Warning: contains spoilers for The Crown seasons one and two.
Six series spanning 80 years, taking Queen Elizabeth II from her marriage in 1947 all the way to the present day – that’s the plan for Peter Morgan’s glossy Netflix drama, which debuts its third series this November. The ten new episodes are the first to star Olivia Colman as the Queen, taking over from the terrific Claire Foy.
Joining Colman in series three are Tobias Menzies, replacing Matt Smith as Prince Philip, and Helena Bonham Carter, replacing Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret. A new, as-yet-unannounced cast is expected to take over their roles in turn for series five and six.
The first series took the Queen to 1955, through the death of her father George VI to her coronation and early years of her reign. Thematically, it was about her transformation from young woman to ruling monarch, from Elizabeth Mountbatten to Elizabeth Regina.
Series two covered the years 1956 to 1963, taking in a shift in attitude towards the monarchy from the British people, battles for independence in the Commonwealth, the Suez crisis, Profumo scandal and growing tensions in the royal marriage. Series three will take the drama from 1964 to 1977, through a new Labour government and an ever-changing Britain.
Here’s a refresher on where the show’s characters (not the real lot, to be clear) were left last time…
Queen Elizabeth II
‘Her majestic dullness’
Series one closed on an image of the Queen standing in full regalia, alone, imperious, and staring out of the screen posing for an official portrait. Series two closed on a different image – a family photograph in the middle of which she sat with surrounded by her four children, husband, mother, sister, niece, nephew and more in a hive of activity. It’s a fitting contrast – series one had been about her passage from princess to monarch, while series two had expanded to tell the stories of those around her – Margaret, Philip, the Queen Mother, Charles.
Elizabeth was beset by humiliations in series two. She was hurt by scandal surrounding Prince Philip and his caddish private secretary at their Thursday lunch club, and at the discovery of a photograph of another woman in her husband’s luggage. (There was some hint of regret that Philip was the only man she’d ever loved, when her childhood friend ‘Porchie’, a fellow horse-racing enthusiast, might have made a happier match.) She was insulted when Lord Altrincham, editor of The National and English Review, published an article listing the ways in which the monarchy, and she, was going wrong. She was especially affronted to find herself mocked by Jackie Kennedy after feeling the pair of them had reached an intimacy on a state visit from the American president and his glamorous wife.
Glamour, or rather Elizabeth’s lack of it, was a repeated theme. Margaret sparkled in the public eye when she deputised her sister’s royal duties, causing a splash that emphasised the difference between the two women in style. Series two saw the Queen adopt her now-famous sensible hairstyle, unchanged for decades – a look Prince Philip wasn’t keen on, advising her that if she wished to follow through on her plan to have more children, she should think more in the way of Diana Dors than her present ‘do. Compared to Jackie Kennedy, about whom everybody – including Philip – went mad, the Queen was made to feel frumpy and undesirable.
All of these slights, however, were handled in inimitable, unflappable style. The Queen surprised Lord Altrincham by implementing several of his suggestions, including televising the Christmas Day speech. Jackie Kennedy’s insults spurred her on to a bold foriegn policy move that was roundly judged a huge success, and the First Lady, who’d (apparently under the influence of drugs) described Buckingham Palace as a “tired provincial hotel”, was invited to Windsor Castle and treated to a full display of the royal guard for her next visit.
As for the practical, tidy hairdo, her majesty stuck to it like glue.
‘What would make it easier on you, to be in, not out. What would it take?’
Prince Philip’s frustrations in his public role as the Queen’s consort, and private struggles in the royal marriage caused by his restless behaviour were the backbone of series two. The series opened and closed on confrontations between the couple – the first in Lisbon at the close of his royal tour, and the second at Balmoral in the aftermath of the Profumo scandal in 1963.
Despite his denials, rumours continued that the Prince was an associate of Stephen Ward, an osteopath who had procured young women including Christine Keeler for liaisons with high-powered officials. Ward was also a member of the Prince’s Thursday lunch club, the seed of several scandals for its members (not least the playboy private secretary Mike Parker, who was dismissed from service after he was divorced by his wife on the grounds of adultery). Ward had painted the Prince’s portrait and it was suggested by Princess Margaret among others that a photograph printed in newspapers at the time of a “mystery man” at one of Ward’s parties was in fact, Philip.
Experiencing complications while pregnant with her fourth child in 1964, the Queen had retired to Balmoral, where she confronted Philip about the Ward rumours and the photograph of ballerina Galina Ulanova she had found in his luggage six years earlier. He continued to deny wrongdoing and assured his wife that he was (quoting her phrase from the series opener) “in, not out” of the marriage, and he understood (quoting her father’s words from series one) that his job was to protect and love her, and that he was fully prepared to do so without any need for her to “look the other way.”
Philip’s frustration at being outranked by his infant son and ‘infantilised’ by palace officials had earlier been assuaged by the Queen knighting him as a British Prince in 1957.
More tensions arose in the royal marriage when the Queen planned to go against Philip’s wishes and send Charles to Eton College rather than his alma mater Gordonstoun, a small experimental Scottish boarding school that enforced hard physical labour and gruelling cold showers on its pupils. Philip issued a veiled threat that he would leave the marriage, thus threatening the monarchy, if Charles were to be sent to Eton. The Queen capitulated and Charles was reportedly deeply unhappy throughout his school years in Scotland.
‘Sisters above all else’
Margaret and Elizabeth’s relationship suffered greatly when the Queen forbade Margaret to marry her divorced lover Group Captain Peter Townsend, telling her she could only do so if she gave up her title and role in the family. Previously, Elizabeth had told Margaret (in good faith on palace advice) that she only had to wait until the age of 25 to marry Peter, who was subsequently sent to Brussels to keep the pair apart.
After waiting two years, Margaret was heart-broken at what she saw as her sister’s betrayal, but chose to retain her royal title and not marry Peter. Unlike her older sister, Margaret adored the spotlight and undertook her royal duties glamorously with an unpredictable wit that caused PR issues for the palace.
She lived a hedonistic life of parties and drinking, eventually agreeing to marry an old friend whom she didn’t love. She broke off the engagement before it was publicly announced when he admitted to taking advantage of his new-found popularity with other women and engaging in – yes – a duel.
At a party of the fashionable set including poets and artists, Margaret met Tony Armstrong-Jones (later Earl of Snowden), a photographer who was engaged in numerous bisexual love affairs and was rumoured to have a lovechild. Controversially, Margaret had her 26th birthday portrait taken by Tony – a somewhat racier picture than that by the official photographer Cecil Beaton, and married him in 1960, having two children by him.
‘Have you noticed something about our children? They’re the wrong way around. Our daughter’s a boy and our son is, God bless him, a girl.’
Charles’ troubled relationship with his father, who was disappointed in what he saw as his son’s lack of affinity for sports and rugged pursuits, developed in series two. The conflict came to a climax in the penultimate episode, Paterfamilias, which delved into the history of Prince Philip’s childhood while telling the present-day story of Charles attending a new school.
Charles’ mentor Lord Louis Mountbatten (‘Uncle Dickie’) and the Queen were keen to send him to Eton College because of its proximity to Windsor Castle and its suitability for his temperament. Prince Charles put his foot down and insisted that Charles be sent to Scotland to attend his former boarding school, Gordonstoun, which Philip insisted had transformed him from a boy to a man – wishing a similar metamorphosis for his own son. The school’s emphasis on seamanship, mountaineering and physical labour, alongside its deliberate lack of comforts, did not suit Charles, who was bullied throughout his time there and described the place as a living hell.
The Duke Of Windsor
‘The magic of being a former king’
The Queen wrestled with the Christian notion of forgiveness in Vergangenheit, in which she discovered that her uncle the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII who had abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson, was a Nazi sympathiser during the Second World War.
Exiled to France, the Duke of Windsor planned a return to public life in 1958 and sought a role in foreign diplomacy or as British trade envoy. When documents, buried since 1945 and now on the eve of publication by the US, were discovered detailing his and his wife’s relationship with high-ranking Nazis, the Queen refused him a return to the family and exiled him once more.
The prime ministers
‘A confederacy of elected quitters’
Long-serving prime minister Churchill, who’d become a trusted guide to Queen Elizabeth during his tenure, reluctantly stood down in 1955, at the age of 81. He was replaced by Sir Anthony Eden who resigned over his role in the Suez Crisis in 1956, in turn replaced by Sir Harold Macmillan in 1957, who resigned in 1963 following a period of ill health.
Series three will see Elizabeth deal with her first Labour prime minister in Harold Wilson, played by Jason Watkins.