The third outing of the hit Netflix show offers solid performances and a keen attention to detail, although ultimately never quite reaches the heights of the first two series.
The return of a show as popular as The Crown after a 2-year hiatus creates enough discussion as it is, yet when every member of the major cast has been replaced by the likes of Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter, comparisons will more than certainly arise.
“The usual blend of human frailty behind the pomp and circumstance is ever-present”
At its core, The Crown is still very much the same show. The scenery is as lavish as ever, and the usual blend of human frailty behind the pomp and circumstance is ever-present. The 10-episode run traces The Royal Family between 1964-1977 (the largest amount of time covered by a single series so far), and there are plenty of stand-out moments of history to digest: the Aberfan disaster, the 1969 Moon Landing and the Investiture of Prince Charles all act as focal points for different episodes.
“Series three feels more like a potted history of different events”
However, to some extent the pacing is one of the main problems that the series faces. Whereas previous instalments have flowed in a way that feels natural and progressive, series three feels more like a potted history of different events, and is used to mirror one of the characters’ real-world experiences. This is probably most clearly demonstrated in Prince Philip suffering a mid-life crisis amidst the backdrop of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing – a motif that should have been developed with greater subtlety.
Dramatic licence feels like it is being stretched somewhat thin, with conversations and meetings that likely had no significant historical support. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem (by now, the audience is more than willing to accept a bit of hyperbole to make for better viewing) if the dialogue wasn’t so on-the-nose at times. The Queen’s rebuff of Prince Charles, or Princess Margaret’s constant complaints over her “lowly” position in the family do start to drag as the series unfolds.
“When it’s good, The Crown matches some of the best television of this year”
As with every show, there are episodes that are better and worse. When it’s good, The Crown matches some of the best television of this year. Highlights such as ‘Aberfan’ and ‘Tywysog Cymru’ demonstrate what the show can do at its very best. In these, as opposed to throwing in an emotional note for occasional audience sympathy, there are moments of genuine sadness that feel earned. The depiction the Aberfan disaster itself would be brazen if it wasn’t so powerfully achieved. However, more meandering episodes like ‘Coup’ or ‘Dangling Man’ offer little either to the progression of the plot, nor to the audience’s understanding of the characters as a whole.
“By the end of the first episode the cast do well to make themselves appear established”
Coming into series three, the overhaul of the cast was likely the largest talking point, and for the most part it works well enough. Although the differences in appearance of the actors (compared to both the real-life figure and the original actor) is an initial barrier to overcome, by the end of the first episode the cast do well to make themselves appear established. Colman plays well into the Queen’s likability, and carries of the role with grace that it requires. Bonham Carter is enjoyable as Princess Margaret, while Tobias Menzies does well carrying episodes centred around Phillip.
“All three leads lack something vital that their predecessor had”
However, all three leads lack something vital that their predecessor had. Colman, an actress renowned for her emotional range, doesn’t display stoicism to the extent that Claire Foy did; Menzies doesn’t give Phillip the same magnetism as Matt Smith, as he fades into the background of scenes that are not directly focussed on him; and Vanessa Kirby achieved so much with the role of Margaret that Bonham Carter has a lot of catching up to do. This is not to suggest that the performances are at any point poor, but rather this collection of very powerful lead actors are tragically given comparatively little to work with.
“Josh O’Connor is exceptional”
The cast’s real strength comes from some of its new characters. Jason Watkins evokes the spirit of Harold Wilson with an uncanny charm, displaying a frequent talent for understating much of his performance. As Prince Charles, Josh O’Connor is exceptional, finding the perfect balance between vulnerability and neediness. And Erin Doherty brings a wonderful fresh energy as the ever-quotable Princess Anne.
“There is too much change in the cast with not enough narrative drive to carry their performances to the same level as their predecessors”
Ultimately, the third series of The Crown suffers from a failure to balance itself. There is too much change in the cast with not enough narrative drive to carry their performances to the same level as their predecessors. While it is certainly still as entertaining as ever, there is a marked dip in quality compared to the previous series. Here’s hoping that with series four, Thatcher may make things a bit more interesting (a statement I never thought I would write).
Featured image courtesy of Netflix Official Facebook Page.
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