Can you dive into the Netflix series for the first time with season four? Sure! But there are some things you should know first.
The fourth season of The Crownis the first one to cover some of the most familiar stories about the royal family. It’s the first foray into Charles and Diana, it’s the first time the series gets into modern politics and the Thatcher area, and it’s also the first time that its central figure, Queen Elizabeth, resembles something closer to the monarch we know today. It’s also a great season of TV, with more energy and momentum than the show has had in previous years. It’s fun and gossipy, in its own deeply serious, painstakingly psychoanalytical kind of way.
So, let’s say you’ve never seen the show and are now interested in jumping in with season four. Will that work? Do you need to watch the beginning to know what’s going on? Can you just skip straight to the juicy parts?
The Crown season four review: The ‘angry Nordie’ stereotype is long past its sell-by date
Series four of The Crown is a tale of two iconic women – neither of whom has the letters “HRH” before their name. Because while Olivia Colman’s wry (and sometimes unsympathetic) Elizabeth II, of course, continues to receive top billing, the season is really all about Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher.
This could have been the point at which Peter Morgan’s reliably middle-brow chronicling of the Queen’s progress through the 20th century went off the rails. Diana and Thatcher are both seismic figures. The obvious worry is that parachuting them into this delicately-wrought drama would capsize the entire endeavour.
But to his credit Morgan incorporates Princess Di and Mrs T seamlessly into his grand chronicling of Elizabeth’s life and times (they may be the stars, yet they are in orbit around her). He is helped by extraordinary performances by Emma Corrin as the bright-eyed young Diana and by Gillian Anderson as a rather wistful Thatcher.
Corrin captures Diana’s naivety and her taste for the spotlight (the first time she is chased by paparazzi, something like a smile flashes across her face). Morgan clearly sees Diana as a victim hoodwinked into tying the knot with a Prince (Josh O’Connor) already in love with the married Camilla Parker-Bowles (Emerald Fennell, bringing shades of panto villainy).
The depiction of her struggles with bulimia are particularly frank and shocking. Still, The Crown is careful not to go far down the road of framing her as utterly hapless. Morgan makes it clear that Diana is an intelligent woman with her own agency (and impressive pair of roller-skates, which she uses to whoosh about Buckingham Palace).
Thatcher is a revelation, too.The part is a showcase for Anderson, who could not be further removed from her X-Files days. An Emmy Award is surely incoming
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.
One of THE HOBBLEDEOY’S all-time favorite films is writer/director Mark Herman’s Brassed Off (1996). This scene features the legendary Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald, Stephen Tompkinson, and Ewan McGregor, but the true star here is the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, who perform the music.
The Concierto de Aranjuez is by the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo. Written in 1939, it is by far Rodrigo’s best-known work, and its success established his reputation as one of the most significant Spanish composers of the 20th century.
Usually performed as a guitar concerto, the flugelhorn arrangement of the Adagio was by Kevin Bolton.
If you have not seen this film, you must. Not currently available on Netflix or Amazon, it’s worth a trip to borrow from the local library.
As regular readers will know, I have been following the footsteps of British writer and director Bruce Robinson in recent weeks. His name is not well known, but he is the creative genius behind cult 80s movie Withnail & I, its ‘follow-up’ How To Get Ahead in Advertising and, more recently, Jennifer Eight and The Rum Diary. The latter saw him coming out of exile at the request of producer Johnny Depp, who remembered Withnail and wanted him for Hunter S. Thompson’s memorable story about a journalist in Puerto Rico. In fact, my Robinson journey began with the fabulous but long book about Jack The Ripper.
What I realised yesterday evening, while chuckling through How To Get Ahead In Advertising, is that Robinson belongs to a group of 70s and 80s British creatives which includes people like Roger Waters and Ken Loach. What they all share is an instinctive disdain or even hatred for Margaret Thatcher and her vision for Britain. As a child of the 80s, I can only say that Thatcher was a peripheral figure at home. Appearing on the news, invariably to cries of ‘that bloody woman’ from the men in whichever house I was watching TV in, she was our most popular leader, yet absolutely nobody admitted to ever voting for her. This is not a piece about Thatcher, but about Thatcherism. [ . . . ]