Tuesday Review – The Crown Season 4

reviews, television

I’ve experienced quite a few reading slumps over the years but never a film slump. It’s probably just another consequence of 2020 but I just can’t be bothered with films right now. Last week, I left it to the last minute to watch both Over the Moon and Coco. This week, I didn’t watch anything. I spent most of Sunday finishing off Pizza Girl and then started binge watching season 4 of The Crown. It’s not that I didn’t have the time. After all, I got through 7 full episodes that night. It’s just that I’m not in the mood. The Crown is the perfect kind of viewing for a time like this. I’m not overly invested in the show but was still interested enough to keep going. My only issue is that I can’t actually decide if I like it or not.

When The Crown was first announced by Netflix, I didn’t think that I’d ever watch it. I just didn’t think I’d care. I’m not exactly ready to see the Royal Family strung up but I’m also not convinced by them. I’m generally just apathetic so a show that was celebrating and glorifying their existence didn’t exactly sound like my thing. Then they announced that Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies were taking over from Claire Foy and Matt Smith. Now, I will watch Olivia Colman in anything. I fell in love with her when I first saw her as Sophie in Peep Show and have loved her ever since. I am also fairly invested in Tobias Menzies’ face.

So, I knew that I was going to watch Season 3 and 4 because of them and Helena Bonham Carter. Obviously, the show is going through the Queen’s reign chronologically so there was no chance that I couldn’t just pick it up. However, I made the decision to watch the whole damn thing. While I wasn’t exactly enthralled by the whole thing, I was impressed. The first 3 seasons were incredibly well-made, well-acted and were kind of comforting in their own way. I wasn’t a super fan but I didn’t hate it. I certainly liked it enough to be fairly excited by the release of Season 4. Mostly because the song used on the trailer is amazing. I’ve listened to it on repeat so many times at this point.

Then I watched it. Now, all of the things that I liked about it before were still true. The show is bloody beautiful and has some really good directors working on it. There are some absolutely extraordinary shots and it is just so nice to watch. It’s also really well acted and the new cast members are all solid in their roles. They manage to narrowly avoid crass impersonations and bring something else to these well-known figures. Yet, I wasn’t sure that I was entirely comfortable with this season. To say that’s its controversial would be an understatement. It wasn’t until this series that I really started to think about the fact that so many people involved in these real-life stories are still alive. It’s weird that it’s being turned into a glitzy, big-budget soap opera.

Especially when you consider the role that the media had in Charles and Diana’s marriage. The role that it had in her death. I mean, the poor woman was hounded by the press until the end of her life. Literally. The fact that this show is taking the real-life break-up of this marriage, adding more than a dash of fiction, and presenting it as historical fact doesn’t exactly feel okay. We know that The Crown takes a lot of liberties with the truth because there is so much that we don’t know about the Royal Family. It has to make shit up in order to fill in the blanks. Yet, it never really makes enough of a thing about it. It’s masquerading as a sort of documentary.

Then there’s the weird tonal shift this season. Netflix have always been careful with their portrayal of the Queen and her family. It’s always taken a more sympathetic stance. The stories have always tried to humanise these people. To humanise the woman behind the title. It’s why they’ve added in so many sweet but completely untrue moments. Like the opening of Season 3 when the Queen visited Churchill on his deathbed. Never in a million years but it was meant to show her as kind-hearted. The first 3 seasons may not have been so overtly pro-royalty but they’ve certainly been pretty careful about how they present things.

And that’s not to say that they’ve not tried to be controversial. That would be mad. Of course they included things about Prince Phillip’s suspected affairs and all of the plotting that went on behind the scenes. It wanted people to watch and it wanted to make headlines. Yet, it also knew it had to tread carefully. If you want to shamelessly cash-in on the Royal Family then you don’t want to go pissing them off too much. That had to change in season 4 though. As soon as Diana entered the picture everything had to chance.

That’s because, even now, Diana has the public’s sympathy. She was the wronged party and many people saw her as being victimised by her in-laws. They were angry with the way she was treated and the way they reacted to her death. I’m not here to suggest that way of thinking is wrong. I was 4 when they separated, 8 when they divorced and 9 when she died. I don’t know a damn thing. All I remember, is being annoyed that there was nothing to watch on TV on the morning of her funeral. But, for many people, Diana is and always will be the People’s Princess. So, the whole pro-royalty thing was dangerous.

As such, there is a weird disconnect this series. On the one hand, we’re offered plenty of humanising and sweet moments. Like the times we see Elizabeth and Phillip having a joke or the family playing parlour games. The Crown still wants us to see them as real people. Yet, there is also more distance and severity. We see a more closed-off and emotionless Queen getting irritated by the couple. Telling them to suck it up and get on with it. The people that we’ve been conditioned to like are now moving into more villainous territory but not completely. Especially with Maggie haunting the season like a cross between Miss Havisham and a pre-ghost Scrooge.

It’s not that this isn’t a good show because it is. To be fair, it had to be with the amount of money thrown at it. It’s beautiful to watch and it’s not exactly taxing. After all, the worst events in recent history are merely glossed over or are simply mentioned in passing. The IRA is discussed in the beginning of the series and then forgotten about. Unemployment is also given one measly episode. In fact, we spend more time on the disappearance of Mark Thatcher than we do on the plight of the working man in 1980s London. Because that’s not what this show is about. It’s not meant to be about history or mankind. I guess in 2020, it just doesn’t feel enough anymore.

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