One of my favorite things about Netflix’s soapy monarchy drama The Crown is that for my dumb American brain, every season plays out like a mystery. Yes, the events portrayed onscreen are, largely, a matter of public record in both history books and tabloids. Yes, I am aware of the recent history of the British royal family and the queen’s prominent presence in the most consequential happenings of the last half century including Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Yes, I binged Derry Girls. But the fact remains that when it comes to the interpersonal dynamics of Britain’s monarchy and parliamentary leaders, the American education I received from Schoolhouse Rock and Mavis Beacon left some gaps. As a result, every episode of The Crown plays out like MTV’s True Life: Royalty: “You think you know, but you have no idea.”
This makes for a thrilling viewing experience, even in the most recent season, which features the world-upending entrance of Diana Spencer. It’s impossible not to know the story of Diana, Charles, and Camilla; of Princess Di’s rapid ascent to pop culture royalty and her decisive public exit from the royal family after a contentious divorce from Charles. Nevertheless, watching it play out in season 4 of The Crown in concert with the dark Margaret Thatcher years and a generational shift in power amongst the Windsors is drama-packed from beginning to end and never short on mystery, for me at least. As is my habit, I watched the latest season with Google open to answer all my questions. up to and including, “Wait, this happened??” Here’s what I searched for this season.
Spoilers ahead for The Crown season 4, if events that’ve been in the public record for over 50 years involving some of the most famous people to ever live can be considered spoilers.
“Was Diana and Charles’s meet-cute really something out of a Baz Luhrmann Romeo + Juliet manic pixie fever dream?”
Okay, five minutes into the first episode of the season, The Crown gets completely out-of-pocket. Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), paying a visit to Sarah Spencer (Isobel Eadie), finds himself alone in a grand ballroom accented with random topiaries (who amongst us does not have a giant topiary room?), and encounters a 16-year-old Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin) sneaking through the room dressed as a magical wood nymph from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They proceed to have the meet-cutest meet-cute that ever met-cute. Diana flits around the room, hiding behind topiaries as they have a conversation about Shakespeare and the character Bottom like they’re Nora Ephron characters written by Kenneth Branagh. As if that wasn’t over-the-top enough, the end up peering at each other through the branches of a topiary like they’re Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio looking through the fish tank in R+J. The Crown chooses to accent the scene with a tasteful string arrangement, but since they were already wilding out, they should’ve fully committed and started blasting “Young Hearts Run Free”. Maybe in season 5. This scene is so lush, I briefly worried The Crown was going to try to make me root for their relationship. Spoiler alert: The Crown did not do that.
“Margaret Thatcher weeknight recipes”
I was also concerned that my allegiances would be tested by the portrayal of Margaret Thatcher by the incomparable Gillian Anderson. What we don’t need in this moment or ever is a bunch of people tweeting “Margaret Thatcher please step on my neck.” Fortunately, Anderson’s formidable performance doesn’t seek to explain away the former Prime Minister’s controversial record. I mean this in the most complimentary way possible to Gillian Anderson: Her Margaret Thatcher has big Mr. Burns Energy. Incredible. Which is what made one semi-humanizing detail even more strange: Every dang time Margaret Thatcher has a private meeting at home with her advisors, she makes them dinner. The Prime Minister of England is in an apron, cooking up a storm while trying to figure out whether to go to war with Argentina. Wild. It’s an interesting aspect of the character, who is fully in control of her power but also caught in the prison of gender roles. And I couldn’t help but wonder: What were these meals? Were they any good? They didn’t look great, to be honest, but any meal you can make while trying to avert a coup is useful.
“Balmoral party games”
I’m just going to say it: I did not like the way they acted at Balmoral. I’ll tell you what: If the Queen invites me to her fancy Airbnb castle for a weekend away, I’m not thinking about what kind of crappy clothes I need to pack for rolling around in the mud. But when Margaret Thatcher shows up with a trunk full of work attire and formal wear, the Windsors all laugh at her like she’s Carrie at the prom. Rude! There wasn’t a single social secretary who could let the PM know, “Hey, these weirdos like to lie on the grass and shoot animals so, you know, bring flats”? And then they pulled out this tongue-twister party game as a test? Y’all, just pull out Scattergories and give it a rest.
“How to pick your favourite child”
Olivia Colman’s Queen wonders who her favourite is. It seems clear that the favourite is Rachel Weisz, but nevertheless everyone answers Prince Andrew. The Queen doesn’t listen to anyone on the matter, however, and sets up a series of one-on-one meetings with each of them to figure it out for herself. These meetings all boil down to a salmon dinner and light conversation. She seems to discover that she doesn’t really like any of them and they’re all kind of a mess, but I tend to wonder if she’s going about this the right way. Maybe the problem is her methods. There has got to be a better way to pick your favourite child. Did she consider a horse race? Drag competition? Perhaps an awful Balmoral game! When it comes to pitting your children against each other, it’s important to get creative!
“The other Windsor son”
Sometimes I do forget there is a third one. At least he seems better at keeping out of controversy.
“Fun things to do in Australia”
Diana and Charles’s relationship reaches a breaking point during a long trip to Australia where Diana is forcibly separated from Prince William and rudely ignored by Prince Charles. They have a state of the union conversation against the backdrop of the Australian outback after the press and the queen speculate that Diana’s not up to the grueling trip. Diana rallies, however, winning over the Australian people so thoroughly that it quashes a bid for Australian independence. Despite all the personal turmoil and notable lack of air conditioning on the show, Australia in The Crown looks gorgeous. It’s the perfect place to have a personal and professional triumph. The first thing I’m going to do post-COVID is make a trip to all eight Australian states where I, too, will win over the Australian people with my charm and zest for life.
Oof! I’m heated about the way Prince Charles treats Princess Diana. HEATED. Last season I was very excited about Josh O’Connor (hot) playing Prince Charles (by extension physically hot in this portrayal). He was moony, romantic, wistful. This season? He’s a villain! No longer hot. Angry! Vengeful. He wore a ring from Camilla on his honeymoon! I’m inviting Prince Charles to the Red Table.
More of a comment than a question for Google. But seriously, I have never so quickly fully allied with a new character in opposition to a main character before. It was almost like when Addison Montgomery-Shepherd showed up at Seattle Grace and I was like “Wait, do I hate Meredith Grey?” Except Meredith Grey didn’t leverage her entire family to try to destroy Addison. I wish for a time machine for many reasons but one of the primary reasons is so I could go back in time and give Prince Charles a piece of my mind.
“Princess Margaret hot resort boyfriend where?”
Helena Bonham Carter’s Princess Margaret despairs at having her royal duties curtailed as the Queen’s children reach adulthood. As in season 3, she escapes to Mustique for a respite. This show really leans into the HBC underwater choreography, to great effect. Unlike season 3, however, Princess Margaret does not meet a hot ’70s pool boy while doing underwater choreo and start up an affair. This makes me sad. Wherefore art though Roddy Llewellyn?
“Princess Di dancing to Billy Jo-El video free”
As a birthday gift for Prince Charles, Princess Diana performs a fun modern dance to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” Charles does not appreciate it because he is the worst. However, upon reading about the performance in the paper, the Queen, asks, “Who is Billy Jo-el?” It’s one of the funniest lines in a quite funny season that lets Olivia Coleman break out of the rigidity of season 3. But the big question I have here is “where is the video of Prince Di dancing and is it behind a paywall and if so can someone DM me a bootleg?”
“Meghan Markle when???”
The Crown creator Peter Morgan has stated repeatedly that season 6 will be the final season and will not reach the present. He has also pointedly reiterated that Meghan Markle will not be a character on the show. Nevertheless, I will keep googling it every day, as it my right!
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