REVIEW: Netflix’s lavish dramatisation of Britain’s favourite soap opera is back and is more compelling than ever.
The Crown’s 10-part fourth season drops today and this instalment feels almost as action-packed and emotionally wrought as Game of Thrones’ fourth season – and not just because Charles Dance’s characters meet an untimely end in both. All that’s missing are the dragons.
Events this time around begin in 1979, with the IRA’s objection to British occupation in Ireland entering a new phase and new UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) promising to change things from top to bottom.
“The last thing this country needs is two women running the ship,” says Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies). “I hear she’s headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated.”
“Really? Who else around here does that sound like?” replies Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman).
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When monarch and PM finally meet, they find a surprising amount of common ground. Elizabeth is impressed that Margaret has the courage of her convictions and the latter is surprised by how engaged the Buckingham Palace resident truly is with the issues of the day.
“She was more interested and informed than I thought,” Margaret tells husband Denis (Stephen Boxer). “I left thinking we might be able to work together.”
However, aside from issues of state, there’s another problem weighing on Elizabeth’s mind, the love life of oldest son Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor).
Despite being linked to a long list of women, including Anna Wallace, Sabrina Guinness and actress Susan George, there were palace rumours the prince was still seeing the now married Camilla Parker-Bowles. So the news he might now be dating Sarah Spencer (Isobel Eadie) comes as something of a relief. “I rather like that idea,” Elizabeth says.
Charles though, seems less enthusiastic about the match, and more intrigued by Sarah’s teenage sister Diana (Emma Corrin), whom he first meets dressed as a “mad tree” in preparation for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But even she can’t hold a candle to his continued obsession with Camilla, something that frustrates Charles’ mentor Lord Mountbatten (Dance).
Mountbatten’s attempts to persuade the prince to end the affair is met with a vitriolic response, something Charles deeply regrets when Mountbatten is assassinated while out on his boat off the coast of Ireland.
Worse still, a posthumous letter from him warns that ruin and disappointment await if Charles continues to court Camilla.
“Build your destiny with some sweet and innocent, well-tempered girl with no past, who knows and will follow the rules,” Mountbatten urges. “One that people will love as a princess and – one day – a queen.”
Yes, series showrunner Peter Morgan sets all the pieces beautifully in place in the opening episode, preparing us for the well-documented highs and lows to come. And while some will bridle at some of the liberties taken with certain events (especially Charles and Diana’s 1983 tour of Australia and New Zealand), there’s no doubting that Morgan knows how to draw every last dramatic drop out of key moments.
Of course, it helps immensely that he has assembled a superb acting ensemble. Colman looks and soundseven more the part second time around, Menzies (Outlander) is still supremely impressive as Philip, as is the underrated O’Connor, who delivers a spot-on Charles.
Of the newcomers, Anderson is brilliant as Britain’s Iron Lady and Corrin (Pennyworth) certainly looks and sounds the part as the kindergarten “helper-outer” turned “people’s princess”.
Only Richard Roxburgh’s Bob Hawke seems a slight caricature, largely because the Aussie actor plays him a little too close to his much-loved tragi-comic creation of Rake’s Cleaver Greene.
As with the previous Crowns, the costumes and production values can’t be faulted, while point-of-view shots (the opening one of Elizabeth looking straight down the barrel of the camera towards one of her beloved horses is a stunner) and clever framing draw the viewer into the well-paced drama.