After two critically lauded seasons, we finally get to see how Netflix’s The Crown transitions to its new cast. In case you haven’t heard, the core members of the royal series will rotate out every two years, and this is the first of two major shifts. The crown now firmly sits on the head of reigning Best Actress Oscar winner Olivia Colman, and she makes for a mighty fine Queen Elizabeth II. With new faces, The Crown feels like its expanding beyond Elizabeth’s point of view and taking a wider look at the world as a whole.
In the first few moments of the new season of The Crown, we see Olivia Colman’s face reflected back to her through the image of a postage stamp. While she gazes upon her current profile and the profile of a younger Elizabeth (yes, there is still one glimpse of Claire Foy), she dismisses assistants who try to convince her that she doesn’t look older, “Age is rarely kind to anyone…one just has to get on with it.”
This season does span the course of 13 years–from 1964 to 1977–and shows a time when the people are hunting for more transparency from their public figures. It starts with Elizabeth’s relationship with Prime Minister Harold Wilson and continues to explore themes of regret and duty. The sets and costumes are still gorgeous (Elizabeth has so many hats…so many strange hats…)
Royal duty trapping one’s free will has always been a major theme throughout The Crown, but the previous seasons showed us the characters still battling that idea. Elizabeth had the hardest job because she is the queen, but it affected her marriage and the relationship with Princess Margaret (now deliciously played by Helena Bonham Carter). It feels that members of the royal family have settled into a silent resentment.
There are echoes of earlier themes explored with new historical events. The Aberfan colliery disaster of 1966–which killed 144 people, including 116 children–is the focus of the third episode, and it’s one of the best of the season. Much like “Act of God” from season one, it pulls a lot of action from the royal family until Elizabeth is unaware of why she should comment on the incident. She is far away from the tragedy in Wales, but she must again come to terms with the notion that the public wants to see her express her feelings about events affecting her people. Surely, this will come around once more in the last two seasons of The Crown when Princess Diana dies (as previously explored in the film The Queen). While Foy’s Elizabeth can blame inexperience for lack of vocal sympathy, there is a deeper sense of regret on Colman’s face when she goes to visit the site of the disaster.
Phillip (now embodied by a stern Tobias Menzies) still yearns for adventure and almost seems angry that the Apollo 11 lands on the moon without his assistance in the episode titled, “Moondust.” When the astronauts comes to visit Buckingham Palace, there is a restrained excitement that comes over Menzies and he is finally allowed to unclench his jaw and smile. Bonham Carter’s Margaret is the life of the party, but there is a heaviness in her eyes that remains very sad. There is that difference between her and Elizabeth that seems to always grow.
Now that Elizabeth’s children are grown, we can see how duty affects those who were royally born. Leading up to his investiture, Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) is sent to Wales to study among rising Welsh Nationalism. O’Connor (most known for the gay country drama God’s Own Country) looks freakishly a lot like a young Charles, and we see a dorkier side of a member of the royal family. He longs to go back to Cambridge so he can continue acting, and he has a thirst for knowledge that only a young person could have. O’Connor has a great stand off with his Colman in his showcase episode that debates the duty and responsibility that Charles doesn’t quite understand yet.
There is magnificence in The Crown‘s restraint, and that is fully realized in Colman’s Elizabeth. I originally thought that the show was ignoring her to bring in more characters and feature other storylines, but I was wrong. This isn’t just about Elizabeth but about how her position affects those and how she, alone in her palace and away from the life of her people, could potentially be left behind. Colman’s face on a postage stamp carries the burden of suppressing her own personal feelings, and Elizabeth is at an age where she’s an expert at it.
The third season of The Crown debuts on November 17.