Following on from a critically acclaimed first two seasons, historical drama The Crown has recently released its highly anticipated third season. Ten new episodes cover the period from 1964 to 1977, depicting specific historical events such as the tragic Aberfan mining disaster of 1966, the moon landing in 1969 and the 1972 miners’ strike, alongside more continuous narrative developments: the breakdown of Princess Margaret’s marriage to Antony Armstrong Jones; the Queen’s unlikely relationship with Labour leader Harold Wilson; and the introduction of Prince Charles and Princess Anne as significant members of the Royal Family. With a £50 million budget and the continuous dedication of Peter Morgan as its chief writer and creator, it was unlikely this season would disappoint; and indeed, it did not.
Casting directors Nina Gold, known primarily for her work on Game of Thrones and Star Wars, and Robert Sterne create the perfect ensemble of replacements in this very important recasting. Oscar-winning (for playing Queen Anne in The Favourite, coincidentally) Olivia Colman’s succession of Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II is addressed at the very beginning of the first episode. We see her reviewing stamps, the two actresses’ profiles compared side by side in an “elegant reflection of her majesty’s transition from young women to … “old bat.”” Tobias Menzies takes over from Matt Smith as Prince Philip, a role that appears more stable now the Duke of Edinburgh’s marriage to the Queen has become a well-established feature of the Crown. Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret has been replaced by Helena Bonham Carter in a piece of stunt casting which we will see replicated in Season 4 with Gillian Anderson playing Margaret Thatcher. There are some new faces, characters as well as actors: Jason Watkins as two-time serving Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Erin Doherty as Princess Anne, ‘sweetie’ to her father, and The Durrells star Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles.
Though the cast may have changed, the premise remains much the same. We see a continuation of the Crown’s attempt to balance individuality with duty, modernity with tradition, love with expectation – the Queen firmly reminds her son that their role in society “is not a choice, it is a duty”. Regardless of whether one has a (favourable or otherwise) political standpoint on the monarchy, The Crown has an unprecedented ability to depict the Royal Family as real people with a real positioning in the world (however far removed their reality may be from our own). More than that, it does not ignore the fact that not everybody is on board with this. In Episode 6, we see this phenomenon first hand as Prince Charles is sent to University College of Wales at Aberystwyth and allocated self-proclaimed nationalist Edward ‘Tedi’ Millward as his Welsh tutor. Millward’s initial hostility towards the Prince soon turns to pity and then sympathy as he witnesses Charles’ internal struggle between the personal and the political.
It is inevitable that in a series with a different central focus each episode, some may fall flat. ‘Moondust’, which depicts the universally relevant moon landing alongside Prince Philip’s exclusive midlife crisis, seems to desperately search for interconnection between these two events, when in fact the latter could have been left out altogether. Instead of the attention given to Prince Philip’s inevitable discontentment as husband to the reigning monarch, I would have preferred to see more of his and the Queen’s children – both their positioning within the family and in society overall. Princess Anne makes her first appearance in Episode 4, Prince Charles not until Episode 6, and Prince Andrew and Edward only briefly in Episode 7. Hopefully, Season 4 will increase these characters’ screen time, especially as we see a continuation of the plotline between Prince Charles, Camilla Shand (Emerald Fennell) and the introduction of Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin).
Unfortunately, for eager fans of the show such as myself, it will be at least another year until we get to find out, with filming for the next season having only begun in August of this year. Personally, however, I do not consider The Crown to be your typical binge-watch Netflix show; alongside all the gripping drama is a historical narrative that gives the audience some research to do in-between episodes. So, if you haven’t already finished all 30 episodes available to you on Netflix now, I advise you to watch them slowly – it will make the wait infinitely less painful.
– Esther Huntington-Whiteley