The Crown season 3 review: Olivia Colman retains the majesty of Netflix’s most lavish show
The Crown (season 3)
Cast - Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Daniels, Josh O’Connor, Jason Watkins
It took three seasons, but The Crown has finally learned to embrace the aspects of its personality that it was trying to hide behind proper manners and prim smiles. Falsely perceived for several years as a lavish defence of the monarchy, it is instead an epic family tragedy about the slow erosion of one woman’s humanity.
But Elizabeth isn’t the only one going through a personal reckoning in season three of the terrific Netflix show; happiness, in all its forms, is as elusive to members of the royal family as a casual greeting. The years haven’t been kind to them. The endearing naivety of earlier seasons has been replaced by a grim weariness; the smallest hint of rebellion has been reprimanded and locked away, as if in a dungeon on the fringes of a fort. But most tragically, each of the central characters this season seems to have finally been fully indoctrinated into the cult.
Watch The Crown season 3 trailer here
The Crown isn’t as much a story about old ideas and new, as it is about the horrors of ageing in a a repressed world. The internal conflicts of its characters are far more engaging than any external threat, and some of the best episodes of season three are about these personal battles. My favourite, episode three, once again puts Elizabeth in a position where she must choose between the person that she is, and the person that she has to be.
When a horrific natural disaster claims the lives of over a hundred children in the Welsh town of Aberfan, Elizabeth is torn between paying the bereaved townsfolk a visit, or deferring to The Crown and remaining at Buckingham Palace, observing from a cold distance. In episode seven, her husband, the haughty Philip, has a spiritual awakening of sorts after witnessing with the rest of the world astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins’ adventure to the moon and back.
Unfortunately, the series’ episodic nature proves to be an obstacle in organic character development. For instance, after seemingly experiencing momentous personal epiphanies, both Elizabeth and Philip seem to revert to their old ways in subsequent episodes. Philip, having understood his insignificance in the grand scheme of things after the moon landing episode, is back to his petty earlier self as he spews venom against the Duke of Windsor for disrespecting The Crown. Elizabeth, meanwhile, is positively mean to her eldest son and heir apparent, Charles, and towards the end of the season makes a move so cruel that it erases all the sympathy we’d developed towards her for having regrets for an earlier, strikingly similar decision.
There is almost vampiric quality to her character this season. “The rest of us drop like flies,” her sister Margaret says in one scene, “but she goes on and on.” And Oscar-winner Olivia Colman captures Elizabeth’s emotionally repressed coolness with an unnerving confidence. Gone is the comparatively relaxed energy that Claire Foy brought to the part. Colman is older, yes, but whether or not she’s wiser is debatable.
Regardless of her magnetism, however, no amount of Olivia Colman is enough to distract from the fact that Tobias Menzies, and particularly Helena Bonham Carter, are underused to the point of disrespect. I would hope season four addresses this injustice.
But the biggest revelation of the new season has to be Josh O’Connor, who plays young Charles. While the series switches perspectives rather seamlessly, two episodes told from Charles’ point of view are exceptional. The storytelling isn’t particularly subtle — Charles’ alienation from the rest of his family is conveniently mirrored in Wales’ political distancing by the UK — but it never has been. O’Connor’s tremendous performance, in a show that is positively brimming with them, is outstanding. He is heartbreaking in the penultimate episode as a man cursed, when he wryly describes his situation as “Not so much an existence but a predicament.” “I am both free and imprisoned,” he tells Camilla Shand, the love of his life, “Utterly superfluous and quite indispensable.”
Never is the Shakespearean tragedy of the story more affecting than in Charles’ scenes. As with the rest of his family, The Crown has robbed him of the freedom to love, to laugh, to live; an alternate version of his future is there for him to see in the eyes of his dying ‘uncle’, the Duke of Windsor.
Perhaps in future seasons, he, too, will learn to serve his masters, and accept the family that he has had the misfortune of being born into. Or perhaps, in a welcome twist, he could pass on some of his spirit to his children, who might in turn pass it on to their own, until one day, the Saddest Family in the World will finally escape from the shackles of its self-imposed imprisonment.