This is the season of The Crown you’ve been waiting for.
There are two main additions to Peter Morgan’s lavish series, and you have probably already heard about them. Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana circle around Olivia Colman’s Queen Elizabeth, and Her Royal Highness is thrown off by how these women change her perspective on ambition, pride, and courage. Gillian Anderson, Emma Corrin, and Colman deliver three of the best performances of the year with Anderson clearly relishing every moment she has on screen.
This new season begins as Thatcher is elected and tensions between England and Ireland intensify with the IRA claiming responsibility for the bombing that takes the life of Lord Mountbatten (Charles Dance). When Anderson’s Thatcher has her first meeting with The Queen, she bows so deeply that her skirt brushes the floor. It’s a landmark moment of the series to see the first female Prime Minister stand before Elizabeth. Will this relationship be a successful one, and what will everyone think of two women running the country together? Oh, don’t worry, Philip makes an offhanded comment, so he’s still the worst.
The trio of women at the center of the fourth season of The Crown seem, at the beginning, to not have anything to do with one another, but the similarities are very clear as Thatcher and Diana spend more time with Elizabeth. Anderson’s Thatcher feels silly when she and her husband spend time with The Royal Family during a holiday weekend and Diana is the epitome of an outsider. Elizabeth casts a careful eye on Thatcher as she deals with the Falklands, and there is an amusing episode where Philip and Elizabeth debate who their favorite child is. There has always been a continuous thread throughout every season about whether Elizabeth feels she is a good mother. When Thatcher’s son goes missing, there is a great shot of Elizabeth watching Thatcher talk to the press: “The last few days have shown me very clearly that above all else I am a mother.” Gillian Anderson delivers the performance of the year because she makes us actually want to see Margaret Thatcher on screen again. Meryl who?
And what about Diana? When we first meet her, her face is obscured and she is not yet the woman whose face is splashed on every single magazine and newspaper around the world. Emma Corrin is incredible. Her body language shows that she is not yet ready for the life that she is going to be plunged into and it’s even more tragic when we see her self-harm in response to her marriage with Charles. The wedding is not shown but the images are still burned into our brains, so not need to quibble. Corrin’s voicework alone should secure her awards consideration, and, if that’s not enough, she should get an Emmy nomination for roller skating around Buckingham Palace. There are moments where she appears on screen so much like the late Princess of Wales that I had to remind myself that I wasn’t watching a documentary.
Josh O’Connor, who was so remarkable in season three, is torn between his duty to his bride and his obsession with Camilla Parker Bowles (Emerald Fennell…I still need to see Promising Young Woman). He bucked against authority and tradition last year but his dismissal of Diana and his jealousy of her will make your blood boil.
One of the best things about Colman’s performance this time around is when she stands behind Diana in small ways. Charles describes his frustration with his bride’s “incuriosity” when she is pregnant and Elizabeth tells him to shape up. She recognizes Diana’s fragility but doesn’t fault her for it. She simply people to treat her like a normal person. It’s groundwork that will certainly pay off when Elizabeth Debicki takes over for Corrin and Elizabeth becomes for confused by Diana’s fame. One of the best episodes of the season chronicles Michael Fagan’s two break-ins of Buckingham Palace. I hope that Colman submits that episode for Emmys this year, and Tom Brooke could land a guest acting nomination.
It always comes back to Anderson’s Thatcher because she is a brilliant and fascinating fixture. She was a polarizing political figure, to say the least, but she can be admired for her strength and determination above anything else. This is a season about womanhood and expectations when it comes to Elizabeth and Thatcher but it’s another example of how tradition can suffocate someone like Diana. The public is starving for someone like Diana to deliver something real and candid but the real gift from Morgan is the trio of performances from Colman, Anderson, and Corrin.
The Crown‘s fourth season will be available on November 15.