate it, or just think it’s weird that it still exists, both real and reel versions are inescapable. The Netflix series The Crown is back for a third season, with all the old palace intrigue and pursed lips, but a new and better cast.
Olivia Coleman portrays a Queen more settled in her role. Compared to the previous seasons, there is far less conflict between her as a person and the Crown, and, thankfully, fewer depressing scenes involving people raining on her parade. Her relationship with PM Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins) is surprisingly good. Unfortunately, one’s attention drifts off very quickly when the focus shifts from Elizabeth and turns to her horses. Helena Bonham Carter’s Princess Margaret stands out amid a stellar cast; she is this season’s highlight. Her caustic personality makes for delightful watching in the two episodes dedicated to her.
Season three covers a lot of time, spanning 1964-1977: from the Aberfan tragedy and Prince Charles’ investiture to the moon landing, economic crises, and a bizarre attempted coup. Rather than a flowing narrative, the third season favours blocs in time with episodes usually focussed on single characters. In particular, it explores crises of the soul: the Queen’s inability to grieve, Prince Phillip’s (Tobias Menzies) existential crisis, and Prince Charles’ (Josh O’Connor) struggle with his royal duties. Their apparent vulnerability makes for a deeply sympathetic portrayal.
The show finally comes close to criticism of the monarchy and their comic blindness to their own wealth and power. Specifically, in the episode Bubbikins, Prince Phillip complains about budget cuts and says, “We deserve to be paid properly.” The camera immediately pans to a wider shot to show the magnificent room, chandeliers, and the giant breakfast table. I suppose it was The Crown’s version of The Office’s infamous side-eye to camera.
One can get into existing arguments about The Crown, as to whether it ignores the myriad problems with the royal family (a bit), and whether it is historically accurate (it’s not). This aside, the third season was a feast for the eyes. Its main function was building anticipation and setting the stage for Princess Diana, which should make an engaging fourth season.