Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter shine in this season that centers around complex relationships within the royal family and socio-economic challenges faced by Great Britain.
Directors: Benjamin Caron, Samuel Donovan, Jessica Hobbs, Christian Schwochow
Writers: Peter Morgan, Edward Hemming, Jon Brittain, Jonathan Wilson
Cast: Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Watkins
Streaming on: Netflix
Season three of The Crown feels different and similar at the same time. Of course the faces are new, as is the historic setting. The United Kingdom now has a socialist government, and the country is faced with a new set of challenges. The makers have also decided to adopt a different storytelling style. While the previous seasons followed a continuous narrative, the third season is more a collection of stories, each highlighting significant events that affected the royal family between 1964 and 1977. Each episode presents an individual story that can be viewed independently of other episodes.
Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter are terrific
There was some apprehension after Claire Foy, who made such a winning queen, made way for Olivia Colman. While Foy plays a young queen slowly finding her feet as the monarch, Colman turns out a brilliant portrayal of the matriarch she becomes. Tobias Menzies takes over from Matt Smith as Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Menzies’s Philip seems to have mellowed with age. He is still slightly impulsive, always wanting to make a difference, and at times insecure about his position. But he’s now calmer, less animated.
Helena Bonham Carter is an absolute delight as Princess Margaret, providing comic relief as she shifts registers between sassy hedonist and emotional wreck. One can’t help but feel that she deserved more screen time, but this is Olivia Colman’s show all the way. Charles Dance is Lord Mountbatten, whose scheming ways bring to mind his portrayal of Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones.
The times are troubling in Britain
Britain faces tough times in this season. The country is on the verge of a major economic crisis and desperately needs a financial bailout from the United States. There is some tension involving mine workers too. The government comes under severe criticism, and a political coup may just materialise. To add to this, a Russian spy is believed to have infiltrated the top British establishment. Meanwhile in Wales, a separatist movement is emerging.
The coverage of the Aberfan disaster of 1966 makes for an extremely compelling episode. But the makers have rather glaringly omitted events in Northern Ireland during this period, most prominently the shooting of civilians by British soldiers in Derry.
The uneasy relationships
The queen’s troubled equation and rivalry with Princess Margaret comes into focus once again. The two sisters are like chalk and cheese. Elizabeth is astute, composed and stately, whereas Margaret is a bit of a wild child. Margaret’s popularity is a source of annoyance to the queen, and her unpredictability makes it difficult for the queen to trust her.
One of the other highlights is Elizabeth’s blossoming relationship with Prime Minister Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins). After their first meeting, Elizabeth deems Wilson to be rather “unremarkable” in comparison to his predecessors, but in the course of time develops great respect for him. Meanwhile, in what is one of the best episodes of the season, Prince Philip faces demons of his own when he’s reunited with his mother, Princess Alice (Jane Lapotaire).
Also interesting is the story of a young Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor). Battling an identity crisis, the king-in-waiting is desperate to cling on to his individuality, which often puts him at crossroads with his parents. We also get an insight into the love triangle between Charles, Camilla Shand (Emerald Fennell) and her boyfriend Andrew Parker-Bowles (Andrew Buchan).
Is the monarchy a boon or a bane?
At the end of the day, this is the question that the makers aim to make the viewers ponder. This season sees a growing anti-monarchist sentiment both among the government and the masses, with the royal family coming under criticism for their elaborate spending of taxpayers’s money. A cabinet minister even describes the royal family as “an outdated and redundant piece of state infrastructure”.
There are other pitfalls to royalty. The show highlights the darker side of being a royal. One must forego all sense of individuality to conform to an acceptable code of conduct. People like the Duke of Windsor, Margaret and Charles are expected to become the people they aren’t. Public image is everything, and the royal family must go to any length to be decorous.
The show puts two questions to us. Does the United Kingdom need the royal family? And does the royal family need this for themselves?
The crowning episode
The stand-out episode is ‘Bubbikins’. The palace has been at the receiving end of unflattering headlines from newspapers, and to improve the public sentiment about the royal family, Philip has decided to have a documentary shot on their lives inside Buckingham Palace. The documentary, however, does not elicit the desired response and the ploy backfires. Meanwhile, a coup has taken place in Athens and Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Greece, has been invited by the queen to live in Buckingham Palace. Having been through a rough childhood and a strained relationship with his mother, Philip isn’t happy about this development. But little does he know that his unassuming mother may just be what the palace needs to win back the hearts of people.
Jane Lapotoire is absolutely delightful as the affable, chain-smoking octogenarian, who has put behind a torturous past to devote herself to serving the less fortunate. When Philip finally makes peace with his mother, it is one of the most emotionally-charged moments of the season.