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 Olivia Colman as HM The Queen) in 2019.
Now it’s back, with season four. Colman still reigns, while there’s a new ingénue in town, wearing cute 80’s outfits and answering to the name of Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin).
Perhaps anticipating an influx of viewers who waited out the last 30 episodes for her debut, the dialogue has become even more explantory and 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. Even worse, people apparently think The Crown is a documentary, prompting insiders like Lady Glenconner to back calls for Netflix to include a disclaimer.
Netflix’s flagship show features historical milestones like engagements and assassinations, while also taking significant creative licence. 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. Anything set in royal drawing rooms and royal bedrooms is fiction.
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 at least it did, back when it kept a stately distance from its subjects.
For Corrin’s young Diana, the royals are like the in-laws from 2019’s Ready or Not – a scene where they all hunt her as part of a wedding night ritual for Satan wouldn’t feel out of place. Corrin – perhaps more poised and porcelain than the real teenage Diana – was clearly taking inspiration from Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby.
Her cartoonishly evil husband Charles continues a flagrant betrayal with a bitchily evil Camilla (Emerald Fennell), 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.