The Crown – Season 4
The first lockdown afforded me the perfect opportunity to finally get up to date with this show that I was already 3 seasons late to the party for, so I was ready for this latest season which adds a couple of key historical figures, Princess Diana (who I’ll get to in a bit) and Margaret Thatcher.
In my opinion, Gillian Anderson looks like she’s trying too hard. Always gurning, as if she’s called the Iron Lady because she’s got a tyre iron in her mouth at all times. The strength of Olivia Coleman’s performance is that she isn’t exactly like Queen Elizabeth, and she doesn’t try to be. Coleman uses key mannerisms and other details as broad brush strokes to sketch a spectre that evokes the presence of the Queen but then paints in the detail in her own way with palettes that are suited to the tones her private and public presence convey. Anderson doesn’t do that, if what she’s doing isn’t able to be the harsh lines of as close an impersonation of Margaret Thatcher as she can do, then it’s not included in her performance, leaving it feeling hollow as a result. She adds very little nuance or colour to the character, rigidly sticking to the coldness of ostensible accuracy over endearing effect.
The clear standout of the season is Emma Corrin’s depiction of Princess Diana. We meet her within the first five minutes of the season, clearly indicating this will be the storyline to focus on and setting up what’s to come. Emma Corrin is absolutely superb in the role. With the styling and hair colouring, there’s an undeniable evocation of Diana, and when paired with certain mannerisms and speech patterns, the effect is not one of a perfect impression of her, but a convincing and captivating pastiche. Honestly, it’s a shame that Corrin is only in the role for this season as it’s time for another cast change for the next, though her successor, Elizabeth Debicki is great too and may bring some other qualities to the role that are needed to best depict her final years.
There’s a Diana-centric film currently filming, ‘Spencer’ starring Kristen Stewart. When the first image of her in the role was posted by the trades recently, almost all the comments were negative, dozens making comparisons with Emma Corrin’s portrayal, unfair as there’s no more than one photograph to go on. Confirming however that her performance is is clearly one that has impressed a lot of people.
A particular highlight, one episode stood out to me as something especially bold. It builds a full picture of the incident in which a man broke into Buckingham Palace and managed to find his way to the Queen’s bedroom. Its 50 minutes of drama that’s not focused on the Queen, in fact hardly featuring her at all, but showing it from the intruder’s side, while building a clearer picture of the difficulties the nation was facing at the time, themes that are vitally important to other episodes and characters in the season. For the first half of the episode we see a man down on his luck, not very likeable at times, clearly struggling with some difficult circumstances. He’s looking for a fight, claiming the dole while working cash in hand, and drinking heavily, yet when it comes to his encounter with the queen, the show doesn’t present him as a threat, a lout, or focus on his bad qualities in any way, while talking to the queen he’s polite, respectful, appreciative. Though resigned to the futility of his actions and the unfavourable outcome that can’t be avoided when one breaks into the queen’s bed-chamber.
There are a few disappointing moments of very obvious foreshadowing, this show should be better than that, or at least better at keeping it subtle. At one point there’s an overly laboured conversation with Prince Andrew that’s clearly alluding to his recent handling of allegations related to his associates. He has a much-discussed television interview that made the news for so many reasons, and there are underlying concerns from that raised in this scene, though it stops just short of saying his favourite food is takeaway pizza there’s no avoiding what they’re pointing at.
This season really marks the point where the show has moved from biographically depicting historical figures and events, into working with the characters they’ve established, using relatively recent history as a loose framework for binge-worthy compelling drama. Yes, it’s largely inaccurate, but that doesn’t matter as much as that it’s not boring. Why should Netflix really care that the royal family and UK government have raised quibbles with historical inaccuracies, when their majority international audience are so invested in the show it’s become one of their longest-running series, dominated online searches, topped their charts, and has even been extended by an extra season.
As with past seasons, the show has been nominated for a bunch of Golden Globes, up for Best Drama Series as well as getting acting nods for Colman and Corrin in the lead category, with Anderson and Bonham Carter in supporting, as well as Josh O’Connor for lead actor. I think it’s hard to say one or more will win, especially as they’re up against each other, but Corrin’s performance is astounding and as she’s only got this one season it’d be nice to see her win.