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  • Rachel Burchfield

My thoughts on The Crown season three

CREDIT: NETFLIX Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II, who the show is about - yet she sometimes seems to play a minor part in its drama.

The Crown season three dropped on Netflix on Sunday, November 17. (Which, Netflix, why? Why would you drop such beautiful work on a Sunday instead of a Friday, leaving us barely any time that weekend to enjoy it?) I watched the entire season with my mother, Joy, who as I’ve mentioned on this blog before is the reason why I love all things Royal and why I have been a Royal Watcher since I knew what the Royal Family was. I so enjoyed my time with my mom, but because of our sometimes conflicting schedules, it took me way longer to finish the season than it normally would. We finished the 10 episodes this past Saturday, November 23. Which still makes me sad because we now have to wait likely another year and a half before we get season four. She and I have already talked about plans to re-watch this season because it is that good.

I am especially impressed – the period of 1964 to 1977, which this season encompasses, is not a particularly fascinating time in the history of the Family, and especially in the life of the Queen. Let’s face reality – the Queen is really quite dull, and that’s what makes her who she is: A steady, stable rock on which the entire U.K. has stood for 67 years. The characters in this show are much the same – the Queen is the constant, with all of the drama of her bloodline swirling around her as she stands firm.

If you haven’t watched season three, be prepared for ample spoilers henceforth, so stop reading if you’re not interested in going down the rabbit hole.

Even if you are not a fan of the Royal Family (although, one must wonder, what the hell brought you to The Duchess Commentary?), The Crown is a beautifully done show. I am sure that many who were unfamiliar with the Family are now obsessed because of how well written and well shot this show is. Seasons one and two were so perfect that, I’ll admit, I was nervous walking into season three because of the myriad of cast changes, most notably that of the Queen herself. Claire Foy is gone, replaced with Olivia Colman. A brilliant actress, I wondered if I could see the Queen in Colman, rather than Olivia. Claire Foy was a relative unknown when she undertook the role of the Queen, so it was easy to allow her to fully embody the Queen. I know Olivia Colman from some of her other work, so I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stop seeing her and wouldn’t be able to start seeing Elizabeth.

I’ll admit – at first, the cast changes were hard to get used to. But by the middle of the second episode, I’d forgotten Foy and had fully engrossed myself in Colman. And the best cast change of all was that of Philip, who is now played by Tobias Menzies in an almost flawless performance. (Also, I would like to offer myself up to marry Menzies if he’s not already taken.) Helena Bonham Carter surges into the role of Margaret. The true scene stealer of this season is Erin Doherty as Anne – she is absolutely magnificent. Second to her is Josh O’Connor, who so perfectly masters Charles’ nuances – right down to the voice, the ears, the posture – that it is almost eerie. (I would also volunteer to marry him if Tobias is spoken for.) The retelling of history was truly kind to Camilla, who is played by the stunningly beautiful Emerald Fennell (Camilla, as I’ve come to discover, is many good things, but stunningly beautiful is not one of them). Jane Lapotaire as Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Greece and Denmark, brought me to tears. If you’re not watching this show, you’re truly missing the best show on TV right now.

In the first episode we meet Prime Minister Harold Wilson, whom Elizabeth would come to have an extremely close rapport with, though their relationship started out rocky. In the second episode, Carter’s charms as Margaret are on full display. Personality-wise, Margaret, the younger of the two daughters of George VI, is more suited for a high-profile role like the Crown; but, as so often happens in life, the one “best suited” to play the part doesn’t get the chance. In this episode the concept of “dazzling versus dull” Royals is introduced, and it got me thinking (this is not a knock to anyone, just the truth) – Elizabeth was the dull to Margaret’s dazzling; Charles was the dull to Diana’s dazzling; William is the dull to Harry’s dazzling; and that is why all of those relationships were always so rife with conflict.

Episode three – about the disaster in Aberfan – cued up the tears, which flowed in abundance in episode four as the series retold the end of the life of Princess Alice. But my favorite parts of this season were learning more about Charles, especially the weird love square (as opposed to love triangle) happening between Charles, Camilla, Anne, and Andrew Parker Bowles. I have some thoughts on this…

Andrew and Camilla were longtime lovers, and their very public lust for each other was why Charles was basically forbidden to marry Camilla. (Spoiler alert: When Charles met Camilla in 1971, she was not a virgin. Which, who gives a shit in 2019, but in 1971, for the heir apparent, a lot of shits were given.) Andrew couldn’t stay faithful, so Camilla used Charles to get back at Andrew. She did end up falling in love with Charles, but for many reasons – mostly because, at that time, Andrew was the love of her life and his rejection of her only made her want him more – she chose Andrew. Charles, though he was hopelessly in love with Camilla, could never have married her. The Queen never would have allowed it, and his mentor, Lord Mountbatten (who is featured relatively prominently in this season) encouraged Charles to sow his wild oats and not even consider marrying until after he turned 30 in 1978. In a storyline so bizarre (and I don’t think it made it into this season), the fathers of both Andrew and Camilla got together and pressured Andrew to go ahead and marry Camilla already and quit, for lack of a better term, dicking around. They even went so far as to take out an engagement announcement in all of the papers announcing Andrew and Camilla’s engagement – before Andrew proposed, forcing his hand. When Andrew and Camilla were married in 1973, Charles was away serving his country in the military. The Crown is accurate historically at some points and inaccurate historically at others, like this: There was no phone call between Charles and Camilla where she said she loved him, but they couldn’t be together. Charles, God love him, never even got that courtesy. He was told only after it happened that Andrew and Camilla had been married. To this he famously told Lord Mountbatten “I suppose the feeling of emptiness will pass eventually.” Some say Charles messed it all up by meeting her too early and not asking her to wait for him before he went off for military service; it never would have happened anyway. But, this is a great example that if a couple is meant to be together, they will end up together, even if they have to take the massively roundabout way to get there. Charles and Camilla remained friends, and by the end of the 1970s were physically involved again. Though I think there was a brief respite in Charles and Camilla’s affair in the very beginning of Charles and Diana’s marriage, by 1984 after the birth of Harry they had reconnected and have really never been apart since. Camilla was even in the audience at Westminster Abbey when Charles and Diana married in 1981, which I think is weird and cruel. Diana never stood a chance and every time I watch their wedding – which I rarely do anymore because it’s upsetting – she just looks like a lamb being led to the slaughter down the aisle, innocent and pure and truly in love with her prince and having no idea how fucked up this all really is. But that’s for season four.

Anne, for her part, just wanted a randy with Andy and didn’t give a hoot past that. God, I love Anne. In my next life, I want to be her. I care about everything; she cares about nothing. She is so aloof and so devil may care and hilarious and witty and nose to the grindstone and I just think she is so, so underrated. And Erin Doherty nails this role playing her.

(Speaking of Anne, this season hit some major points but totally skipped over others, like the fact that during this period Anne got married and was a part of a kidnapping plot. I kid you not!)

It’s also impossible in this season, as in seasons past, to not feel so damn sorry for Charles and to not wonder if the Queen is as emotionally stunted as she comes across on this show.

We also see Philip dealing with a midlife crisis, wondering if being the spouse of the monarch is really all he was cut out for in his life when he feels he was born to do so much more. We see Charles’ investiture as the Prince of Wales, the death of the Duke of Windsor, Margaret’s affair with the much younger Roddy Llewellyn, and Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee, marking 25 years on the throne. This leaves us to pick up in 1977, so season four will heavily focus on Diana and God I can’t wait.

Even though she’s not in this season, there was a huuuuuuge Diana Easter egg snuck in: Remember when Diana said “well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded?” (Referencing, of course, that it was always she, Charles, and Camilla.) Well Anne drops that exact line. Royal Watchers around the world, I’m sure, gasped at recognition. Also, there was another less noticeable Easter egg: Little Prince Edward is shown wearing the same gray coat that Prince George has worn in real life.

My final review: The Crown never has a bad season, and this was not a bad season. It was good. But it is setting us up for season four, which will be great.

Well done, Netflix. Well done.

This will be our last post before Thanksgiving – we’ll reconvene and talk about Andrew next week. In the spirit of the holiday, I’d like to say how thankful I am to all of you readers – you make my life infinitely more wonderful! Keep reading, because the best is yet to come – and, also the worst, thanks to Andrew.

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