The Crown: Season 4 (Netflix) — a review

I didn’t watch the Oprah interview with Harry and Meghan.

I also didn’t watch their wedding (I’m assuming it was televised). Nor did I watch Charles and Diana’s wedding, or Diana’s funeral. Or William and Kate’s wedding. None of that.

Because I wasn’t interested.

I don’t understand the obsession with Britain’s royal family. I don’t even understand why Britain has a royal family. It seems like an archaic institution. I’m still fuzzy about what type of ruling power is wielded by Queen Elizabeth II, when it appears the country is run by Parliament and the prime minister.

Oh, I know there are answers to the questions. I just don’t care enough to seek them out. It seems to me that a lot of tax monies paid by British citizens is funneled to Buckingham Palace to support their lavish celebrity lifestyle, and that their “jobs” seem to be to preside over public functions, make the occasional speech, and get their photos taken, a lot.

Don’t hate me for having an opinion. I’m the first to admit that I just may be ill-informed. I don’t know what the Kardashians have done to justify their wealth either.

I’m not interested in most of what falls under the aegis of reality television. Sure, occasionally I’ll watch reality shows that are contests of some kind, such as The Masked Singer, American Idol or, once in a blue moon, Survivor. Or maybe true crime shows, such as 48 Hours or Forensic Files. But never shows like The Real Housewives (how many of those exist now?), or The Bachelor (or Batchelorette), or Keeping Up with the Kardashians. The fact that I know things about all of these shows, when I’ve never watched them, disturbs me.

I generally prefer most of my entertainment to be fictional. I lean heavily towards science fiction, heroic fantasy, and private eye mysteries. I want verisimilitude, certainly. But, I’m typically trying to escape from reality; I don’t want to wallow in it.

Why in the world would I watch a Netflix series about the real-life monarch of the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth realms? These are real people, and the tales related in the series are supposed to be based on the truth. It sounds like a recipe for boredom, in my opinion.

Sometimes, I’ll take a television series on a test run to see if its something I may like. It’s what I did with Outlander, an historical drama set primarily in 18th century Scotland (I’m at the beginning of Season 3 now). Of course, the series was developed by Ronald D. Moore, whose pedigree includes various Star Trek series and the Battlestar Galactica reboot. It’s probably why I watched Outlander to begin with. But, I like the series. I’ve watched other series set in real historical milieus, and enjoyed them, knowing that the stories were fictional, or close to it.

I found the first episode of The Crown to be engaging and entertaining. And I kept watching.

That’s the only explanation I can offer, as unsatisfying as it may be. I don’t believe there’s any connection to speculative fiction, although there are a lot of kings and queens in heroic fantasy, I suppose. Claire Foy had been a regular on another series I enjoyed, Crossbones, the John Malkovich pirate series set in the 1700s, although I didn’t realize it at first. That series lasted only a single season and was based, very loosely, on the true story of the pirates of the Caribbean.

The fact that this story is meant to be a true account never registered subconsciously, I think. I’ve always thought that the moment a true account is written down or dramatized on television or in movies, it becomes fiction. At best, you’re getting a single person’s perspective on events. At worst, a dry-as-dust recitation of verifiable facts, with very little speculation. Fiction, as a rule, is also required to make sense. Reality doesn’t always make sense. An accurate representation of true events would be a messy and unfocused thing.

If you’re an American (and are old enough), you can recall true-life events such as the Oklahoma City bombing or the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, or even the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Okay, you don’t have to be American to remember these things, but they were events in American history. In hindsight, the “story” of these true events has a certain order and cohesion. But, as they were happening, if you were aware of them at all, there was a lot of confusion and chaos. The narrative had yet to be constructed. When we tell the stories of these events now, they are based upon facts that we largely have to accept on faith, because we experienced things only from our perspective. And we didn’t know what was going on.

That’s how I’ve always approached The Crown, as well. As a story constructed many years after the events which inspired it. A fictionalized account, even, that may not completely jibe with everyone’s memory of the events. The Crown, may, in fact, be constructed mostly of lies. I don’t know.

As you may have already gathered, I don’t care either. This is a historical drama that I’ve enjoyed on that level. It may even have benefitted by the fact that it’s supposed to be a true account, because all questions don’t have to be answered satisfactorally the way they would be required to in fiction. Reality isn’t required to always make sense.

Season 4 of The Crown is primarily about two things: the Thatcher Years, and the miserable palace existence of Princess Diana.

Oh, it’s still about Queen Elizabeth II, too, and Olivia Colman turns in a fine performance as the matriarch. It’s just that the Queen has settled into her role and her life. She’s no longer actress Claire Foy, learning how to be a queen; she is the Queen. Frankly, she has now become the Establishment and her day-to-day life isn’t as interesting as that of Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin), and Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson). Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip (Tobias Menzies), and Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter), the characters who propelled most of the story to this point, are no longer in the driver’s seat. They have all become supporting actors while a new main cast takes control of the narrative.

It felt like that in real life as well. To me, at least. Charles and Diana drew all focus for many years, both for the fairytale beginning and the nightmare ending. I knew very little about Elizabeth and Philip before watching this series. The fourth season spans the time period between 1979 and 1990. Prince Charles and Lady Diana get married, tour Australia and New Zealand, and then we have the Falklands War (remember that?), Michael Fagan’s break-in at Buckingham Palace, Lord Mountbatten’s death and funeral, and, ultimately, Thatcher’s departure from office.

We also witness Diana’s slow unraveling, as Charles continues his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles (Emerald Fennell), Diana struggles with an eating disorder and begins to have extramarital relations as well. I couldn’t help but to feel sorry for all three characters in this triangle. I liked and disliked all three at the same time, which is a sign of good writing. Charles is sympathetic only in the fact that he is the embodiment of pathos: meaning, of course, that he’s pathetic. His family was against his romantic pursuit of his One True Love, Camilla, and virtually hand-picked the much-younger Diana as a suitable wife. Camilla—at least as portrayed by Ms. Fennell—is a strong, independent woman who seems to have few qualms about having an affair with the Crown Prince. It seems that everyone knew about her being the “other woman” in Charles’ life, including her husband, and Camilla seems unfazed by any of it, with almost sociopathic equanimity. Diana, as portrayed by the lovely Emma Corrin (who looks a little like Di, from certain angles), seems rather vacuous and childlike. I know the real Diana was only 19 or so when she married Charles, a man chronologically thirteen years her senior (although he acts younger, emotionally). When you get a decade or four away from the age nineteen, you know that’s very, very young. It’s little wonder that Diana allowed the strain of being a part of the royal family to affect her.

The new starting lineup for the Royals, including Princess Anne (Erin Dohertry), all do a wonderful job, and much of our time is spent watching their drama unfold on the screen.

Meanwhile, Gillian Anderson breezes in as Margaret Thatcher and dominates every scene in which she appears. I can only compare her performance to that of John Lithgow, who positively chewed up the scenery as Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the first seasons of The Crown. Of course, Anderson is gifted at accents (I never knew she identified as British when she was Dana Scully on The X-Files), and the English accent may be her default setting. Maybe Anderson’s real accent isn’t as jaw-clenchingly clipped as Thatcher’s, but I’ve heard her in interviews and on another Netflix series Sex Education, and she seems to be British. Go figure.

A lot of things happen during Thatcher’s time as prime minister. The Falklands War is fought and later mercilessly mocked by the rest of the world. The economic climate is abysmal. Thatcher’s son disappears during some cross-country car race. Thatcher butts heads with the Queen, even. Gillian Anderson makes Prime Minister Thatcher seem interesting in every scene, whether she’s cooking food for her cabinet members or engaging in a passive-aggressive exchange with the Queen.

There are no surprises here unless you’ve managed to have never heard or read the tabloid history of England. Sordid stories about the royals is a bit of a cottage industry. Over the years, I’ve passively absorbed enough factoids about Charles and Diana’s marriage that I seemed to know most of the story before it played on the screen. Whether that means the creative minds behind this series are recounting the story faithfully or repeating scurrilous gossip, I’m not able to say.

I’m not sure how many more seasons The Crown will be around. At least one, would be my guest. Show creator Peter Morgan has gone on record as saying the narrative will not get to whatever’s going on now with Harry and Meghan.

That’s kind of a shame. If it was covered by The Crown, I might have some idea about what’s going on, and just why Piers Morgan and Sharon Osbourne are suddenly in trouble, according to the media.

I’m not going to ruin anything else that happens this season. It’s a good story, well-told.

That’s all you really need to know.

I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the first three, though.

Firewater’s How-Many-Times-Can-This-Family-Make-the-Same-Mistake? Report Card: B+

One thought on “The Crown: Season 4 (Netflix) — a review

  1. As historical fiction, The Crown is a great show graced by the performance of many quite talented actors (the latest being indeed Anderson as Thatcher – amazing), and I will leave it at that: I don’t care how close to reality it might be because, like you, I have little to no interest in the goings-on of the Windsors, past or present. The show is a well-crafted one, and that’s more than enough for me 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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