The Crown Review: Series 3
Updated: Feb 16
Is there life after Megxit? Is the monarchy to survive Prince Harry and Megahn Markle?
Don't care, just including that to boost SEO
Netflix: Released on Nov 27 2019
Dir: Benjamin Caron (eps 1-4)
Christian Schwochow (eps 5-6)
Jessica Hobs (eps 7 & 10)
Sam Donovan (eps 8-9)
Starring Olivia Coleman, Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham-Carter, Ben Daniels
So after over 23 months, it is finally back on our screens.
I think it is important to acknowledge with the rise of Netflix, viewers are spoiled for choice. If you take a series that is good, but far from the best thing around, and you make viewers wait for two years between series, I am sorry, you are scoring an own goal.
Behemoth shows such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones could maybe do it, but even they would be risking it. People are fickle and memories are short. It is similar to Warner pushing the hugely-anticipated Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince back by eight months. Is it a coincidence that it has the lowest opening weekend box-office return of the entire franchise? Fans were furious, there were protests, what was worse for Warner Bros is that the protests stopped. The anger stopped, then demonstrably so did the interest. Also we should remember this was the biggest movie-franchise ever, and it had a strong back catalogue for fans to indulge in, like a kind of "movie-methadone" As unnecessary gamble as it was,(after all, the reason many believe was that it was in response to the laughably inferior 'Twilight' series) it had a reason, and it was big enough to play the waiting game. Some would say The Crown was working way above it's pay-grade keeping season three wrapped and unseen for so long.
Still the question would be was it worth it? The response; a regretful 'no'.
It bought some chronologically determined changes. We had Olivia Coleman, fresh on our screens after her Oscar win, which is possibly one of the most deserved and universally approved Oscar wins since the English Patient...ha haha, joking. It was deserved. She is fantastic and does not disappoint. What was quite a surprise was the portrayal. After Claire Foy playing a demure, but spirited and ultimately likeable Liz, Olivia played her a very cold, distant, media-naive, self-involved, and unpleasantly homely frump. Making one understand why Prince Phillip himself was not happy with Olivia. Speaking of him, we had Tobias Menzies replace the good ex-doctor as the ubiquitous hubby. In this outing, he did not get the chance to stretch his legs so much which was one of the strengths in the last series. At certain points, it would feel he was doing a bad impression of Ralph Fiennes.
Finally, we have the one-trick Goddess herself, as Margaret, Helena Bonham-Carter, playing aloof and eccentric and a bit wobbly...again.
Erin Doherty in her junior outing was pleasing and funny as the unflappable and sardonic Princess Anne. However, the true standout star was Josh O'Connor as Prince Charles. An actor familiar from Peaky Blinders where he played the unwilling stooge very nearly shot in the face by a Jewish sociopath, and a turn as a rowdy upper-class fink in the Riot Club, a movie based on (supposedly) the famous exploits of the Bullingdon club. Still, this is all just to say, he has a certain look, and that privileged English is clearly something he does well.
Yet what he does here is more, it warrants something more deserving than saying he has the right look, something better. He has an awkwardness unusual in a person of such desirable statistics. He cowers with a lopsided flail when he is standing as if in a windstorm. the scenes dealing with his ordeals and the episodes that focused upon it were a highlight for me and I very much hope, and presume he will be a bigger player in series 4.
So that is the players, what about the play? It opens in a very admirable fashion. We say goodbye to one member in a rather underfelt way, given the magnitude of this person and the commitment given (all but a few will know exactly who is meant.)
For fans of Robert Le Carre, it was a treat to see the espionage of a certain high-ranking member of the establishment dealt with and to teach the younger generation about the treachery and intrigue of those days. For those who thought it was all brown clothing, brown wallpaper, and red phone boxes.
Episode three, whilst this is a spoiler-free review, did deal with a vital piece of British history that, along with the Dunblane Massacre is the worst peacetime tragedy to befall our isles, yet how many reading this will be stuck when I say the name of Aberfan? For those who know, it is a total heartbreak. It was excellently dealt with using terrifying and screech-holding tension, sound and colour filters and the event itself, a respectful build to a tear-ripping disaster. A time when we must have been asking; is this is the worst thing that will ever happen? It is required viewing. For if you do not know of Aberfan, you do not know of Britain and what shaped her, and that is all I will say on that.
There was the usual token "give Princess Margaret an episode or two" gesture. this culminated in the series finale, dealing with more love-life tragedy and not-so-subtle portrayal of someone who was, if the stories of her behaviour at events and quotes attributed to her are true, a rather unpleasant lady. There was a contemporary focus on the stories of the day: the Last series was Kennedy, this season was the moon landing. Used allegorically, and clumsily, as a nod to mid-life crises
We learn more of the tawdry dealings in the affair involving Camilla and Charles, and we say goodbye to the former king Edward, and see his widow portrayed with a cowardly sympathy that I felt was just the show trying to be nice. One thing I learned was of Charles and his close fondness for David/Edward. A surprise for me, considering the formers liberal outlook and the latter, well, outright fascist repugnance would be how it could be worded.
There is, as always in this series, just spectacular camerawork. It is awe-inspiring. The colour, and the symmetry, it is all first class. The panning-back shot of Edward's coffin in the RAF plane is nothing short of first-class. the cinematography of Stuart Howell and Frank Lamm should get real credit as it makes for a truly cinematic feel.
The writing is good. It does not suffer from abruptness, which is often true of shows that deal with the truth. It has highlights, as it must. The interaction scenes with the Queen and the likeably bumptious Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins) and the development of their relationship are particularly triumphant. Other than possibly John Lithgow as Churchill, there is no finer player in the role of Prime Minister. However, it could be argued that it was formulaic, her having a close relationship with a fondly-remembered PM after a rocky start. It was sad that he was replaced by Mr. Heath rather swiftly. Though Mr. Heath and the scene with a famous unionist, guess which one!? Was also of note. We will wait with anticipation of how her dealings with a certain other Prime Minister from the 1980s will be portrayed.
It is understood there will be fictional parts, and even suspension of disbelief, but just a few daft stretches. One scene that stuck was where two people who met that day give a piano performance duet that is so overly-perfect and choreographed it would put Rogers and Hammerstein to shame.
The highlight of the writing brings an interesting, and certainly a drama-friendly story to the front in the shape of Prince Phillips mother, the genial Princess Alice of Greece and Denmark. If you do not know of her, then certainly watch episode four.
One can imagine people reading this and asking: "Why the rating, it all sounds okay? This is a review talking about all facets and one that should answer this question, as it was a recurring issue, is that it was often just really boring, boring and bloated. Ten episodes could have quite easily been fitted into seven. Walking, watching, window staring, eating, and lots of watching people watching television.
Beyond any question is Hans Zimmer and his ethereal opening music, as well as the title sequence which is, to my money the best on television. Short, stirring, and stupendous. One of the only ones you can watch every time. Like Dexter, but not so agonisingly long. The music reminds me of Alan Bleasdale's G.B.H and the award-winning soundtrack.
It is worth remembering, for contextual reasons the question this began with: Was it worth the wait? While the no is stood by. that does not say it was not a good series. I disagree with Lucy Mangan in The Guardian, who said it was "so confident... that you did not notice its defects" you very much did. Some have praised the acting. The top cast has been mentioned. As has the not-so-top. It is unlikely you will ever see much in favour of Helena Bonham-Carter on these pages, so apologies (not meant ones though) if you were hoping for some.
In conclusion, yes it is good. Coleman is a delight, however, do not expect to like her character as much as you did Ms. Foy.
It is good, not in the way an anticipated, masterfully filmed and gloriously expensive piece of historical-drama should be. It is good in a way a TV drama episode should be. The Crown seems to have chosen its category, which is fine if the effort is made to earn it.
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all photos from IMDB unless stated