Season four of Netflix drama The Crown takes us through the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher is the prime minister of the United Kingdom, and Charles and Diana’s marriage is all anyone can talk about.
An ensemble of brilliant women
This season deals with an abundantly documented period of British history. In the process it brings to the fore two of the most popular female figures, besides the queen, that the country has seen – ‘iron lady’ Margaret Thatcher and national sweetheart Princess Diana.
The season begins in 1979, when Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) is sworn in as the country’s first woman prime minister. Around the same time, Charles (Josh O’Connor) encounters a young Diana (Emma Corrin). In terms of history, we see landmark events such as Lord Mountbatten’s (Charles Dance) assassination at the hands of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the Falklands War of 1982. An episode is also dedicated to Michael Fagan, a troubled individual who broke into Buckingham Palace to speak to the queen. Their exchange makes for a fascinating scene. By and large, however, the focus is on the personal turmoils of the characters. Like previous seasons, The Crown remains a stylishly shot show, giving us impressive sights of erstwhile London as well as the countryside.
The build up to this season promised a Thatcher-Diana show, and delivers on this front. This means that, for the first time, Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman) isn’t the central figure in the show. Gillian Anderson is in top form as Margaret Thatcher, nailing the iron lady’s mannerisms as she goes about dealing with “stuffy, patronising, grey-haired men”. Her scenes with Olivia Colman give us the acting masterclass we were hoping for. The dynamics shared by the two women easily make for the most delicious moments of the season. From Elizabeth’s parenting insecurities to Thatcher’s borderline sexist opinions on fellow women, both seem to bring out the imperfect, more human sides in each other.
The side effect of having two new characters in prominent roles, is that Helena Bonham Carter‘s Princess Margaret and Tobias Menzies‘ Prince Philip get a raw deal in terms of screen time. The brilliant Bonham Carter, though, does make her presence felt in one episode where she unearths a disturbing family secret. Erin Doherty too shines in her few scenes as Princess Anne. Beneath their feisty, sardonic exteriors, both Margaret and Anne seem to be the only persons in the family with any compassion.
The not-so-fairytale marriage
To its credit, The Crown is critical of the royal family when it comes to Diana. It minces no words in telling us that Charles married Diana under pressure from the royal family, a marriage that should never have happened. Not helping matters is the presence of a certain Mrs. Parker-Bowles, with whom Charles has been “sowing his oats” since a young age and continues to be utterly besotted by.
In a sea of illustrious actors that form part of The Crown, 24-year-old Emma Corrin makes an impression in the first major role of her career. Her look is complete with the iconic Diana hairdo and the fashionable clothes that the late princess was often seen in. As Diana, she grapples with the pressures of being a royal and her struggles with bulimia, while constantly attempting to salvage her marriage and being a doting mother. The makers have portrayed her in a sympathetic light while being brutally critical of Charles. The Prince of Wales has transformed from a misunderstood youth in the last season to an egocentric personality with a sense of entitlement and a desperate need for attention. He isn’t thrilled when Diana finds popularity among the masses, and disregards any effort on her part to make him happy.
“Everyone in this system is a lost, lonely, irrelevant outsider”
As always, The Crown paints a remarkable picture of the inner struggles of the members of the royal family. Whether its failed marriages or identity crises or other mental health problems, the makers clearly endeavour to show the world that everything within the royal family isn’t as rosy as it appears on the surface. What is more likely to appall the viewer, however, is the manner in which these issues are dealt with. The royal family has a certain standard to uphold, and thus all imperfections must be discreetly brushed under the carpet. Charles and Diana find themselves under tremendous pressure to hold together their shambolic marriage, one that is rife with infidelity and insecurities, because separation is not an option in this family.
Though the makers don’t confront it directly, the season is likely to provoke this question in the minds of viewers – is the monarchy still relevant in today’s day and age? If yes, what good does it do? Clearly everyone here appears to be living under a tremendous burden of being a royal and leading rigid, confined lives deemed fit for their kind. One might dare say that these women and men would have lived happier lives as commoners.
WATCH OR NOT
The Crown continues to churn out compelling stories revolving around the royal family. This time around, it’s the narratives involving Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana that are likely to leave a mark on the viewers. Tremendous performances by Olivia Colman, Gillian Anderson and Emma Corrin add weight to this strong season.
Directors: Benjamin Carron, Jessica Hobbs, Julian Jarrold, Paul Whittington
Writers: Peter Morgan, Jonathan Wilson
Cast: Olivia Colman, Gillian Anderson, Emma Corrin, Josh O’Connor, Helena Bonham Carter
Streaming on: Netflix