One of Winston Churchill’s more popular quotes from the early days of Great Britain’s involvement in World War II concerns time – specifically, both its darker and brighter natures. “This is no time for ease and comfort,” he said mere months after the country declared war on Germany, and less than a year before the latter’s “Battle of Britain” began. “It is the time to dare and endure.”
As uplifting as this sentiment is, or was meant to be, however, the third season of Netflix’s acclaimed period drama, The Crown, doubles down on its more problematic and cynical senses. The 1960s were most assuredly not a time for ease and comfort for the British royal family, and though they have obviously endured the period and others after it, they do so at great costs. The previous two seasons of Peter Morgan’s series dug into this via the private relationships between Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) and Prince Philip (Matt Smith), and Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) and Antony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode). In fact, the season two finale, Mystery Man, dealt specifically with the Profumo affair and scandalises Elizbeth and Philip’s incessantly fragile union.
Instead of dwelling any longer on that particular episode, however, the season three premiere and the episodes that follow immediately introduce viewers to another time, with other people who must endure other scandals, potential and otherwise. Quite literally “other people,” as Foy, Smith, and the majority of the first two seasons’ cast have been replaced with slightly older players to better visualise the breadth of time. Now, Oscar-winner Olivia Colman’s reigning as Queen Elizabeth II, while Philip, Margaret, and Tony are portrayed by Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter, and Ben Daniels, respectively.
As for the other scandals, potential and otherwise, these run the gamut thanks in large part to Morgan’s detailed research into, and writing about, some of the bigger moments from the various stages of Elizabeth’s time as the Queen of England. From the election of Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins) as prime minister in 1964, which stirred popular leftist politics and frightened more conservative stalwarts at the time, to Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Princess Anne’s (Erin Doherty) coming to adulthood, the 60s were rife with royal dramas and palace intrigue. And, yet again, Morgan has mined it all – confirmed by the historical record and otherwise – for The Crown’s latest primary, secondary, and tertiary storylines.
This is especially true of Tywysog Cymru, the new season’s sixth episode and, frankly, one of its best. It adheres largely to Charles’s story, just as the penultimate season two episode Paterfamilias did. While the latter parallelled the boy’s time in Philip’s Scottish alma mater and laid the groundwork for how the former’s troubled upbringing would inform the character later in life, however, this new entry interrogates the outcome of said upbringing on its own. Elizabeth, Philip, and everyone else remains on the periphery. This is all about Charles’s brief time in Wales, where he learned to speak and read the Welsh language, as well as the region’s history and politics, amid localised (though loud and occasionally violent) calls for Welsh independence from the United Kingdom. He did so for his investiture, including the taking of the “Prince of Wales” title he still retains today, but as the episode claims, it was also about the boy’s final steps into adulthood and, rather dramatically, the final gasps of his pre-royal duty independence.
This latter point culminates in a rather tense scene between Charles and Elizabeth following his return to England. Much like The Crown’s first season, which dived into the would-be queen’s final flashes of living a normal, mostly duty-free life during the final years, months, and days of her father’s reign, Tywysog Cymru beautifully and brilliantly dramatises Charles’s bleak and, seemingly, unloving education. Everything that was done to Elizabeth by King George VI (Jared Harris) and the royal “system” is now being done to her and Philip’s son and heir, and there is nothing he can do about it. It’s a difficult scene to watch in one of the new season’s most difficult episodes, and Colman and O’Connor do some of their best work throughout it.
I highlight this episode, and especially O’Connor’s beautiful performance in it, simply to recognize it among a flurry of otherwise consistently outstanding new episodes. Colman’s Elizabeth, of course, gets most of the new season’s spotlights, but Morgan and company make sure to highlight those around her whenever the narrative presents them with an opportunity. So, while Matt Smith’s younger Philip earned high marks in the first two seasons, Menzies’s older Duke of Edinburgh shines on occasion – especially with another episode dedicated to his family’s complex history. The same goes for Carter’s Margaret, who builds on Kirby’s younger take and fleshes out what becomes of such a wild and free character trapped in an otherwise oppressive situation – that of the more popular and adored second fiddle to the queen.
Morgan’s writing and the new cast’s work are also joined by the series’s consistently gorgeous mixture of direction, cinematography, and period costume design. The Crown earned plenty of accolades for all three from the Emmys, the Golden Globes, the BAFTAS, and many other awarding bodies. Judging by the 10 new episodes that Netflix subscribers will be able to watch in full when season three premieres in two weeks’ time, such honours will surely – and should – be awarded to the show yet again. Hopefully, as much attention as will most likely be paid to the likes of Colman and Carter will be given to newcomers like O’Connor and Doherty, whose foundational work as Charles and Anne is undoubtedly setting the stage for those characters’ greater evolutions in the programme’s remaining three seasons.
The Crown season three premieres on Sunday the 17th of November on Netflix.
Read about all the new British TV dramas on their way in 2019 and beyond, here.