In Review: The Crown Season 4.
As the final season of Olivia Coleman’s Queen Elizabeth graces our screens, there is a lot of talk about for the new season. The highly anticipated TV drama is now finally getting to the juicy bits of British Royal history with the divisive Thatcher administration and the introduction of Lady Di. For many viewers this is one of the most exciting TV drops of the year as the Diana Scandal is still fresh in the minds of many Brits, it certainly made for interesting viewing, but did it live up to the hype?
The Crown has thus far been known for its stunning visuals throughout the seasons, with the sweeping shots of the Scottish Highlands and grand palaces winning the hearts of viewers globally. There can be no doubt that, once again, writer Peter Morgan has highlighted the true beauty of the British countryside and the palaces of Britain. However, one can’t help feeling like an opportunity has been majorly missed here too. The 80s as a decade was bursting with colour and amazing fashion, but did we really get to see it this season? The saving grace for 80s representation has to have been Princess Diana. Her outfits are always gorgeous and on the whole historically accurate, but the rest of the show seems to lack the connection to the time period.
Historical accuracy and connection to the time has been one of the biggest criticisms of the show so far, and with good reason. While in previous seasons the writers have taken some artistic license with the truth to make the show more dramatic, most notably Phillip’s involvement with the Profumo Scandal and his implied affairs in season 3. But have they taken it too far this time round? Many viewers would say yes. It is fair to say that in many details of the show the writers have strayed the furthest from the source material so far. Perhaps the most notable deviation from the truth has been the treatment of Margret Thatcher at Balmoral and Prince Charles’ relationship with Lord Mountbatten before his death. In an attempt, albeit fairly successful, to humanise the Iron Lady in this season, many royal historians have since come out to say that the cruel ‘games’ the Royals played with Thatcher on her trip to Balmoral were simply not true. Princess Margaret’s comments about Thatcher being ‘common’ and her humiliation at the hunt have been proven unequivocally false. As too has the argument between Charles and Lord Mountbatten the day he died. A liberal application of artistic liberty has been taken with the timeline of their relationship and Mountbatten’s role in Charles’ romantic life has been massively overstated in this run of the show. The Crown in no way claims to be 100% historically accurate and is firmly cemented itself has a historical drama however with the popularity the show has garnered abroad there is much to say about the concerns for historical accuracy. For many viewers, not from the UK, what they are seeing is what they believe to be factual, so where does this leave the Royals today, especially given the excommunication of Prince Harry? It is suffice to say that the Windsors aren’t left in a particularly flattering position after the show aired.
However, one thing this new season of The Crown has done fairly successfully is humanise the previously unloved Margaret Thatcher, although perhaps at the sacrifice of other, more important topics for the show. Gillian Anderson has been much praised for both nailing the performance of Thatcher but not letting the character consume her. Anderson’s take on the Iron Lady is a refreshingly positive one, carefully balancing the stone-faced Prime Minister known to the nation but also bringing to light a new, more likeable version of her for fans to see. Thatcher’s loving relationship with her husband and son Mark as well as her emotional scene with The Queen in episode 4 allows the otherwise widely demonised Thatcher to be seen as human, finally. Although, in this effort to make Thatcher likeable I think other elements of the show have been sacrificed with the treatment of the Falklands war being the centre of this issue. The war in the Falklands, while being a huge historical event for not just Englanf but the world, was reduced to a few hurried conversations from Thatcher and her government and seemed to be over before it had even begun. Mark Thatcher’s disappearance and the odd story line of whom the Queen’s favourite child is appears to have totally eclipsed the Falklands war this season, with Peter Morgan clearly favouring the personal stories over the global happenings during the 80s. As someone born in the generation after the Falklands and after Diana’s death I was left feeling rather let down that these important historical events were not given the coverage they deserved.
Similarly, the death of Lord Mountbatten and its impact on Prince Charles also seems to be overshadowed by what many may call ‘The Princess Diana Show’. The use of old news clips in the first episode created a gross misrepresentation of England’s relationship with Ireland during the 80s, the Troubles and the assassination of Lord Mountbatten appears to be more of a plot device than a main focus of the season, given half an episode at most on screen before his death is used to spur on the Diana storyline in later episodes. Personally, this is where the show has been its weakest this season, with such a great wealth of source material available to the writers too much has been lost in favour of the real money maker, Princess Diana. There is no doubt that Emma Corrin’s doe-eyed Diana is loveable and the crux of this season. The open discussions of her struggles with bulimia and her heart-wrenching marriage to a cheating Charles is eye-opening and heart-felt, but one can’t help thinking that the show was not about the royal family anymore but about Lady Di and only Lady Di.
So how has Olivia Coleman’s last performance of Queen Elizabeth lived up to the previous seasons? Honestly, it was both everything we hoped for and also a huge let down. While the character driven elements of the show have been flawless, perhaps even better than ever with the new dynamic brought in by Diana and the incoming scandal next season as we see her divorce finally played out on screen. But the skeletal framing, the beating heart of The Crown as a historical drama, has, in my opinion, been well and truly left by the wayside this season. Some of the most important moments in recent British history have taken a backseat to the internal lives of the royals and the government in a way not seen in other seasons. And perhaps this is a truer representation of what happened during the 80s? The tidal wave of media scrutiny for Thatcher and Diana took over the UK at the time and it has certainly done that now as well, but I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed in the slapdash treatment of history in this season.