It’s been hard to blog about popular Netflix shows 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, but there’s a new ingénue in town, wearing cute 80’s outfits and answering to the name Diana (Emma Corrin).
Maybe anticipating an influx of viewers who waited out the last thirty 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, prompting insiders like Lady Glenconner to back calls for Netflix to broadcast a disclaimer warning that its flagship show takes…significant creative licence.
Other than historical milestones like engagements and assassinations, 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, who 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. But that was when it kept a serene, stately distance from its subjects. Now, as it nears the present day, it seems too silly to be taken seriously.
The royals are like the in-laws from Ready or Not, and 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 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 any clever writing goes to Corrin, saving the character from one-dimensional victim status. Instead, we get 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 so-called Iron Lady loved by those she made wealthier, and loathed by the left and the working class.
Of course, in The Crown, working class people all 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.