Now in its fourth season on Netflix, “The Crown” has explored the first three decades of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign in this highly stylish drama. The British royal family has made it to the 1980s, and with this new decade comes two guests much welcomed by the audience but not so much by the Windsors: Lady Diana Spencer and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
As the first season where a majority of viewers probably well remember the events and players involved, longtime watchers are already familiar with the older players: the Queen and Prince Phillip, Princesses Margaret and Anne and, of course, Prince Charles, all of whom have been sparring and feuding with each other for decades.
Despite really being no different from the many BBC and PBS shows about the royal family over the centuries and the other upper-crust family dramas, “The Crown” has managed to work its way into the public consciousness and pop culture better than any other. Whether it’s Netflix’s quality being just that one degree better or not shying away from the scandal and mature themes, this show sells the Windsors as just another dysfunctional family so well.
While none of us could ever relate to the royal family — and most of us are apathetic to their position in the world anyway — it is nonetheless entertaining to see the high and mighty can be as flawed as the rest of us, especially when two “commoners” like Diana and Thatcher can work their way into the family business.
With Queen Elizabeth II (portrayed by Olivia Colman) now entering into her fourth decade on the throne, the fourth season covers the time period between 1977 and 1990, introduces Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin) and is set during Margaret Thatcher’s (Gillian Anderson) premiership.
Tensions in the family between the Queen, Prince Phillip (Tobias Menzies), Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) and Princess Anne (Erin Doherty) begin to rise and further push away Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and his marriage to Diana as Thatcher’s unorthodox approach to government begins to divide the country.
Events depicted include the wedding of Charles and Diana Spencer, their 1983 tour of Australia and New Zealand, the Falklands War, the births of Princes William and Harry, Michael Fagan’s break-in at Buckingham Palace and Thatcher’s departure from office.
Throughout its run, “The Crown” has been a vehicle for many outstanding supporting roles that often are the best performances in the show, and that continues here with Anderson’s portrayal of Thatcher. From the first moment she appears on screen and begins to speak, I completely forget I’m watching an actor and believe it’s really Thatcher, capturing her mannerisms, accent and general demeanor near perfectly.
On the other side of it we have Corrin’s portrayal of Diana as we would like to remember her, a teacher who became a princess as if the whole thing were a fairytale. Sadly, the season doesn’t hold back on showcasing the pain and suffering she and Charles went through, as well as foreshadowing what will come in season 5. It’s no coincidence the paparazzi are all over her the first scene after her engagement, and it never lets up.
The strongest theme that has held this series together is that of the family and how the different generations get along and don’t get along as the decades go by. As one of the most un-normal families in the world, it’s no wonder every episode features someone not seeing eye-to-eye with someone else, from Charles not living up to his parents’ expectations to Elizabeth not recognizing her children as adults.
For the common man, there is also plenty this season outside the royal family that we can relate to today. Under Thatcher’s premiership, we see the fighting in Ireland, the Falklands War overseas, skyrocketing unemployment and the conservative party’s stronghold on the government. So when Thatcher and the Queen have their weekly meetings, seeing their two approaches of how to govern rings a lot of bells of what we hear in politics today.
Despite its glamorous, million-dollar look and its captivating and award-winning performances, “The Crown” is honestly no different from a “Real Housewives” show or daytime soap opera, and I think the fact that it’s mostly true stories is its greatest strength. And with Thatcher and Diana now in the mix, there’s no doubt the drama is as fiery as ever.