This is a mostly spoiler-free review of The Crown Season 4, though we do discuss certain elements of the story throughout. All 10 episodes of The Crown Season 4 will be available to stream on November 15 worldwide.
Netflix’s The Crown continues its triumphant reign in Season 4, with another batch of 10 expertly crafted episodes from showrunner Peter Morgan that explore the royal family’s complex relationships with each other. New cast members Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher help to bolster what is already an A-list ensemble with equally captivating performances of their own. But Season 4 is also bittersweet, knowing that this is the last time we’ll see this particular cast embody their respective characters. Thankfully, the past two seasons have proven that Morgan and his team know how to handle a recast in order to properly depict the passage of time for the residents of Buckingham Palace.
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First and foremost (as always) is Oscar-winner Olivia Colman’s dynamic portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. Sure, we’ll get to all of the juicy Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Diana stuff in a bit, but Morgan continues to anchor each season around the Queen and the notable events affecting the UK and its global empire. In Season 4, which takes place from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, the Queen’s complicated relationship with newly elected Prime Minister Thatcher is the focal point.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Thatcher%20appears%20frail%2C%20but%20when%20she%20speaks%20there’s%20a%20powerful%20presence%20behind%20every%20word.”]While the two formidable women don’t throw any actual punches, they do have some memorable showdowns at the Palace. Anderson effectively encapsulates Thatcher’s best-known attributes, like her arched back and distinct, deliberate way of speaking. Thatcher appears frail, but when she speaks there’s a powerful presence behind every word. In one of her regularly-scheduled meetings with the Queen, the Prime Minister calls attention to the fact that she and Elizabeth are just six months apart in age. When the Queen asks who’s the senior, Thatcher (with a slight smirk) says, “I am, Mum.” It’s a subtle drop-the-mic moment in which the inconsequential age difference is used to undermine her opponent’s authority, and Colman’s perturbed facial expression shows just how irritated she is by the revelation. It’s such fun to watch these two veteran actors square off throughout the season.
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When Thatcher and Elizabeth aren’t sparring in the political arena, The Crown does an admirable job of comparing and contrasting their personal lives. In “Favourites,” Morgan deftly examines how the two mothers have a favorite offspring, whether they’re aware of it or not. We won’t spoil the results here, but the episode is especially humorous for Elizabeth, who does her darndest to determine which child she prefers over the other by spending some quality time with each of them. For a character who’s never shown much affection for any of her kids throughout the series, it’s awkwardly funny to watch her attempt to emotionally connect with her children.
In terms of Charles and Diana’s story, Season 4 covers over 10 years in just 10 episodes; the entirety of their engagement is covered in one episode. And though that may seem like a lot of historical meat to chew in a short time, Morgan dedicates enough screentime to the couple so we can get to know them properly, while also spreading sufficient love to the rest of the ensemble in order to prevent Season 4 from becoming the “Charles and Diana” show.
One of my favorite Charles and Diana episodes is the third, called “Fairytale.” Here, Morgan’s script calls attention to some romantic fairytale tropes, such as a lovely young woman falling for the handsome prince and getting to choose which ridiculously huge stone to wear on her finger. But it also plays with expectations, showing that there’s a darker side to their engagement that includes turning a blind eye to Charles’ continued affection for his longtime lover, Camilla Parker-Bowles (Emerald Fennell), and Diana’s feelings of isolation as she adapts to the intricate and sometimes bizarre customs of royal life. She’s a fish out of water, and it takes a toll on her.
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However, even when the couple is at odds with one another, O’Connor and Corrin’s on-screen chemistry is excellent. Corrin nails Diana’s youthful, lovable, and playful exuberance – traits which often clash with Charles’ less affectionate demeanor. O’Connor, for his part, seems as though he really feels at home in Charles’ skin after having portrayed the character for a full season before fully stepping into the story’s spotlight.
At first, I assumed that Charles and Camilla would be painted as the villains in this well-known tale, but The Crown’s retelling of it isn’t as black and white as that and shows them sympathy. In an unexpected but also welcome take on their fateful romance, Morgan highlights both the good and the bad aspects of Diana and Charles as individuals. By the time the credits rolled on the Season 4 finale, I understood where both sides were coming from and saw them as flawed humans rather than antagonists.
There’s not much to nitpick about The Crown’s fourth season, however, it would have been nice for Helena Bonham Carter’s Princess Margaret to have a more meaningful role. Carter was just so damn good in Season 3, especially in “Margaretology” and “Cri de Coeur.” In Season 4, Margaret is still as sassy as ever, and Carter seems born to play her devil-may-care attitude and witty charm. This time around, though, Margaret is given only one episode – “The Hereditary Principle” – in which to shine as she takes on the role of detective and uncovers a dark secret in her family’s past. While entertaining enough, if I had to pick one episode as the least significant of the season, this would be the one. That’s no slight toward Carter’s performance, but when you have dynamic characters like Thatcher, Elizabeth II, Diana, and Charles on your roster, watching Margaret play Sherlock Holmes isn’t the most exciting prospect.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Margaret%20is%20given%20only%20one%20episode%20in%20which%20to%20shine.”]But even when The Crown isn’t at its best from a story perspective, the series remains one of the best looking shows out there, from a technical standpoint. Morgan uses a team of directors and cinematographers to work on various episodes, but there is remarkably little differentiation between each chapter when it comes to the high fidelity of the filmmaking, set designs, and costumes. While I don’t have a vote in the Emmy category for makeup, the team that brought Anderson’s Thatcher to life should definitely be nominated for making her look so convincing without overdoing it. The on-location setpieces from the scenic Scottish Highlands to the bustling London streets look genuine, which gives a feeling of authenticity to everything in frame.
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