In style, tone and pace Seasons 3 and 4 of the Crown are similar, if not identical, to Seasons 2 and 3 and all remain able to manage the complex drama added by the show’s needed artistic licence and the real events that the show depicts. So I don’t really have much to say on that front, as I’d simply be reitterating the praise I gave in my review of the previous seasons.
But thankfully there is some new stuff here and it all lies in the focus of the show; Throughout season 3 and 4 a gradual shift has been made away from Queen Elizabeth II (who was almost always the main character of every episode previously) in favour of giving other members of the family more time for their own dedicated episodes. In season 3 there was a particularly engaging episode about the moon landing where Philip begins to feel small and begins to question his own life’s accomplishments. He has a crisis of faith and personality, as he tries to encourage others to take action on the scale of those men who walked on the moon but realises nothing he can ever do will be comparable to that. So, after mocking those who have sought to explain and talk about their feelings, Philip winds up apologising to them and asking for help only to meet one of his best friends among the group. I liked this episode because it was the first in a while where Philip hasn’t just been portrayed as an asshole – I mean his last appearance in season 2 were him sending his son to a school he knew he was unhappy in and then being implied to have been wrapped up in a sex scandal. It was nice to see the more grounded side of him again.
But, as you may expect, I think Princess Margarett once again steals the show. Season 3 opens with her securing an economic bail-out from the US President by making crude, inappropriate jokes with him at a dinner party and just indulging in her regular, unadulterated self. The season then ends with that side of herself, as well as the worst parts of her husband’s personality, clashing in such a way that leads to their divorce and her attempted suicide. There is a touching scene between Margarett and Elizabeth at the end of this episode that wrapped everything up splendidly.
Meanwhile, season 4 is a lot more political with the introduction of Margarett Thatcher whose depiction by the show is most interesting; it asserts on all grounds how independent and strong-willed she was as though she were the best thing for the country to ever have happened, while simultaneously depicting how disconnected she was from the average person that it was hard for a lot of real, working people to at all relate to her or her ideology. Indeed, Elizabeth even goes from seeing her as this great triumphant figure to one she can hardly understand by the end of the season. It’s all interesting stuff because her conflicting depictions aren’t a result of bad writing, but from the show giving us numerous people’s perspectives of her based on their circumstances.
Throughout it all, Prince Charles is given the most time to shine. And, to be honest, he might be one of the best-written characters in the show. In season 3 he is relatably lost, disconnected from his mother and seemingly unable to take on the crown or any responsibility at all. But when circumstance pushes him into the spotlight he is forced to do his best, and indeed he does. For a while he seems like the most relatable character in the show, now that Elizabeth is an older woman with decades of experience as Queen under her belt.
But then season 4 happens and the very reasons you sympathised with Charles’ struggles become the very reasons you start to dislike him. His journey of self-discovery doesn’t refine his character, but drives him to indulge in his ego and drives only bigger gaps between himself and his family. In particular, it drives a wedge between he and Princess Diana after there marriage because, just as he begins to accept that it is his time to be in the spotlight, she upstages him at every turn. And Charles is a royal knob about all this – trying to keep Diana from leaving the country, from seeing other men despite his own ongoing affair, and acting completely unwillingly about repairing the marriage after Diana has an epiphany and decides to try and make it work… It was doomed to fail.
Diana is the focus of a lot of season 4, being the royal who was insanely popular and grounded outwardly during her life only to be killed by the press who pursued her for that reason. And while Diana is also guilty of contributing to the failure of her marriage, her background, way in which she was inducted into the royal family, and the long-lasting effects it has on her mental and physical health make her a much more sympathetic character than Charles.
So there is an awful lot going on between these two seasons and a slight shift has been made away from the landmark historical events and, instead, into the personal lives of the people depicted. There is still history there; Margerett’s divorce, members of the family who were so mentally ill that they were announced dead and secretly locked up in an asylum, the war in the Falklands and so on. It’s all still there, but it is the characters that take priority in this season.
As for the new cast… I like every single one of them. Genuinely; the casting in this show is just that good. It did take me a while to warm up to Tobias Menzies as Philip, but once he got his own episode I was easily convinced by him. I will admit to slightly preferring Claire Foy’s performance as Elizabeth to Olivia Coleman’s, but that has more to do with what the writers were going for; Foy was depicting an enthusiastic young woman suddenly forced into a very serious position of responsibility and authority. Coleman, meanwhile, walks the line between a stone-cold mother and leader towards her coworkers and children, and being a light-hearted family woman around Philip, Margarett and her mother. While both capture two different sides of Elizabeth well, I think I just liked the overall arc of Foy’s depiction.
Overall, Seasons 3 and 4 of the Crown are just as memorable and of high quality as the previous two seasons. For the same reasons as I recommended those, I will also recommend these. It’s reliably good, delves into interesting subject matter almost all of the time and rarely falls short of the mark, if at all.