A Royal Historian Breaks Down What's To Come On ‘The Crown’ Season 4

- The Crown -
A Royal Historian Breaks Down What's To Come On ‘The Crown’ Season 4

Heavy is the head that wears The Crown, and it doesn’t seem like that weight will be getting any lighter when the lavish Netflix drama returns for Season 4 on November 15.

Last we left off with the monarchy, Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman) was leading the royal procession for her Silver Jubilee, celebrating 25 years on the throne.

Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) was rebuked for wanting to marry Camilla Shand (Emerald Fennell) and feels as if he is a black sheep in the family, while Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) and Antony Armstrong-Jones (Ben Daniels) are separating after a tumultuous love affair.

In the Season 3 finale, “Cri de Coeur,” the Queen confides in her sister, wondering if she should even go through with the Jubilee. “You don’t think it might all backfire on me? Ask yourself, in the time I’ve been on the throne, what have I actually achieved?”

She wonders if she has been useless and unhelpful, rather than “calm and stable,” as Margaret suggests. But Margaret insists that the place has only fallen apart “if we say it has. That’s the thing about the monarchy. We paper over the cracks.”

Heading into Season 4, there may be some cracks that could deepen into chasms for the House of Windsor, as new additions to the series arrive in the forms of Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) and Princess Diana (Emma Corrin), as teased in Netflix’s release date announcement and sneak peek.

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While we’re all want to see Princess Diana’s wedding dress recreated to a T, we also want to know what exactly Season 4 needs to excavate — and who better to pose that question to than a historian! Enter Dr. Carolyn Harris — a historian author, and royal commentator, who gave us her take on the age old debate between dramatization and historical accuracy.

For Starters, Can We Consider The Crown a “Time Capsule” of British History?

In Harris’ opinion, that is a no brainer. Complete neutrality is far to come by on a narrative series, and not what series creator Peter Morgan necessarily strives for, but the period drama can surely serve as a healthy reminder of events from Britain’s past.

The Crown series has highlighted events in British history that were well-known in their own time, but are often more obscure today. Since the series is a blend of fact and fiction, viewers are interested to know more about the actual historical events that inform the drama. The series is valuable in highlighting moments in British history, but events are portrayed in a fictional context and streamlined to accommodate the themes explored by the drama.”

Bottom line, she says, “The series should not be seen as a neutral ‘time capsule’ of history.”

Well, Retrospectively, What Rang True to Life In the First Three Seasons?

An accession to the throne would completely alter a person’s life at any age, but as Queen Elizabeth II assumed her role at only 25, Harris considers The Crown’s depiction of the overwhelming impact on her personal life to be a crown jewel itself of the show.

Harris also recognizes a sticking point that is ultimately the crux of the family dynamics in the series — the ebb and flow of Elizabeth and Margaret’s sisterhood. She adds that “the young Queen's accession complicates her relationship with her younger sister Princess Margaret. Queen Elizabeth II has a clear purpose in life while her sister does not.”

Especially in the Season 3 finale of The Crown, we see just how intrinsic the relationship between Margaret and Elizabeth is, after Margaret overdoses on nitrazepam. Elizabeth visits her once she’s come to and tells her that, for the record, she thinks Margaret is very good at being a sister:

“Of all the people everywhere, you are the closest and most important to me. And if by doing this, you wanted to let me imagine for one minute what life would be like without you, you succeeded. It would be unbearable.”

Anything That Could Have Been Explored More?

Harris wishes that we could have seen more of the toll Queen Elizabeth II’s reign took on her own Queen Mother, who loses a husband as her daughter ascends.

While Harris notes that she is present in many scenes in the early seasons, and there is an episode that focuses on her brief retreat to Scotland (in the eighth episode of Season 1, “Pride and Joy”), “it would have been interesting for the series to explore in more detail how the change in reign affected the Queen Mother's sense of purpose as she transitioned from Queen Consort to Queen Mother.”

So Post-Harold Wilson, Where Will We Find Ourselves In The Margaret Thatcher Era of '80s Britain?

Prime Minister Harold Wilson resigned from his post, as he regretfully informs the Queen of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in the Season 3 finale. As we can expect to see much of Margaret Thatcher’s move into Downing Street, Harris hopes that in terms of politics, Season 4 addresses the response of the Commonwealth to apartheid in South Africa. “Margaret Thatcher opposed economic sanctions in South Africa, while other Commonwealth leaders were in favor of sanctions,” Harris recalls.

“There is evidence that Queen Elizabeth II favored sanctions and sought advice from other Commonwealth Prime Ministers on this issue. After the end of apartheid, the Queen developed a strong friendship with Nelson Mandela.”

And personally? “Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher were very close in age — Thatcher was born in 1925 and the Queen in 1926 — and they were both women in high political positions at a time when there were far fewer women in politics than there are today,” Harris notes.

“Both the Queen and Thatcher balanced marriage and motherhood with political careers. A key theme in The Crown series is the relationship between the personal and political in the Queen's life and the series may well explore how Thatcher's political career influenced her personal life as well."

How Should We Come to Meet Princess Diana?

Joining the royal family as a newcomer is no easy feat, let alone being born into it. So when Diana enters the picture in Season 4, Harris thinks that “the series will demonstrate how difficult it could be for a new person to join the royal family, even the daughter of an Earl."

She also ponders if The Crown may imagine Diana seeks advice from other members of the royal family, “especially as the challenges for Prince Philip as a royal consort have been central to the series.”

Beware: Sensationalizing Her Relationship With Charles Would Be a Mistake

While history has foretold how Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s marriage ends in separation and divorce, Harris fears that “dramatizations of their marriage may be inclined to emphasize constant conflict between the couple from the start.”

She counters that portrayals of those moments where they found common ground should also be highlighted, such as “their determination to be more involved in the daily lives of their children than previous royal parents and take their children on royal tours.”

And as Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin have both shared, there will be plenty of time to get to know Charles and Diana’s complex relationship behind palace doors and on the road, as we are expecting to see at least her first royal tour with Charles in 1983.

More Bechdel Test Appreciation, Please

Harris considers that emphasis on the conversations and verbal tête-à-têtes between the Queen and her seven Prime Ministers in her reign up till her Silver Jubilee, as well as with her husband, Prince Philip, have taken center stage up to now.

But what would greatly fuel upcoming seasons would be more of Queen Elizabeth II's interactions with other women, like “her mother, her friends, [and] her Scottish cousins on the Queen Mother's side of the family (some of whom served as ladies-in-waiting).”

She notes that since Queen Elizabeth II's reign has seen such changes in the position of women in society (again, 25 years by the end of Season 3!), "the circumstances experienced by women in the Queen's circle would be an interesting theme to explore.”

Lastly, The Tabloid Frenzy of the Media

What Harris is most looking forward to and hopes Season 4 does not gloss over is how The Crown addresses the impact of the changing relationship between the monarchy and the media in the 1980s and 1990s, when the public life of the royals was the hot topic of every front page.

“By the time the Queen's children were marrying and starting families of their own, press intrusion into the personal lives of royalty and the influence of the tabloid press on public opinion were controversial issues.”

Season 4 of The Crown drops on Netflix on November 15.

Images: Netflix

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