So, at last we reach Series 4 of The Crown on Netflix. We have 10 episodes that start from The Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977 and ends with Margaret Thatcher standing down in 1990- so a span of some 13 years with a lot of focus on the matrimonial woes of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, as well as those of Queen Elizabeth’s other children .
Episode 1 (Gold Stick’) covers 1977 to 1979 and is a very strong start to the new series.
1977 marks the Silver Jubilee of the Queen’s reign and heralds the start of political change in the UK. A weakness of the episode is that it does not cover the huge period of decline in the late 1970’s culminating in the Winter of Discontent where binmen, gravediggers, train drivers and nurses went on strike and which led to Margaret Thatcher’s rise as Prime Minister (you can’t understand why people voted Margaret Thatcher into power if you don’t know what she was the answer to!).
However, the episodes chronicles three main public events at that time – a) the rise of Mrs Thatcher as PM and how having two women in power changed things, b) the assassination of Lord Mountbatten by the IRA and c) the problems of Charles finding a wife and the start of his romance with Diana.
For those who lived thorough the campaign of IRA thuggery, they may feel that ‘The Crown’ overplays their role by playing their threats and claims through Mountbatten’s funeral before he is even cold in the grave. Charles Dance though was born to play Mountbatten as he has his look and demeanour. The episode is effective in highlighting that he was pretty much a surrogate father to Charles (as he was to Prince Phillip) and although he is blamed for encouraging Charles to ‘sow his oats’ and have a relationship with Camilla, he did see that as the heir to the throne, Charles was weak and fuzzy headed about most things.
However, the real star of the show is Gillian Anderson (partner of ‘The Crown’s creator Peter Morgan) who really embodies Margaret Thatcher with the right speech pattern (with hairdo to match). She is especially good at showing her softer domestic side rather than just the ‘Iron Lady’.
Episode 1 is full of some nice one liners too- at the thought of Mrs T as PM, Prince Phillip says “the last thing we need are two women running the shop”. However, as The Queen, Olivia Coleman probably spoke for many when she replied: “Perhaps that’s precisely what this country needs”.
On the romance front there are problems of course. Princess Anne’s marriage to Mark Phillips is on the rocks and it is Phillip who comes to her rescue to talk her up. The scene between Tobias Menzies (Phillip) and the ever outstanding Erin Doherty (Anne) is very touching.
The budding romance between Charles and Diana is also touching to begin with as he first sees her when he was dating his sister and she comes across him dressed as a ‘bad tree’. As Diana, Emma Corrin is a dead ringer for her, and she has her look and mannerisms just right. It is a sign of ‘The Crown’s strength that even though we know the history of the Charles & Diana story, we still cringe at and are moved by how Charles (and the rest of the Royal Family) acts at this time (i.e. romancing his future wife whilst at the same time arranging for jewellery to be made with his and Camilla’s name!).
For the first episode the scene is wonderfully set – Diana being betrayed early doors and Charles acting like a lovesick puppy for a married woman, Anne’s marriage is on the rocks, Princess Margaret is (as always) all over the place, whilst Mrs T and The Queen start their relationship off very coldly. More to come in later episodes!