Season 4 of Netflix’s “The Crown” showcases three women of strength and power
The real-life fairytale finally debuts on one of Netflix’s most successful and anticipated dramas, “The Crown”. If in the past three seasons, the narrative centered solely on Queen Elizabeth II, the fourth has her sharing the storyline with Conservative Party Leader and Britain’s first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the awaited Charles and Diana love story plot.
Reprising her role as the Monarch, Olivia Colman maintains her devotion to the titular role and gives her more stability, fortitude, and bravado. She remains the lone figure of which all other characters center around but understandably has to stand aside to new characters in the fictional incarnation of historical events. Peter Morgan balances with grace and elegance the entrance of each new character, quite remarkably Gillian Anderson’s personification of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, which she has inhabited body, mind, and soul. She is staggeringly precise in her portrayal and is completely lost in character.
As the Queen’s first female Prime Minister and generation-mate, her dynamic with the established Queen Elizabeth is one of the most fascinating to watch. Their scenes together are quietly powerful and deeply prolific and poetic even when they seem to go head to head in confrontation. Here is a woman who is seemingly on the Monarch’s level in terms of weight and importance in the unfolding of the 10 episodes of the brand new season.
It is much more reflective of the United Kingdom of the time with character studies of commoners intercutting with the Royals. Unlike the much more personal and introspective storylines of the past three seasons, this latest one is larger in scope and more expansive in radius. The detailing of the tumultuous political career of the woman known in history as “The Iron Lady” is given a more human touch by showing her as a mother, as a woman, and in particular moments of weakness. In all her scenes, Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher is unmistakably her and calculated down to the tiniest nuance. I have a brand new respect and understanding of the political icon because of her portrayal. She deserves all the awards for this role. She is at par if not less trying than Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning take of the Prime Minister. Gillian Anderson is a triumph.
Olivia Colman’s Queen Elizabeth’s magnetism on-screen and seriously powerful portrayal is much more evident in her clapbacks to Tobias Menzies’ Prince Philip and dialogue with Josh O’Connor’s Charles. She is pictured more extensively as a mother to her four children, each with different highlights and a different human side to her. Colman’s take on the Monarch’s relationship with each of her Royal Heirs makes you see her struggle as a mother and as a Sovereign, each difficult decision she makes always in her duty to the Crown, even at the expense of her children’s ultimate happiness. She is unwavering and consistent in this duty not just to her children but also to her sister, Princess Margaret played for a final time by Helena Bonham Carter. The dynamic of the two women carries over from seasons past—the conflicts and the competition, but it is a more mellowed relationship, tempered with the most careful of affections. The scene where Elizabeth visits Margaret to tell her that her royal hierarchy has to be relinquished to her youngest son even at the onset of her illness is particularly heartbreaking. Elizabeth could have chosen to be her sister but still remained the Sovereign.
Bonham Carter gets one last chance to bid farewell to the delicious role of the flashiest member of the royal family.
Until, of course, Diana Spencer enters the picture. And her entrance is established at the very first episode, the pilot of Season 4, where she is seen as a dreamy-eyed teenager with eyes only for Prince Charles. Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin are uncanny as Prince Charles and Diana, from hair to costume to speech to mannerism. Their storyline is spread throughout the 10 episodes beginning with a chance encounter to a symbolic foreshadowing of two stag heads facing each other at Balmoral.
Diana’s entry, unlike Margaret Thatcher’s, is initially triumphant but it is also her personal triumph that isolates her from Charles and the rest of the Royals. If Margaret Thatcher’s season journey is that of conflict to ultimately being personally given the Queen’s Award of Merit, Diana’s journey is that of passing every test to testing every last patience of every member of the family.
A wounded imperial stag crossing over to crown territory is how Diana is illustrated upon the unraveling of the beginning of her love story with Charles. But it is very rarely a love story as it is set up from the beginning as a love triangle with a scene of Diana meeting Camilla Parker Bowles played by Emerald Fennell telling her all about the man she is about to marry. The dynamic between the two is similar to the quiet power struggle between that of Prime Minister Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth.
But in this dynamic, it is Diana that shines. Even as she is pictured to suffer from Bulimia and shown with a profound kind of loneliness, the season does a good job of reminding us just how beloved and charismatic Diana was. She was truly the People’s Princess.
Josh O’Connor is excellent in showing how Charles balances his restraint and resentment over the growing popularity of Diana and the hopelessness of his situation being torn by his duty to the Crown and his undying love for Camilla. He rises in power and explodes in confrontation at the very end.
And if Diana started out shy and victimized—a girl just needing to be loved, Emma Corrin allows the character to grow in dignity and confidence making her come into her own—a superstar by global standards. A force even more powerful than generations of Royals. She is nothing like the Monarchy has ever seen, even to this day.
I’ve always suspected that when the series showrunners get to the part where Diana is introduced into the story, she will soon overshadow all the other characters, even the ones established and loved for three seasons and I was right in that. Because at the very end of season four, it only took an individually standing somber Diana amongst a room of Royals with tears being held back in her eyes—there is so much power spoken in that.
And even as history will tell us that the removal of Diana’s Royal title upon the imminent demise of her marriage to the future King of Britain will ultimately be her crowning in people’s hearts.
Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher gave us the power of an unbending woman, Olivia Colman’s Queen Elizabeth gave us the stability and strength of a Sovereign’s duty above all human emotion, and Emma Corrin’s Princess Diana gave us the change one girl can bring to Kingdoms built by Kings and Queens of the past. Charm is her greatest power and she wears it proudly, like a crown on her head.
Because even as the Royals are all still alive, even in death, there has never been anyone like Diana and this is why she lives on even now as a new generation hears her story. Because never has there been a love like hers.
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