Roush Review: New Cast, Same Gripping Royal Drama in ‘The Crown’ Season 3
Her majesty is not amused. Or, if she is, she rarely shows it.
Same goes for the rest of the British royal family of The Crown in what could be described as a season of their discontent. “It would be nice to be dazzling on occasion,” laments Queen Elizabeth, now being played in middle age with a poignant undercurrent of resigned gravity by the marvelous Olivia Colman (an Oscar winner as 18th-century Queen Anne in The Favourite earlier this year).
The third season of Peter Morgan’s brilliant and unsparing drama, set in the turbulent mid-1960s to 1977 with an all-new cast, presents the monarch and her relatives in surprisingly stark and melancholy terms. Don’t look for group hugs in this chilly palace of repressed emotion and unrealized ambitions. Even the life of every party, irreverent Princess Margaret (a fabulously scene-stealing Helena Bonham Carter), must face the fact that she’s “a natural No. 1 whose tragedy it is to have been born No. 2.” That’s how her philandering husband, Lord Snowdon (Ben Daniels), puts it. And that’s almost kind compared to Prince Philip (Outlander’s Tobias Menzies) describing his wife’s heritage as “an uninterrupted line of stolid, turgid dreariness.”
Thankfully, The Crown is livelier than that. As in past seasons, each of the 10 episodes tells a complete and gripping story, with tones ranging from the comic — Margaret’s charm offensive at the raucous LBJ White House — to the tragic, involving a devastating avalanche that buried more than 100 schoolchildren in a Welsh village. Philip’s obsession with the 1969 moon landing becomes a study of midlife malaise when his private audience with the NASA astronauts stokes his own feelings of underachievement.
And in one of the best hours, reminiscent of The King’s Speech, a disgruntled college-age Charles (Josh O’Connor) reluctantly spends a term in Wales to learn the language before his investiture as prince, tutored by a Welsh nationalist with no love for the royals. As Charles discovers his voice, he’s later told by his mum to keep it to himself, explaining, “Some portion of our natural selves is always lost.”
By peering through what the queen calls “the mystery and the protocol” to witness the stifled humanity of these iconic public figures, this drama truly is a crowning achievement.
The Crown, Season 3 Premiere, Sunday, November 17, Netflix