The Crown Season 3 premieres on Netflix on Sunday, November 17.
That's an interesting date for a Netflix premiere, but I can only assume Sunday is getting attention because it tends to house some of television's most prestigious offerings.
And The Crown is not only the most prestige programs on the streamer but one of the most lavish productions available on the small screen.
One of the most significant changes for the new season comes from the casting changes as the characters move into new life phases.
Viewers were quite taken with the original cast of The Crown, but the new arrivals make a seamless transition and take their counterparts to new levels.
Oscar-winner Olivia Colman is an inspired choice to don Elizabeth's heavy crown, and while I fully expect she'll get recognized for her performance come awards season, she's got quite capable company joining her royal family.
Outlander's Tobias Menzies steps into the shoes of brusque Prince Philip, and Helena Bonham Carter becomes the Queen's attention-grabbing younger sister, Princess Margaret.
They carry the heaviest weight of the new season, and between them add new layers and insight into the characters they're exploring.
Just having completed the full season, what stands out most is the material about Prince Philip, Princess Margaret, and later in the season, Prince Charles.
Colman's heavyweight presence doesn’t dominate the series and allows others to shine.
The Crown Season 3 begins in 1964 with the Queen's new postage stamp featuring both the young and the "slightly older" Queen that immediately addresses the changing visage. And it's not the only time Claire Foy will get recognized as the younger queen.
But it's "the cold wind of socialism blowing through the land once more," as Churchill puts it, as Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins) wins the election for Prime Minister that sets the tone of the entire season.
The world was in the throes of change from 1964-1977, and the times are a changin’ for the royal family, too. Wilson’s surprising victory suggests that the people are interested less in government representation that seems out of reach and out of touch and more in representation that understands and aligns with the populace.
Generally, that can spell trouble for Buckingham Palace, and it causes the now settled sovereign, Elizabeth, some concern. Once again, she’s obligated to get another Prime Minister up to speed and to assist in guiding his governance of the people.
"Wilson seems to have come from nowhere and is entirely unremarkable," Elizabeth says after her first meeting with Wilson at a time Philip has planted in her head the possibility that Wilson is a sort of Manchurian Candidate, a spy set to infiltrate the British government.
Concurrently, Elizabeth lays to rest her friend and confident as Winston Churchill passes away, ushering in an entirely new era. Colman easily conveys Elizabeth’s consternation as both a sovereign and the matriarch of a family in the limelight as she weighs their place in the present and future.
As the family navigates the times, there are decisions to be made about their reputation and that of the government that could affect them on the world stage, and secrets and regrets are plentiful as short-term solutions lead to long-term consequences
Menzies is excellent as the aging Prince, and there are two standout episodes for him to sink his teeth into the material.
The first is The Crown Season 3 Episode 4, "Bubbikins," in which Philip leads the charge for the royal family to get a public relations boost by acquiescing to a documentary of their daily routine at the same time his estranged mother, Princess Alice (Jane Lapotaire), returns from a convent to reside at the palace.
The documentary goes a long way to show how out of touch with the populace they really are, especially with Philip staging of events such as the family watching television and attending the grill at a cookout.
It backfires with gusto leading Philip to appeal to his only daughter, Princess Anne (Erin Doherty), as the most normal of the bunch, to lead a mission to remedy the situation.
Instead, she concocts a plan to shed light onto Princess Alice's lifelong struggles which ultimately reveals that being a royal has some serious disadvantages.
Philip's relationship with his mother is revisited on The Crown Season 3 Episode 7 when she passes away, but not before they've re-established a familial bond that allows Philip to recognize his endless pursuit of life's meaning got sidelined when he lost his faith.
The series uses the moon landing and Philip's spirit of adventure beautifully to steer the narrative as Philip moves from a relatively soulless quest to one of enlightenment.
Menzies captures the tone of an aging man secondary in position to his wife as he comes to grasp what's been missing and sets about rectifying the situation, and the merging of philosophy and faith offer compelling drama.
Similarly, although Bonham Carter looks nothing like her predecessor in the role, she fully embodies the spirit of the party-girl princess.
Margaret's marriage to Tony (Ben Daniels) is falling apart leaving her anxiety-ridden as the season begins, and she’s put to the test when called on in the midst of her United States tour to be a British ambassador luring back Lyndon B. Johnson into Britain's good graces after Wilson failed to support him in his Vietnam Endeavor.
The tour is such a success that Margaret's stunning popularity in the US makes Elizabeth envious. The Crown Season 3 Episode 2, "Margaretology," is a terrific outing proving that as useful as remaining neutral has been for Elizabeth, there are also times Margaret's magnetic personality can be beneficial for the crown.
The overwhelming achievement offers an opportunity for Margaret to request an expanded role serving alongside her sister, and the dismissal of that idea after she's so beneficial to gaining Johnson's support fractures her confidence and her relationship with Elizabeth.
Their bond remains one of the most fascinating on The Crown because of their social and moral dichotomy. They share a deep love for one another and if allowed to work together could probably have had a prosperous and complementary effect.
But at the same time Elizabeth got the news that she would live a life of service setting her apart from everyone she holds dear, Margaret was assured she'd never rise to the same level as her sister.
The resulting chasm between them when there is so much affection of never short of alarming.
Living in Elizabeth's looming shadow has been pervasive throughout The Crown, and it continues in the show's third season by not only revisiting Margaret's and Philip's difficulties feeling relevant, but also adds to the dynamic with the appearance of Prince Charles beginning with his secondary education.
Wales, its people, and its heritage also get plenty of attention.
The first is a devastating episode devoted entirely to the horrifying Welsh mining disaster in Aberfan in which 116 children in a small town lost their lives.
It’s followed with the beginning of Charles' stately duties as he's forced to leave Cambridge, a place he loved, for a semester in Wales to better identify with the people and learn the language on The Crown Season 3 Episode 6, "Tywysog Cymru."
Like Margaret and Philip who struggle for significance, Charles (Josh O'Connor) discovers himself while in Wales as he feels a kinship with the population as they are both unseen, unheard, and often misunderstood.
Charles had a mountainous responsibility representing Wales because their people, like those of Scotland, cling tightly to their traditions. Their language isn't just a point of pride, it was once a way of life that is slowly getting eradicated.
Studying in Wales improved Charles' confidence, and the man he became is who fell in love with Camilla Parker (Emerald Fennell), a life-changing event for the formerly shy and awkward young man.
O’Connor is quite effective in getting Prince Charles his due with his moving performance. Charles has been in need of humanization after his years with Princess Diana, and O’Connor’s portrayal is intimate and expressive.
He offers a portrait of a young man who views his Great-Uncle Edward and his wife Wallis Simpson with great affection because of their love and happiness, and one who never wavered in his love for Camilla despite the terribly different path he was forced to travel.
Showrunner Peter Morgan has a clear vision of the crown that he wants to convey, and by focusing so uniquely on one character’s journey in various episodes, he achieves a lot.
Although all of the characters are faulty individuals, they remain complex and nuanced and are never as unattainable as the reality of the royal family.
Colman's considerable talent brings to life the Queen Elizabeth with which we are more familiar in gripping fashion with a wide range of emotions. She may not be the continual focal point of the series, but her presence guides the story in much the same way the Queen guides her empire.
The third season doesn't feature a standout episode for Colman. Much like the Queen must refrain from offering opinions or taking a stand, The Crown suggests an omnipresence and allows her development through interactions with others.
When Elizabeth is paid mind, it's not always in the most generous light. During "Aberfan," Elizabeth's decision to stay out of the spotlight to keep the attention on those affected by the disaster doesn't sit well with the country or, in hindsight, Elizabeth.
And on The Crown Season 3 Episode 5, "Coup," when there is swelling support for the retired General Mountbatten to lead a coup to overthrow the government, Elizabeth is on a jaunt to secure a new racehorse.
While everyone feels slighted in her wake, Elizabeth herself yearns for the life she imagined before Edward abdicated. Even 25 years into her reign, it's not something she feels particularly suited to do, but she’s still dedicated to doing her absolute best.
It's that disjointed feeling that prevails throughout the season and likely through her entire life as the enormity of the responsibility that was thrust upon her keeps her from achieving anything about which she has a genuine sense of pride.
Duty calls upon royals to live for their realm, and while the people might look at them as overindulgent and extravagant and sometimes useless, the season highlights sacrifices they're called on to make while serving that obligation that deserves a little pampering.
The third season of The Crown continues its impressive run as it marches through history with a cast that lives admirably up to the task placed before them, and the standalone nature of the episodes gives viewers plenty of time to indulge in the experience.
The Crown Season 3 drops on Netflix on Sunday, November 17.
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