Tradition vs. evolution is at the forefront of The Crown’s fourth season, which debuts on Netflix on November 15th. Unlike the third season, where fans declared at times tripped over its own melodrama, show creator Peter Morgan’s narrative arc this season is scintillating. Gone is the hyper-focus on the ascension and first years of Elizabeth II reign; now we are placed right smack in the middle of a changing landscape in Britain and the monarchy’s struggle to stay relevant. Can tradition survive societal evolution? Elizabeth II thinks that it’s possible provided everyone knows their place and remembers the importance of duty.
The Crown’s new season slightly pivots from a narrative about the Queen to one of how these important figures cope in a world built on tradition and where Elizabeth II is the center of their collective universe. We are introduced to Prime Minister Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) this season, and we meet Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) for the first time. The first few episodes are dominated by Thatcher’s rise to power and Diana’s courtship by Charles. Even though these seem like two very different moments in time, they actually have more in common than you’d realize.
Thatcher’s approach to changing Britain’s economic landscape spat in the face of domestic policy, which had been a constant for years. Even when questioned about it by the Queen, she’s resistant to listen to other perspectives. It’s essentially her way or your out. How does the first woman Prime Minister ever have this sort of nerve? She was resolved to stand by her convictions, no matter the consequences. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with the Queen, who at first viewed her as a threat. Until then (with some rare exceptions), A Prime Minister rarely rocked the boat and knew their place. Now we have this brash Prime Minister taking center stage at a victory parade following the Falkland War. Could this be a sign of things to come? Is the occupant of 10 Downing Street now viewed in higher regard than an actual monarch?
Diana’s introduction to the world was framed as something ripped out of a fairy tale. How has this school teacher managed to win the heart of Britain’s most eligible bachelor? We quickly learn that Diana checked all the right boxes in the eyes of the public, but the Royal Family didn’t know what to make of her. The Princess of Wales was warm, affectionate, and extroverted, which was the polar opposite of Charles. Diana was a breath of fresh air and a chance for the monarchy to evolve. The Crown certainly doesn’t shy away from where The Prince of Wales’s true affections laid. In fact, Camilla Parker Bowles (Emerald Fennell) presence is felt throughout this season. If Charles had his way, this marriage Diana would never occur. He views her as nothing short of a child. However, the idea of a member of the royal family going public with a married woman would damage public perception for years to come. Even Bowles realizes this and says as much to Charles. Even after the engagement is announced to Diana, Charles still has second thoughts about doing what is right for his family versus what is right for him. His mother tries to perk him up by saying that over time he’d grow to love her. Should the queen had a more evolved look at marriage during this time period?
The strengths of the season really are two-fold – the attention to detail and writing. Josh O’Connor (who plays Charles), Emma Corrin (who plays Diana), and Gillian Anderson (who plays Prime Minister Thatcher) injected small details into each of their portrayals that elevated their performances. O’Connor certainly had studies The Prince of Wales’s mannerism and managed to capture his essence. Corrin picked up on the cadence of Diana’s dialogue and facial mannerisms, which allowed her to get into character. Anderson had the former Prime Minister down to even the tilt of her head. This attention detail allowed each actor to dive headfirst into this emotionally charged material resulting in astonishing performances. Olivia Colman, Emerald Fennell, and Helena Bonham Carter are also standouts this season.
Colman has her toughest challenge this season as Elizabeth attempts to maintain tradition and order in an untraditional world. Some of the best moments this season come when she’s going toe to toe with the Prime Minister. This season’s most telling moments come where she openly second-guesses her actions and when she lays into Charles during the 10th episode, not believing a word of what she’s saying. Emerald Fennell faces the toughest challenge of taking an unlikeable figure in history and making her likable, which she pulls off brilliantly. Princess Margaret undergoes one of the more notable changes this season. Carter’s character was a bit of a loose cannon in season 3 and now appears to be the most moral member of the Windsor family. Perhaps with age and experience comes wisdom?
The writing in the fourth season of The Crown is brilliant. Morgan lays out The Crown’s biggest conundrum of balancing tradition with evolution and shows how they collectively mess things up at every turn. The show’s creator doesn’t shy away from tackling the demons the late Princess of Wales faced, which is refreshing. The emotionally charged fourth season of The Crown is a staggering achievement.
Season 4 of The Crown premieres exclusively on Netflix November 15.