With outstanding performances from newcomer Emma Corrin and Gillian Anderson, the latest season of “The Crown” provides behind-the-scenes insight into Prince Charles’ and Princess Diana’s relationship, political turmoil under Margaret Thatcher’s United Kingdom and the pulling tendency to uphold tradition while the royals become even more out of touch with society.
As viewers anxiously anticipated, this season jumps head-first into Prince Charles’ and Diana Spencer’s problematic coupling. The opening scene features the pair’s first encounter when Spencer was 16 years old while Charles, nearing 30, was courting her older sister. In the initial episodes, Charles expresses some interest and curiosity in Spencer, but those sentiments were short-lived. After the engagement Spencer is moved into Claridge House to protect her from growing harassment by the paparazzi, depicted at great length in this episode as a way of dramatizing the boredom she experienced prior to the wedding and the lack of attention she received from any member of the family, a harbinger of what was to come. The majority of the season depicts a relationship consisting of neglect, resentment, screaming matches and infidelity. Prince Charles vents his frustration to his mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles, referring to his marriage as a “grotesque misalliance.” We only get one or two scenes throughout the entire season that depict some sort of affection between the two, specifically on their tour to Australia in 1983.
While Charles and Spencer presumably had some sort of affection for each other at one time, “The Crown” prefers to highlight the toxicity of the relationship, particularly emphasizing Charles’ lack of empathy toward Spencer. Parker-Bowles would always be his one true love. It is hard not to feel terribly sympathetic for Spencer while watching her episodes. Emma Corrin immaculately depicts her dreary gazes, shy demeanor and discomfort around the royals. Furthermore, while Corrin’s performance did not quite capture Spencer’s luminous confidence, poise and exuberance in the public sphere, she did convey the extent to which Spencer’s growing popularity became a source of intense jealousy in Charles which only worsened their relationship. In this season, “The Crown” surely knows how to enrage an audience as they depict the indifference the royal family showed toward Spencer’s struggles with bulimia and her terrible loneliness in the relationship with Charles, leaving us to wonder what might have been avoided if Charles had simply been allowed to marry Parker-Bowles in the first place.
Switching gears, this season of “The Crown” brings us into the political turmoil within the UK during the Thatcher years. Gillian Anderson remarkably captures Thatcher’s stern, emotionless demeanor in her talks with the queen. One of her strongest performances is in episode two, when the royals invite Thatcher to spend the weekend at the lavish Balmoral Castle. Her discomfort and awkwardness throughout the episode as the royal family goes hunting, plays quirky games and enjoys the luxuries of their second home shows Thatcher’s no-nonsense personality and her disgust with the inherited privileges of the family while she had to work her way up to achieve her goals.
Yet, “The Crown” leaves us with no sympathy for Prime Minister Thatcher during her years at Downing Street. Olivia Coleman provides an impressive depiction of Queen Elizabeth’s dissatisfaction with Thatcher in their talks and highlights her reservations over the Falklands War, anger over massive unemployment and Thatcher’s refusal to sanction South Africa’s Apartheid regime. In Anderson and Coleman’s performances, the audience can sense a strong tension between the two without betraying too much emotion. Anderson again gives a fantastic performance in the final episode that shows her finally breaking down when she is ousted by the conservative politicians closest to her.
A major takeaway from this season of “The Crown” is that even in the 80’s, the royal family remains quite out of touch with society. While the country suffers from unemployment, royals embark on trips to their expensive vacation homes in the countryside. In many episodes, it is often embarrassing to discover the queen’s lack of exposure and knowledge of the outside world. In one scene, the queen gently shakes the hands of carefully selected citizens lined up at Buckingham palace which is then juxtaposed with lines of common citizens fighting to get a job for the day. It is not until her encounter with Michael Fagan, the man who broke into Buckingham palace and showed up at her bedside, that the queen gets a heavy reality check. He reminds her that she has never truly spoken to a regular citizen and begs her to do something about the unemployment crisis.
Furthermore, this season spotlights how the royal family continues clinging to outdated traditions that cause unnecessary pain. The mismatched relationship between Spencer and Charles reveals how the family will take great lengths to force a suffering relationship in the name of the Crown. Episode seven called attention to horrific secrets behind mentally ill royal relatives who were put away simply to preserve the integrity of the royal bloodline.
Summed up, season four of “The Crown” unveils a variety of horrors surrounding the royal family ranging from the neglect of Spencer to the inhumane treatment of mentally ill royal family members. Queen Elizabeth, as always, stands back and maintains her composure. Some episodes felt drawn out on issues that were not so essential to the storyline, like the episode focused on which of her children was the queen’s favorite. It would have been interesting to see more of Spencer’s relationship with the queen and how she discussed her failing relationship with her own family. Nevertheless, the Crown continues to deliver fantastic performances that not only give us some insight into what goes on in Buckingham palace, but also gives a little history lesson too.
I give season four of “The Crown” 4.5/5 stars.