It’s hard to blog about Netflix shows like Stranger Things or The Crown. They’re period pieces, with sky-high production values. They’re well-acted and entertaining. What else is there to say about soothing nostalgia?
Starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith, the first two seasons of The Crown were glamorous hits. Instead of stopping there, it relentlessly continued with older actors (including a royally miscast Olivia Colman) in 2019.
Now it’s back, with season four. Colman still reigns, and there’s a new ingénue in town, wearing cute 80’s outfits and answering to the name Diana (Emma Corrin).
Perhaps anticipating an influx of viewers who waited out the last 30 episodes for her debut, the dialogue has become unbearably on-the-nose. Characters spell out themes, and establish basic facts about their official roles and family relationships.
Courtier: You’re the Queen, ma’am.
TQ: Am I?
Courtier: Yes Ma’am. And please note it’s Ma’am as in jam, not farm.
TQ: How lovely!
Three years ago, one of the UK’s top Tudor experts, John Guy, said that history applicants to Cambridge University would cite having read Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels as evidence of their knowledge.
People apparently think The Crown is a history lesson. It’s prompted insiders like Lady Glenconner to back calls for Netflix to include a disclaimer that its flagship show features historical milestones like engagements and assassinations, while also taking…significant creative licence.
Anything set in royal drawing rooms and royal bedrooms is fiction. Timelines are conflated, and much is entirely invented, including a ‘get your shit together’ letter to Charles from his uncle Tywin Mountbatten, right before he gets blown up by the IRA.
Where we were seduced by the spellbinding power of Hilary Mantel’s writing, The Crown lulls you with its lavish production and accomplished acting – or it did, when it kept a stately distance from its subjects.
The royals are like the in-laws from Ready or Not. A scene where they all hunt Diana as part of a wedding night ritual for Satan wouldn’t feel out of place. Corrin – more poised and delicate than the real teenage Diana – was clearly taking inspiration from Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby.
Her cartoonishly evil husband continues a flagrant betrayal with a bitchily evil Camilla, while the princess suffers (graphically depicted) bulimia. Luckily some clever writing goes to Corrin, saving the character from one-dimensional victim status to instead give us a damaged, shallow girl with a thirst for stardom.
Corrin has been the breakout while the respected Gillian Anderson has been a little more divisive with her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady loved by those she made wealthier, and loathed by the left and much of the working class.
Of course, working class people talk like this: “Oiright there Oim workin’ class milord.” It all says so more about the minds behind this show, than it does about the crown.