The sensitive Prince Charles of Season Three becomes a self-pitying figure consumed with jealousy of his young wife, Lady Diana in Season Four  of The Crown(Apaaarna Ram)
The sensitive Prince Charles of Season Three becomes a self-pitying figure consumed with jealousy of his young wife, Lady Diana in Season Four  of The Crown(Apaaarna Ram)

Specatator by Seema Goswami: Royal progress

The latest season of The Crown is more fiction than fact; but great fun nonetheless
By Seema Goswami | Hindustan Times
PUBLISHED ON NOV 29, 2020 07:13 AM IST

It’s more than a little disconcerting when a ‘period drama’ is about events that you remember all too clearly because you lived through them. Not only does it make you wonder how old you have become, if you are anything like me, you spend your entire time shouting at the TV screen, “No, no, no! That’s not how it happened at all!”

So, yes, that’s how I watched season four of The Crown, the Netflix series based loosely – and on the evidence of the latest episodes, very loosely indeed – on the life and times of Queen Elizabeth II and her family. And now that I have finished binging on the series, here are some of my entirely random thoughts and observations.

• This season of the show owes more to writer Peter Morgan’s imagination than it does to history. Even in the earlier series, Morgan had played fast and loose with facts (Prince Philip was never implicated in the Profumo affair; and nor did he have an affair with a ballerina) but the plot remained true to essential facts. That is not true of season four at all. Instead, Morgan cheerfully makes things up to move the plot forward, which has the effect of making even the events that are rooted in reality seem fictitious.

• The nuanced portrayal of the royals in the previous seasons has given way to an almost caricature-like quality. The Queen is depicted as a cold, awkward woman, so distant from her children that she asks her courtiers to prepare notes on each child’s hobbies and interest before she meets them so that she is not ‘unprepared’. The sensitive Prince Charles of season three is nowhere to be found; instead the heir of the throne is a self-pitying figure consumed with jealousy of his young wife. Princess Margaret is reduced to a boorish presence with a complete lack of charm and grace. Suffice to say, it is difficult to recognise these characters as the same ones who populated The Crown’s universe in seasons two and three.

“Is turning other people’s lives into our entertainment ever a good idea? There are no easy answers; but it’s worth thinking about”

• I am no fan of Margaret Thatcher but, honestly, the Iron Lady deserved better than the mincing, parody-like performance that Gillian Anderson offers in her rendering of the British Prime Minister. Anderson plays her like a hunched old woman, perpetually put upon, both weary and worn-down. You never ever get a hint of the force of nature that Thatcher, a truly transformative figure, was during this period. And that is truly a missed opportunity.

• The best thing about the show is Emma Corrin’s performance as Princess Diana. She gets Diana’s charm and coyness just right, that slight tilt of the head as she looks up through her lashes at the world, that tremulous smile. But where the show fails – and this is Morgan’s failure rather than Corrin’s – is that it fails to capture the essence of Diana’s personality. Yes, she was naive in some ways, but she was cunning and manipulative in many others. She may have started out as Shy Di but she soon learned to play the media like a maestro. There were myriad dimensions to her personality and to project her as a mere victim is to do her injustice.

• Was ’80s fashion really as awful as it is portrayed in this series? I was a college kid, and then a young professional, during this decade and I always thought that we dressed reasonably stylishly. But I couldn’t help cringing at the young Lady Diana’s wardrobe in this series. All those pie crust collars, novelty cardigans, and meringue-like gowns seem so hopelessly dated, even downright dowdy. That sent me scurrying back to my own photo albums of this period to revisit my own ‘look’ during this time. And you know what, the series has got this entirely right. The ’80s really are the decade that fashion forgot.

• And finally, is it fair to make a TV series about people who are still alive and susceptible to being hurt by the portrayal of their inner lives? How would Charles and Camilla feel, for instance, about being reduced to adulterous fornicators? And how would Prince William and Harry feel about watching their ‘mother’ with her head stuck down a toilet bowl? Is turning other people’s lives into our entertainment ever a good idea? There are no easy answers; but it’s worth thinking about, anyway.

The views expressed by the columnist are personal

From HT Brunch, November 29, 2020

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