What’s up: Netflix’s “The Crown” is a period drama about Queen Elizabeth II, her family and historical events involving the United Kingdom. This third season takes place in the 1960s. British royalty must deal with a changing world, both domestically and abroad, as well as a visit to a new world entirely.
This season has a significant time jump from the end of Season 2, a decision that brings with it a whole new cast. Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter play Queen Elizabeth II and her sister, Princess Margaret, respectively.
The season begins with various obfuscations of the queen character. The first shot focuses on the back of the head of the queen wearing a crown as she stares at a window with white drapes drawn closed. The screen establishes this is 1964. The first action occurs as a procession of men bring wooden boxes into Buckingham Palace, ultimately setting up options for new stamps that feature photographic profiles of the queen. The queen enters the just-right room with the stamps, where all the men stand in line in waiting and two royal corgis lie just in the center. She stands between the dogs, but the camera doesn’t focus on her face. The first line of dialogue, of course, starts with “Your majesty.” One of the men explains there’s a younger portrait (a photo of Claire Foy playing the queen from the first two seasons) and a current portrait (a profile of Colman as the queen). Colman as the queen jokingly calls herself an “old bat,” which causes the corgis to “react” in surprise. As a self-aware nod to the time-jump, the queen says that there are a “great many changes” between her and her younger self, but that “one just has to get on with it.” The camera finally focuses on Colman’s face, and the reset of “The Crown” begins.
The main cast includes Helena Bonham Carter, Olivia Colman, Ben Daniels and Tobias Menzies.
“The Crown” runs 10 episodes of roughly 50 minutes each in the third season.
Sum-up: The choice to have two actors with long resumes of comedic brilliance in Colman and Carter starring as the central protagonists makes this time-jump reset feel like a tonal reset as well. The first two seasons of “The Crown” are largely humorless; that’s not the case with Season 3. While the events continue to transpire slowly and the characters remain trapped in a tradition of polite manners, both Colman and Carter find ways to inject lightness into their scenes.
Meanwhile, the arguable real star of the show ― the expensive sets ― remains as decadent as ever. This show is constant eye candy of palatial riches or otherwise elaborate scenery.
The ’60s also serve the show well as the rise of pop culture (such as The Beatles) adds a sense of levity and lightening to all the characters involved. The first two seasons often wallowed in characters being unsure if they could act, as action could be unseemly for the crown. The characters of Season 3 get to actually dance a little, make some moves and generally ease up.
Heads up: This season has more comedy than seasons past, and that’s a welcome choice. But the more serious moments feel extra flat in contrast. An episode centered around disaster and subsequent grief ultimately feels heavy-handed, while the ultra-rich and staid characters essentially all express the same sentiment: “I’ve never felt this way!” The show hums along when Colman and Carter are allowed to mix their comedic and inspired acting choices to push against the opulent settings. When these actors must put on their extra serious faces, the show seems lost on how to make this interesting.
Close-up: Carter gives an incredible performance in an early showcase episode around Princess Margaret. In one scene from this episode, Carter’s Princess Margaret character and Margaret’s husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones, have a fight in a beautiful hotel room after a party. Drunk and surrounded by chandeliers, Carter takes off only one of her red heels and then starts stomping around the stone floor with an imbalanced strut. She teases her husband for being only known as the princess’s partner. While taunting and walking in this drunken, imbalanced way, Carter also begins to make a worm motion with her finger to further insult the husband character, suggesting he’s a little boy who would be amused by such a hand motion. She then starts speaking in a comical American accent to complete the evisceration.
While most actors probably would have just stood and yelled these lines, these physical choices elevate the scene and add a sense of ridiculousness that pairs well with the expensive furniture and overall wealth-porn setting of the hotel room scene.