In The Crown’s third season, some major things have changed, but fundamentally, the Netflix drama remains the same. It is still beautifully shot, still committed to shining a new light on royal history, still lavish, still grand, and still immensely satisfying to watch. It is also still extremely well-acted, even though that’s where the biggest shifts occur. The Queen is now played by Elizabeth Colman, Phillip by Tobias Menzies and Princess Margaret by Helena Bonham Carter.
The first two seasons explored the beginning of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign as she struggled between her personal desires and the cold, harsh duty of the crown. She was younger, more naive and less prepared for such a role. However, season three begins in the mid-1960s with a new cast to play slightly older roles. The older actors add a new dimension as their fixed beliefs become even more of a liability in a rapidly modernizing world. In this season, the Queen seems more in tone with her role and her duties. She is stronger, more confident and more committed.
Although Elizabeth, Phillip, and others still question themselves, the major conflict that continues to lead the show is the contrast of individuality and modernity running up against duty and tradition. This season, music and lighting contribute to the changing times. As opposed to the previous seasons, which based lighting with a blue undertone, season three’s lighting has a yellow undertone. This signifies the unavoidable transformation of both the characters and the kingdom as a whole. Score, nevertheless, is still similar to those seasons beforehand. Like most shows, the heavy scenes get heavy music, while the lively scenes get lively music. This helps bridge the gap between acting and script, I think that, especially in a drama as extravagant as this one, music plays a huge role in helping the viewer understand certain complex emotions and decisions. Every element of the show continues to be as impressive as ever, and The Crown still shines as a riveting period drama.
This season is filled with some hidden gems of British history that are buried deep in the archives. This includes a fatal avalanche of coal, a failed coup, a secret Russian spy, and a sexy love triangle that includes both Prince Charles and Princess Anne. But, mostly, this season is about change and how the government begins reflecting the wants and needs of people who see no need for a royal and her family.
Now, the audience sees a settled sovereign who seems to finally be afoot with her husband, Phillip. Yet, Queen Elizabeth faces new challenges in her family and in her kingdom. In terms of family, it is no longer Philip who is a headache, but rather her son, prince Charles who is starting to come into his own. Josh O’Connor, aka prince Charles, is a standout this season. He portrays to perfection the soft-spoken, sensitive young Prince of Wales who only sees his future role as a burden, rather than a responsibility. He’s not appreciated for who he is by anyone other than his sister, Anne, played by the wonderful Erin Doherty. Prince Charles sees the monarchy as antithetical to both himself and the future, which in turn causes friction within his family structure. The tragedy that hangs over him isn’t just his feelings for Camilla, but also our knowledge as viewers of how so much is sacrificed for him to be king. Even though decades later he still hasn’t achieved that title, and when he does, it will be for a relatively short period.
The season as a whole is wonderful, but there are two episodes which stand-out more than the others. “Aberfan” and “Moondust” are wildly different in nature, but both come out heartbreakingly beautiful episodes that discuss failure in both government and personal levels.
The third episode of the season, “Aberfan”, is absolutely devastating as it recounts the Aberfan disaster in Wales that left 116 children and 28 adults dead. In the aftermath of the event, overcome with grief, the people of Aberfan are intent on finding who’s to blame for the disaster. There’s Wilson, the prime minister who desperately doesn’t want this to get political. There’s the National Coal Board, who were repeatedly told that the trip was dangerous and did nothing, and who blamed the disaster on rainfall that could not have been prevented. And then there’s the Queen, who refuses to visit the deadly scene because it’s not her place. She insists that her presence would only paralyze the relief effort, but ends up becoming the scapegoat. When newspapers get a hold of her absence, she goes to Aberfan to save face.
This episode is the most tragic of the series, not only because of the loss of life, but also because the audience gets to see how flawed the system is. The blame gets passed on from figure to figure, and nobody ends up taking responsibility. It’s heartbreaking, frustrating and quite angering to anyone watching the whole episode go down. However, the beauty of the episode is unmatched. The cinematography alone should be worthy of an Oscar.
In contrast to “Aberfan”, which is a more political episode, “Moondust” focuses more on the personal aspect, specifically that of Phillip. Episode 7 explores the 1969 moon landing from the British perspective, and Philip especially is enamored with the adventure. He’s lost interest in the church, and his royal life in general, as he enters his midlife crisis. The queen recruits a new dean of Windsor, who asks Philip for permission to use an empty building on the estate to open an academy for personal and spiritual growth aimed at mid-career priests who need to recharge. Philip shares a lot of worrying personal issues in his spiritual meeting, but still believes he is fine afterwards. But, the real issue begins when the astronauts who walked the moon visit the Castle. Phillip takes the opportunity to ask them: Do we have a destiny?, to which the men had no answer. This leaves Phillip crushed and with shattered dreams. He later revisits the priests and admits he needs help with his looming depression.
I like this episode because it brings attention to an important topic: mental health. The fact that this is talked about and addressed helps the viewer understand the heaviness that comes with being a public figure. It’s as if the show is telling you: “If Phillip, who is a strong, opinionated man, can ask for help, then so can you if you need it.”
Overall, this season surprised me. While I was fully prepared for the change of scenery- or so to speak- that this season was providing, I was never expecting to be this impressed by it. The Crown, once again, nails it.