The best series so far of the royal drama, with the family sliding into dysfunction and new characters providing 80s shoulder-padded spectacle
The Crown (Netflix) has finally reached the blockbuster era, thanks to the pincer-like introduction of Diana (soon to be Princess) and Margaret (Thatcher), at long last, who both elevate the season to its best form yet. It begins in 1979, with the election of Britain’s first female prime minister, and ends in 1990, amid the furious flames that were beginning to consume the marriage of the heir to the throne. It is grand, gorgeous and as soapy as ever, perfect for a wintery period of hunkering down.
I have not always been convinced by The Crown. In the past, it has been prone to sentimentality, and never knowingly using one word to hint at a situation when several thousand will do. The sumptuous look of it all and the delicious performances have frequently been called upon to come to the rescue of the writing, which is sometimes clumsy, over-explaining subtext, not trusting its own subtlety, eventually spelling any emotional conclusions out all in bold capital letters.
This season does not suddenly find a low-key groove – it deploys a hunting metaphor with which it repeatedly slaps the viewer around the face in these first episodes – but because the subject matter is so big and bombastic, it does fit together with more ease. It helps, I think, that the coldness and cruelty that runs through the Firm – the snobbery, the resistance to outsiders, the refusal or inability to act with anything resembling parental affection – is shuffled to the front, while the question of what must be sacrificed in the name of duty is ever-present. Its sympathies are leaning less towards to old guard, and more towards the new.
Emma Corrin, fresh out of drama school, is a wonder as Diana. She first appears dressed as a tree, hiding behind a plant pot, impish and youthful to the point of child-like. Later we see her dancing to Blondie when Charles first telephones, having spied the potential of what she might have to offer him, or what he might take from her. That hunting metaphor, we know, is about to become all the more pertinent. The role is demanding, and asks a lot of Corrin; with the assistance of Josh O’Connor, who has emerged as one of the true stars of the saga, she pulls it off with remarkable skill.