The following is a review of the third season of The Crown — Available on Netflix.
When The Crown premiered in 2016, I proclaimed that Claire Foy’s Queen Elizabeth II might become the new face of Netflix. In 2017, following a truly outstanding second season, I argued that The Crown had become the greatest live-action television series that Netflix had ever made. Then the long wait began. It has been two years since we last saw new episodes of this show, and now all of the central characters have been recast as the next stage of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign begins. Though this third season is not as impeccable as I thought the previous season was, Peter Morgan’s series is still a must-watch series even for those people who aren’t necessarily obsessed with royal families.
The third season of The Crown begins with Queen Elizabeth II (now played by Olivia Colman) being told that she has aged gracefully, but the person telling her this keeps on putting his foot in his mouth. It is a witty opener, which knowingly winks to the audience, to a season that begins with the loss of Winston Churchill (played by John Lithgow), fear of the KGB, and further sibling rivalries as Princess Margaret (now played by Helena Bonham Carter) dazzles President Lyndon B. Johnson (played by Clancy Brown) in the United States to secure a deal for Britain. The season, which takes place from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, primarily deals with mid-life crises and the fact that Elizabeth — sometimes referred to as Lilibet — is forced to prepare her oldest son (and future king) Prince Charles (now played by Josh O’Connor) for the difficulties that high-profile royals encounter in the rigid monarchy.
This season, I suspect that the most daunting challenge for the creators of The Crown was the idea of having to transition to an entirely new cast without losing the spirit or oomph of the main characters that were designed in 2016 and 2017. It is an understandable worry, and, admittedly, I was very worried about having an entirely new cast to get to know all over again. Thankfully, the casting director did a phenomenal job. Olivia Colman is predictably outstanding as Lilibet. It is not just an imitated performance, and, in a way, Colman even makes the character her own by bringing a little bit of herself to the character in small moments. Though used sparingly, Helena Bonham Carter is pitch-perfect as Princess Margaret. Though I initially was a little bit trepidatious by Tobias Menzies’ take on the character, Menzies’ performance eventually worked for me in the seventh episode of the season. Furthermore, Josh O’Connor is phenomenal as Prince Charles, and he fully lives up to the pressure of playing such an important character in the show. In fact, I think O’Connor is the star of the best episode of the season — Tywysog Cymru.
The one unfortunate casting misstep, however, is with the Duke of Windsor, who is now played by Derek Jacobi. Jacobi is fine, but Alex Jennings’ performance as Edward was one of the best things about the previous seasons. Additionally, I think that writers David Hancock and Peter Morgan botch Jacobi’s episode — The Dangling Man — by not discussing an essential and problematic detail to Prince Edward’s character, which was detailed in the second season episode Vergangenheit.
Obviously, this season also introduces a couple of completely new characters, including the two prime ministers that Queen Elizabeth II has to now get used to almost immediately after Churchill has passed away. Though Michael Maloney’s Edward Heath is underwritten and one-dimensional, Jason Watkins’ Harold Wilson is genuinely one of the highlights of the season. I ended up truly adoring the rapport that Watkins and Colman establish with each other’s characters.
I have some mixed feelings about the way they handle mid-life crises in the third season of The Crown. I think that in two of the three most prominent episodes revolving around these crises, the writers and actors do a great job of communicating these issues. I think that Margaret’s struggles are communicated really well, and Tobias Menzies has en entire episode dedicated to his character’s mid-life crisis. This episode, which is called Moondust, is the one episode that made me accept and find interest in Menzies’ version of the character. The episode revolves around Prince Phillip’s fascination with the Apollo 11 mission, and his reaction to meeting the crew, which almost gives new meaning to the old saying ‘never meet your heroes.’ However, for one reason or another, I didn’t really connect with the episode that detailed how Lilibet struggled to find time for her passions.
Interestingly, I think that the two very best episodes of the season both revolve around Wales, whose relationship with the rest of the union is, in the series, likened to Charles’ feelings of isolation in the royal family. The third episode of the season — Aberfan — revolves around the events of the Aberfan mining disaster of 1966, where 144 people (including 116 children) lost their lives. Elizabeth is criticized for not responding properly, and she has to recognize and accept that the monarch has to be comforting in times of trouble, even though she has difficulties responding to tragedies. Aberfan ends on a haunting final shot, within which Colman should win over any fan who might still be worried about the new cast.
Tywysog Cymru, which I’ve already called the best episode of the season, confidently presents Josh O’Connor as a new main character, and, as previously mentioned, O’Connor has risen to the challenge of portraying such a complex figure. This episode revolves around his investiture in Wales, and, as is made clear in a brilliant Welsh speech (which appears to have been partially fabricated), the episode sees him become emotionally connected to Welshmen’s predicaments. I think that Tywysog Cymru is a strong companion piece to Paterfamilias from season two. Tywysog Cymru culminates in a showstopping scene with Colman and O’Connor, where Lilibet rebukes her son. This is an episode that announces the Charles character as a living, breathing entity, which the series desperately wants you to support, and the series definitely succeeds in doing so.
Admittedly, I don’t think that the third season is as good as the impeccable second season, but the daunting cast changeover is done so masterfully that it is probably as seamless as it could be. I think that The Crown continues to be one of Netflix’s proudest achievements. Though MINDHUNTER is proving to be equally good as, if not better than, The Crown, Peter Morgan’s series is still one of the very best shows out there, and I cannot wait for the series to make its glorious return.
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.
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