THE biggest 2020 event of Royal Telly has finally come to pass: the fourth instalment of "The Crown" was dropped on Netflix a few days ago. As usual, there was an important choice to be made, and no, it's not who to root for - Elizabeth or her PM...fans had to decide whether to binge it all in one go or to savour the ten episodes, bearing in mind that the next season is a long way away...As for me, I always binge. No regrets there.
Warning! ...I'm about to get nostalgic.
I remember when the trailer for the show first came out, four long years ago. The world was gripped by the US election (no changes there), and the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. "The Crown" trailer landed and took my breath away; almost as if saying to all the other shows - 'Hold my tea'.
Even from the first trailer alone, "The Crown" seemed like a show on another level from everything else, the "Gone with the Wind" of Royal Telly Binge (that's what I call period dramas about British Royal Family). It had a six-season plan with cast changing every two seasons, covering about 60 years of Elizabeth II's life. When the first season was dropped on Netflix, it did not disappoint. The show had a myriad of well-established actors, brilliant dialogue, cinematography and production design to die for.
I would also like to add, that unlike most of the other period dramas, "The Crown" doesn't quite fit into a mould. The closest and most specific description I can give is 'ensemble family drama'. The reason I mention genre is this: when you look at other shows of the same search word pool, you find series that have to appeal to a certain audience and have limitations on the narrative, i.e. where the story can and cannot go. Most (but thankfully not all) of these shows suffer from budget limitations of various kinds, not to mention varying degrees of historical inaccuracy and if I'm completely honest, mediocre writing. "The Crown", from what I can tell, doesn't seem to suffer from any of these factors and the history of the actual crown is their oyster, to pick what they deem best drama for their version of the story. Of all the films and shows about British Royal Family I have ever seen, "The Crown" seems the truest one to life.
I'm going to take a retrospective look at the first three seasons in the upcoming posts, but for now I'd love to share some thoughts on the latest instalment, the Thatcher/ Diana years.
Needless to say, I absolutely loved it! The execution, as usual, was at the highest level. After the somewhat slow-paced seasons 2 and 3, season 4 appears like 'finally, something is happening!'. Elizabeth at last has formidable opponents, and the drama is of the same voltage as the well-beloved first season. Of course, that could easily be explained by the events in real life and the saturation of high octane affairs.
A Wee Bit about The Plot. Most of the events portrayed this season I had anticipated. I can recommend a few edutainment shows on the topic, e.g. The Royal House of Windsor, The Story of Diana (both on Netflix) and a biography of Prince Charles by Sally Bedell Smith: The Misunderstood Prince or Passions and Paradoxes of Improbable Life.
This season is mainly focussed on two pairings: Elizabeth II & Margaret Thatcher, and Prince Charles & Lady Diana. Both matches seem perfect at first glance: the former is two women of the same age 'running the shop', as Prince Philip puts it in the show, and the latter pairing is the fairytale couple that looks faultless on paper. Clashes of personalities and conflicts ensue that threaten the stable government of the country and the monarchy. I must say, I was delighted with the way the show did their best in presenting both sides of both arguments, especially those of Charles and Diana. To be honest, I'm a great fan of both of them, for very different reasons (the same way I am a big fan of both Richard III and Henry VII).
This brings me to my next point - the triangle of Charles/ Diana/ Camilla. The show portrayed the conflict in as truthful a fashion as they could. Despite one party being historically blamed for the fallout (i.e. Charles), in the show everyone gets their point across, and the audience is invited to form their own opinion. Even though we see the precursors of what's to come - Charles not rushing into an engagement having second thoughts about the whole affair, and Diana trying to back out just before the big day (both of these happened in real life) the writers of The Crown let the story unfold. And the second act of this conflict is yet to come in season 5...so the Crowndown has begun all over again...
Further Edutainment: First and foremost, I definitely would recommend Charles's biography by Sally Bedell Smith. The aforementioned The Royal House of Windsor documentary is an absolute must when it comes to this dynasty. I would also mention a very underrated docudrama The Queen: The Life of a Monarch that explores HM Queen Elizabeth II's life in five chapters: from when she is a young queen in early 1950's and has to deal with her sister's intention to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend, all the way to her later years in 2000's when Prince Charles wants to go public with Camilla Parker-Bowles. Five actresses play the Queen; the cast changes every chapter. The series is part documentary, part live-action drama (something The Last Czars tried to do, but failed miserably at). Please see the link above for Amazon, or here for eBay.
For Diana's story I would recommend two documentaries: The Story of Diana (on Netflix) and In The Name of Love: The Life and Death of Diana, Princess of Wales (on Prime).
There is also a kick-ass podcast about the show from Netflix themselves, hosted by Edith Bowman, to be found wherever you get your podcasts. Here's the link to the one on the Apple channel. Every episode has guests from the cast and/ or crew, and they get deep into the stories about making the show. There are countless details that one hour episodes just can't cover, and this is the best place to dig them up. My favourite was the Aberfan episode, which actually made me cry, as the research team divulged facts upon facts about this terrible tragedy. An absolute must!
Fun Facts: The Cast
The cast of The Crown has numerous actors, and many of those are pulled from the Period Drama pool, some of them even have played each other's roles before! There are too many to list, so I'm just noting my absolute favourites:
Olivia Colman - she played Elizabeth the Queen Mother in Hyde Park on Hudson in 2012 (i.e. the mother of her own character from The Crown);
Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter have both played Madame Thénardier: Colman in the recent TV adaptation of Les Misérables, and Carter in the 2012 musical version.
Helena Bonham Carter played Elizabeth the Queen Mother in The King's Speech (2011).
Richard Goulding plays Edward Adeane, Charles's Private Secretary in The Crown and has several scenes where he and Lady Diana don't get along. Ironically, Richard has vast experience playing Prince Harry, in both The Windsors (2016-2020) and the 2014 play Charles III by Mike Bartlett. These two portrayals could not be further away from each other.
Charles III is a serious drama set in the future. It basically is what Shakespeare would write, if he were alive and kicking when Elizabeth II dies. It opens with the accession of Charles, and throughout the course of the play Harry sets his mind on leaving the Royal Family upon a meeting a girl of his dreams. Yup, the play premiered in 2014. Real-life Harry got married in 2018 and in 2020 announced he's leaving the Royal Family.
(Click here to see a short interview and the trailer here for Charles III) The Windsors is a laugh-out-loud parody of the Royal Family. Personally, I love it. And Richard Goulding's comedy timing in particular makes this show absolutely unforgettable. The extra trivia point is that the actor who replaced Richard in season 3 of "The Windsors" had himself been on The Crown, playing Princess Margaret's suitor in the episode Beryl.
Fun Facts: The Dukes of York
In The Favourites episode of The Crown, Prince Andrew reminds his mother that in the recent past, two bearers of the title Duke of York have both become Kings after their elder brothers died or abdicated, which was true. The future George V replaced his elder brother Prince Eddy, as heir to the throne, when the latter died suddenly in 1892. George also married his brother's fiancée. They two are the present Queen's paternal grandparents. In 1936 Edward VIII abdicated and the present Queen's own father Duke of York became King and Emperor.
I'd love to add two more examples here - the future Henry VIII bore the title Duke of York, until his elder brother died in 1502, and he became Heir Apparent. Henry also married his brother's wife. Charles I was also Duke of York, second in line to the throne, until his elder brother Henry Prince of Wales died suddenly in 1612, leaving the Crown to Charles.
Bonus trivia: Henry VIII and Charles both died at Whitehall and their remains are in the same tomb in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.
In The Crown Prince Andrew also mentions his future title in relation to Richard III, an uncle who allegedly cleared his way to power by eliminating his nephews. I'd love to throw my two cents here: The Duke of York in this situation was one of the nephews, not the uncle. Richard III was Duke of Gloucester prior to his accession, not the Duke of York.
Here's to the release of season 4! The countdown to season 5 has begun...