The Crown (Season 4)
Cast – Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter, Josh O’Connor, Emma Corrin, Gillian Anderson
If you thought Indian Matchmaking made the ultimate case against arranged marriages this year, think again. The Crown, in its fourth season, continues to expand its horizons. It’s hardly a character study of the Queen anymore, but a sweeping drama about one of the most tragic romances of the 20th century.
By now it is clear that the show is at its best when it steps outside the Queen’s chambers and wanders into some of the more unfamiliar hallways of Buckingham Palace. That is where the more compelling stories are unfolding, deliberately and deviously hidden from the prying eyes of the public.
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A new member is ‘welcomed’ to the family this season — Lady Diana Spencer. But her marriage to Charles is less a romantic union than an induction into a cult. She’s made to undertake the famed ‘Balmoral Test’, a cruel ritual whose immorality is clearly lost on the royal family. And in one of their first official meetings, she’s quite literally cornered like prey, ridiculed for not knowing the order in which to address the royals.
Not since Claire Foy has an actor slipped so seamlessly into their role as newcomer Emma Corrin. Not only does she embody the instantly recognisable physicality of Diana — the slight tilt of the head, the soothing tones of her voice — but she also captures her inner turmoil and loneliness. Much like how the real Lady Di brought a renewed wave of public attention to the royal family, Corrin’s inclusion this season significantly revitalises the show. In hindsight, this is exactly what The Crown needed.
In season four, the show’s resemblance to The Godfather is more pronounced than ever. The royals have more in common with a crime family than they’d perhaps like to believe, but at least the Corleones cared for each other. Diana, like Kay Adams, is wrenched from her life as an outsider and forced to bend to the family’s ways. But would you believe it, she resists.
When she goes on an all-important tour of Australia with Charles — a masked attempt to maintain the structural integrity of the crumbling Commonwealth — she realises that she responds to attention. And so she begins craving it. Diana certainly isn’t absolved of her sins, but she’s clearly the heart and soul of the new season, an emotional foil to the frigid family she’s been imprisoned by.
This isn’t an exaggeration. An early episode is devoted almost entirely to the six weeks that Diana spent, in isolation, at the Buckingham Palace. Her new husband was away on tour and unreachable, and her mother-in-law too busy to even return her calls. Later, in a moment of rare candour, it’s the Queen who compares the palace to a prison.
After an entire life spent convincing herself that she’s ‘no different to anyone else’, Elizabeth has started to actually believe it. Never is this more apparent than in episode five — my favourite of the season — in which the story of one Michael Fagan is retold. On the morning of 9 July 1982, Fagan climbed over a wall, up a drainpipe, and into the Queen’s bedchambers in the Buckingham Palace. His Wikipedia entry describes him as an ‘intruder’. The security breach understandably made headlines, but the reasons behind Fagan’s break-in remain murky.
Some accounts suggest that he spent 10 minutes in the Queen’s room, while she stalled him in conversation as she waited for the police to arrive. Fagan himself has gone on record to say that the Queen dashed out the moment she saw him there. But The Crown, bless its soul, retools the story into a political parable. Fagan in the show is a victim of the Margaret Thatcher era — unemployed, hopeless, and struggling with mental health issues. His ‘mission’, so to speak, was to seek audience with the Queen, the only person with the power to rein Thatcher in.
It is a pivotal moment in the season, not just politically, but personally. It gives the Queen more agency, which, despite her apparent ‘power’, she’s never really had. Sure, she’s the one everyone turns to, but if there’s one rule that she lives by, it’s this — never, under any circumstances, voice your opinion. In season four, however, several situations compel her to do just that.
It’s the arrival of Thatcher, played with steely authority by Gillian Anderson, that forces the Queen to rethink her ways. Why should she stay silent, as her country experiences a horrific economic slump? Why must she put on a smile in her weekly meetings with the Prime Minister, when every fibre of her being demands that she lash out? And why, even after so many years, must she bow before the Crown, at the expense of her humanity?
Also read: The Crown season 3 review: Olivia Colman retains the majesty of Netflix’s most lavish show
This is an emotionally rich season, perhaps my favourite of the show so far. And beneath its resplendent exterior is raging relevance. Through Thatcher, creator Peter Morgan makes bold statements about contemporary politics, and the authoritarian figures in charge of it. And do not forget the trifecta of female leads at the centre — equals, and in many ways superior to the men around them — an uncommon sight on television if there ever was one.
It is true that the show’s popularity is waning, but instead of funnelling more funds into realising Ryan Murphy’s latest fever dream, Netflix ought to siphon some of that money into The Crown. Long may it live.
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar
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