Season 4 of British Royal famly drama, The Crown, focuses largely on Prince Charles’ (Josh O’Connor) early marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales (Emma Corrin) and Margaret Thatcher’s (Gillian Anderson) time as Prime Minister.
To a large extent this season feels like a “chickens coming home to roost” kind of vibe. Over the last three seasons we have watched the Queen (Olivia Colman) focus completely on duty to the detriment of her family’s wellbeing and with limited understanding of the rapid modernisation of Britain as well as challenges to the class system. This season shows the impact of this myopia.
While the unhappiness of Elizabeth’s children and her disconnect from their day to day lives play a part, none is more obvious than that of Charles. He finds himself falling into marriage with Diana because she is imminently suitable as a Royal bride. While he is initially captivated by her whimsical nature it is soon obvious that they are terribly mismatched. Charles is an old soul, uncomfortable with the limelight – yet oddly seeking of it, largely ill-equipped to deal with anyone’s emotions and of course desperately in love with Camilla Parker-Bowles (Emerald Fennell). Whereas Diana is young, emotional, somewhat frivolous and outstanding at playing up to the camera and the general public. Their doomed relationship as well as Elizabeth’s absolute insistence that it must continue is played out over a series of gripping episodes that paints no one in a particularly good light, even the almost sainted Diana.
At the same time the Queen finds herself faced with a new Prime Minister in Margaret “The Iron Lady” Thatcher (Gillian Anderson). While Elizabeth has always managed to come to some kind of comfortable understanding with her Prime Ministers, her relationship with Thatcher is fractious at best. They are unable to find the common ground some might have expected and Thatcher’s lack of compassion and ruthless desire for progress jar with Elizabeth’s desire for harmony and continuity. Having not grown up in the UK, I learned quite a lot about the madness that was the Falklands War watching this play out.
There’s also Margaret’s (Helena Bonham Carter) spiral into depression and ill health, Charles’ loss of Lord Mountbatten as a father figure, Princess Anne’s (Erin Doherty) miserable marriage and the uncovering of some Royal secrets to contend with.
As always the performances are excellent. Each actor embodies the the real life character they play and Corrin and O’Connor are stand outs. Anderson disappears into Margaret Thatcher, although I have seen her criticised for over acting. Olivia Colman is always marvellous and Tobias Menzies continues to provide solid support as Prince Phillip.
I thought the show’s representation of Diana’s eating disorder and her complete inability to adapt to Royal duties was very well done and the slow and miserable unveiling of Charles’ lack of concern for her was heartbreaking.
Overall my favourite episode was the one where painter-decorator, Michael Fagan (Tom Brooke) breaks into the Queen’s bedroom to tell her about his misery under the Thatcher government. It was quite different from other episodes and provided a really human face to what was happening in the country at the time.
Much creative license is taken with the unfolding of the story of the British Crown but if you take it as an extremely well-made drama it works on multiple levels. The season ends with a sense of foreboding as we all know the worst is yet to come. I will definitely be ready for season five where we’ll see another refresh of the actors playing the key parts.