Netflix’s lavish and highly anticipated third season of ‘The Crown’ dropped in full on Sunday, adding yet more fuel to the fire that currently is conversation regarding the British royal family. An obvious talking point was the shift from the original cast, led by the excellent Claire Foy and Matt Smith, to a slightly older, slightly wiser assortment of characters with Olivia Colman leading the charge.
The new faces seem to have grown directly out of the old ones: in what world was Helena Bonham Carter not going to play a damaged, unsatisfied Princess Margaret? Bonham’s boozy trip to the US, where Margaret unpicks a political knot with President Johnson, is a particular highlight. Colman, too, excels as the “settled sovereign” – she retains Foy’s knack for naïve resilience, even if Foy perhaps does it slightly better. The show seems less concerned with making the royals seem in the right – Tobias Menzies shines most brightly as Prince Philip when the disgruntled monarch-husband is being his most callous. And Queen Liz’s distaste at the thought of a Labour prime minister becomes highly embarrassing when it is made clear that Harold Wilson (an excellent Jason Watkins) is, unfortunately, not a Soviet spy.
Fresh blood arrives in the form of a most unamused Princess Anne, who is perfectly happy horse-riding and perfectly unhappy to have to listen to either of her parents speak for another minute. Erin Doherty, like Bonham Carter, seems born to play the young princess – a woman on the verge of the seventies, as is shown via several excellently awful outfits. And then, halfway through the ten-episode saga, Mr Prince of Wales himself arrives. Charles navigates his way through being heir presumptive and a bit of a wuss by learning Welsh and whining quite a lot – but it all seems perfectly in line with what we know about the king-to-be today. At the other end of the spectrum, Charles Dance is his most hypermasculine as Lord Mountbatten, in perhaps the show’s most perfect casting decision to date.
Unfortunately, it seems like a season of waiting; a mass of fillers anticipating a main event. That event will surely be the infamous story of Charles and Diana, something that director Peter Morgan will undoubtedly take and run with in full glamour. What ‘The Crown’ was pitched upon in its first two seasons was unequivocal sparkle, something that launched it into popularity and a binge-watch must. It’s lost that edge somewhat, mainly because the years 1964-1977 were simply less sparkly.
But for its lack of mystique and somewhat more subdued stars, there seems to be a level of nuance to the mood of this third season. Gone is the unbridled post-war patriotism, the unquestionable opulence of royalty, the glamour of a Britain that was always the biggest presence in the room. Instead, Her Majesty and her many, many subjects face a Britain that is unsettled and far less polite. Now, the children are grown up and the public is wearied. There is a greyness to the landscape that simply wasn’t there in Claire Foy’s reign.
It’s still gorgeous and expensive and excellently acted, but the show hasn’t quite swept its predecessors under the carpet. Now and again you find yourself imagining Matt Smith’s Prince Philip barging in, drunken and exciting, just to shake up the bleakness a bit. But it is an ever-engrossing spectacle of a family who still, even now, have a level of influence that is impossible to ignore.
Image credit: Ibsan73 via Wikimedia