Review: THE CROWN Season 3 is the best thing on TV

by Charles Gerian

“But there we are. Age is rarely kind to anyone. Nothing one can do about it. One just has to get on with it.”

These words come from Queen Elizabeth II as we're introduced to her more “mature” appearance with Oscar-winner Olivia Colman taking over from Claire Foy in Season 3 of Netflix's THE CROWN which began streaming this past Sunday.

The elegant drama, which chronicles the drama of Buckingham Palace and England's royals, returned stronger than ever thanks to writer Peter Morgan's bafflingly mesmerizing prowess as a screenwriter, finding a way to break these national icons down into people that are as legendary as they are vulnerable on-screen, the same he had done with the Oscar-winning 2005 film THE QUEEN as well as the gripping FROST/NIXON from 2007.

THE CROWN would, of course, be nothing without the cast assembled. While re-casting is difficult, the decision was made during the show's inception to alternate the cast every two seasons with a time-skip to make things more believable than just the same actors in “old makeup”.

In Season 3, Helena Bonham-Carter takes over from Vanessa Kirby as the damaged, insecure, and stunning Princess Margaret, living in constant shadow to her sister Elizabeth, and Margaret still stands as the show's highlight, despite being sadly sparse for most of the 10-episode run. Margaret gets her time to shine in the exquisite finale episode, detailing her affair with a landscaper named Roddy Llewellyn and subsequent separation from her fiery and abrasive marriage to Lord Antony Snowden.

Matt Smith, most famously the titular Doctor Who, has aged into Tobias Menzies as Prince Phillip. Menzies is best known for his roles on Starz “Outlander” and HBO's “Game of Thrones”, and here he is saddled with the weight of capturing the egotism, insecurities, and complex vanity of Phillip...which he excels at. With older characters in Elizabeth and Phillip, the passion and rage of their tumultuous early years of marriage have quelled into complacency. Their fights are no longer from within, but outwards.

While no single episode of Season 3 out-shined Season 2's jaw-dropping episode “Paterfamilias”, this season felt more necessary in smaller, contained, doses that focused less on extravagant introspective deep-dives and more on a shot-gun of various issues. Episodes like “Aberfan”, about the real-life disaster and Elizabeth coming to terms with the fact she might be emotionally despondent stand-out more than episodes like “Coup” following Lord Mountbatten (Charles Dance) dealing with the economic devastation of Britain and entertaining the idea of overthrowing the government.

That's not to say there were any “bad” episodes, but the series takes precious time until we're introduced to real narrative grit by way of Prince Charles in the form of Episode 6, “Tywysog Cymru”, where the young King-in-waiting is sent to Wales to learn the language for his investiture as the Prince of Wales. Here we get a sympathetic, nuanced, and fragile performance by Josh O'Conner as Charles, and we see that history has tragically repeated itself as Elizabeth, once shocked by her lack of a voice or independence from her mother and family, gives the same cold natured indifference to her son.

Of course, the dominos begin to prop up as Charle meets Camilla Shand which will, eventually, lead to his meeting of Diana, and we know the tragedy that befalls that relationship. Charles and Philip act as narrative counter-balances in terms of understanding THE CROWN's complex exploration of gender and identity, much as Margaret and Elizabeth were explored as feminine icons. THE CROWN still stands as the greatest series on television right now, and demands to be seen. So get to it.