Listen up, fives. A 10 is speaking, and her name is Olivia Colman. The Oscar-winning actress has landed in the role of Queen Elizabeth on The Crown, picking up the reigns from previous actress Claire Foy. In season 3, which arrived on Netflix on 17th November, Tobias Menzies and Helena Bonham Carter round out this new, grown-up crew of royals, and bring 13 years of British history to life. Get ready for 10 hours of pursed lips and piercing glares, which is exactly as wild as I like to get on a Sunday.
This season is filled with some hidden gems of British history that are so scandalous you won’t believe you hadn’t already heard about them. I’m talking a fatal avalanche of coal, a failed coup, a secret Russian spy, and a sexy love triangle that Princess Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Princess Anne (Erin Doherty) are somehow both wrapped up in (it’s both not as and just as weird as it sounds).
Mostly, this season is about change and how the government begins reflecting the wants and needs of people who see no need for a rich, decadent figurehead and her family. Even the people on the inside of the family — Prince Charles, Princess Margaret, and sometimes the Queen herself — don’t understand the purpose of their lives while at the same time feel trapped by it. Read along ahead as we dive into season 3 of The Crown.
Episode 1: Olding
The first episode of the third season of The Crown takes exactly one minute and 20 seconds to show us a corgi, which is one minute and 19 seconds too long, but I’ll forgive this misstep because OLIVIA COLMAN. We’re picking up with our new Queen Elizabeth in 1964, which technically isn’t that long after Claire Foy’s rendition of the monarch, but a side-by-side comparison of portraits of past and present queens officially closes one chapter and begins another. The next 10 episodes are all Colman, all the time — and what a treat.
Change is the name of the game this season. Not only do we have new actors, but also a new prime minister, a new attitude towards the monarchy, and a new generation of royals growing up and entering the spotlight. Let’s start with Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins), leader of the Labour party. As he nears victory in the election for prime minister, the Queen gets wind of rumours that he’s actually a KGB spy under the code name “Olding.” Her art advisor, Sir Anthony Blunt (Samuel West), hints that this gossip isn’t totally without merit. Even Winston Churchill (John Lithgow), whom the Queen visits after a stroke, says that Mr. Wilson once asked him if he could go to Russia on behalf of the Board Of Trade.
Nevertheless, it’s a Labour victory, which is announced as Princess Margaret’s (Helena Bonham Carter) husband Tony (Ben Daniels) retreats to his darkroom after a day of blowing her off. This is the beginning of a season of tension between the couple, whose volatile relationship is by no means under wraps.
However, the relationship the Queen is really worried about is hers and Wilson’s. Her suspicions don’t exactly make for a successful first meeting, and the death of Churchill only cements her fear that the times, they are a-changin’. But he’s about to eat her words. After the MI5 headquarters in London get a call from the CIA, they learn that yes, there is a KGB mole hiding in plain sight in the British establishment. It’s not Harold Wilson, however, but Sir Anthony Blunt.
A little history: Blunt was part of the Cambridge Five, a group of spies that worked for the Soviet Union between the 1930s to the 1950s. His confession, however, wasn’t made public until 1979. For 10 years or so, the Queen had to sit on this knowledge because the fact that a KGB mole managed to thrive for so long in the depths of Buckingham Palace could, and probably should, damage MI5’s reputation.
So, while we do have to watch the Queen suffer through a speech honouring Blunt at the Guildhall Gallery’s celebration of portraiture in early modern Europe, we at least also get the likely fictionalised conversation between Blunt and Prince Philip, during which the Queen’s dutiful husband threatens to throw the spy in jail if he puts one toe out of line.
Unfortunately, being a spy and all, Blunt has just as much dirt on Philip. Remember the Profumo Affair? Philip would rather nobody did, which is why Blunt is ultimately offered immunity and peacefully continues as the Surveyor of the Queens Pictures until his retirement in 1972.
Episode 2: Margaretology
Corgis in the very first shot of an episode? Now that’s more like it. We’ve jumped a bit back in time for this intro — to Windsor Castle in 1943 — but it’s important for setting up the dynamic between the Queen and Princess Margaret that will shape the rest of their lives. When Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936, he set the monarchy off in an uncharted direction that ended up putting Elizabeth (played by Verity Russell in the flashback) in line for the throne. The thing is, she doesn’t want the throne. At least, she didn’t as a child when young Princess Margaret (played by Beau Godson) suggested she offer herself up for the role instead. You can guess how that conversation went, and the resentment has followed Margaret all the way to the mid-1960s, when we join her and Tony as they set off on a royal tour of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Arizona, and New York.
“A natural number one whose tragedy it is to have been born No. 2,” Tony comments on their private jet, but they have no idea the tricky situation that awaits them across the pond. England, in need of financial help, finds their previously close American ally drifting away. President Johnson (Clancy Brown) won’t take calls from England after Prime Minister Wilson wouldn’t support him in the Vietnam war, and he turns down an invite from the Queen for a weekend of shooting at her Balmoral residence in Scotland to smooth things over. After reading headlines, President Lyndon B. Johnson has a different idea: Princess Margaret should visit him at the White House.
Margaret’s visit to the States has been going so well that rave reviews cover every newspaper. The Queen may be a better diplomat, but Margaret is the socialite. However, she must be both when she arrives on the president’s doorstep after much corralling from Buckingham Palace. England needs this money, so Margaret has to be very delicate at this dinner.
“Delicate” isn’t really in Margaret’s vocabulary. She starts off the night by insulting the late President John F. Kennedy, challenges Johnson to a drinking contest, a limerick contest, dancing, singing, and when all is said and done, she leaves at 4 a.m. having secured the money. Sometimes, a little indelicacy does the trick.
The experience gives Margaret hope that she might finally have a purpose in this family, and she even approaches Elizabeth about sharing duties, taking on the more social tasks the Queen has always shied away from. It parallels the moment from the flashback, when at first Elizabeth seems eager to give her sister what she’s asking for. In both cases, we discover, she’s rejected. Back in 1943, Margaret was harshly informed that her job is to support, and over 20 years later, Philip points out to Elizabeth that serious diplomacy cannot be achieved through singing and dancing. Margaret is once again cast aside.
Episode 3: Aberfan
When the date — October 20, 1966 — popped up on the screen, it didn’t ring any bells. After a few minutes of what just seemed to be small-town life in the village of Aberfan, Wales, rolled merrily across my screen, I finally Googled to see what on earth we were waiting for. Viewers probably knew exactly what was going down, because no sooner had the words “Aberfan disaster” appeared in my search results, than 300,000 cubic yards of coal destroyed the school on my screen.
The Aberfan disaster took place on October 21, 1966, when heavy rainfall caused a spoil tip five times regulation height to avalanche into the village below, destroying a school and other buildings, killing 116 children and 28 adults. It’s horrible, and I can’t believe I hadn’t heard about it before.
In the aftermath, overcome with grief, the people of Aberfan are intent on finding who’s to blame for the disaster. There’s Wilson, the prime minister who desperately doesn’t want this to get political. There’s the National Coal Board, who were repeatedly told that the trip was dangerous and did nothing, and who blame the disaster on rainfall that could not have been prevented. And then there’s the Queen, who refuses to visit the deadly scene because it’s not her place, and even after Prince Philip and Tony pay their respects to the victims, remains resolute in her desire to stay out of it. She insists that her presence would only paralyse the relief effort, but ends up becoming the scapegoat. In an effort to get the heat off Wilson, a member of his cabinet tips off the newspapers to the Queen’s absence, and suddenly, she’s on her way to Aberfan.
En route, she’s encouraged to display emotion — and she tries! After meeting with the victims’ families, she’s pictured wiping away a tear from eyes she later reveals to Wilson were actually bone dry. She laments to the prime minister that she’s never been able to weep when necessary, and even posits that there’s something wrong with her.
Wilson disagrees. He says the job of the royals is to calm more crises than they create, and for that reason, her lack of emotion is a blessing. But we know her heart isn’t totally free from grief. While listening to the hymn sung by the families at the graves of the victims, Elizabeth sheds a single tear. To this day, her delayed response to the disaster is said to be her biggest regret, and she still takes time to visit the town, tears or no tears. And if you want to end this episode in an even worse mood, know that the National Coal Board was never prosecuted or fined, and to this day have not taken responsibility.
Episode 4: Bubbikins
The Crown took a leaf out of M. Night Shyamalan’s book for this episode, a historical drama that still pulls off an impressive twist. The person we think is an average nun at a monastery in Greece looking for ways to keep the lights on by selling (admittedly massive) jewellery turns out to be Princess Alice of Greece and Denmark (Jane Lapotaire) — Prince Philip’s mother. After a life of mistreatment that involved being forcibly committed to a mental institution, she’s once again in peril when a military coup forms in Athens. Per the Queen’s orders and against Philip’s wishes, Alice is rescued and brought to live at the palace, where her son has gotten himself into a predicament of his own.
While appearing on Meet The Press in Washington, D.C., Philip manages to sound like your friend who laments that nothing fits her because she’s just too petite when speaking about the finances of the royal family. They might have to move to smaller palaces, he says, and already had to sell a yacht or two. He gets the 1967 version of cancelled. His comments are documented and mocked in a column in The Guardian thanks to reporter John Armstrong, which opens the palace up to a level of criticism they have never previously faced. Even Wilson tells the Queen that Philip’s comments had left him conflicted, but Philip doesn’t regret it.
Instead, he comes up with a new plan as swiftly and confidently as middle-aged men are wont to do. Surely, if a documentary crew comes to film at the palace, the public will see just how normal and sympathetic the family is, and there’s one person in particular Philip believes holds the key to their relatability.
Everyone, meet Princess Anne (Erin Doherty). She’s a young adult now and she’s sassy. Sure, she’ll participate in the documentary, but so will her stinging witticisms. Someone who won’t be in the documentary? Princess Alice, the mother Philip still hasn’t greeted and who spends most of her time in her room smoking. He’s convinced that if she speaks to the cameras, she will jeopardise their image with her unstable demeanour, and enlists staff to shoo her off any time she gets anywhere close.
Princess Anne, however, loves spending time with her grandmother. The two write letters to patrons asking for money for Alice’s convent, and even approach the Queen about selling a thing or two from the palace. It definitely wouldn’t hurt to stir up some good karma, since the documentary’s release does nothing to improve their reputation. Turns out, the public doesn’t want the royals to be relatable any more than they want to see them traveling from palace to palace. They can’t win, Wilson warns, but that doesn’t stop Philip from trying again.
He calls up The Guardian for another story, specifically requesting John Armstrong speak to Anne, whom he believes will be their saviour. However, Anne has another plan up her sleeves, and sneakily puts Princess Alice in the line of fire when Armstrong arrives. What ensues is a — finally! — sympathetic interview about Alice and her difficult life. She’s candid about her mistreatment at mental institutions and her own schizophrenia, and when the article is printed, the royal family finally gets the goodwill they were hoping for.
In an attempt to put this chapter behind them, Philip apologises to his mother and the two reconnect, and the Queen asks for the documentary to never be seen again. Luckily, you can watch some of the real thing here.
Episode 5: Coup
Despite Princess Margaret’s schmoozing with President Johnson, England is still in financial trouble. Specifically, $107 million worth of trouble, and everyone believes everyone is the blame. The newspapers blame Wilson, who blames military spending, who blames Wilson, and basically it’s just one big mess that leads to
Tywin Lannister Lord Mountbatten, aka Uncle Dickie (Charles Dance), getting the boot.
This doesn’t quite save things, however, and Wilson makes the somber announcement that they will be devaluing the pound. This, among other things, means goods purchased abroad will be more expensive, but unbeknownst to him, that’s the least of his Wilson’s worries. Following his removal, Mountbatten meets with Cecil King (Rupert Vansittart), who is chairman of Daily Mirror Newspapers, and a group of other Important White Men who are unhappy with the direction the country is moving in. In fact, they think someone should remove Wilson from office and set up an emergency government with Mountbatten in charge.
That’s easier said than done. As Mountbatten explains in a later meeting, the universal support they’d need from every branch of the government to pull this off makes a coup nearly impossible. Nearly. There is one person whose support would be all the endorsement they would need to overthrow the government. However, she’s busy frolicking around with horses.
The Queen feels about horses the way I feel about puppies, or the opposite of how I feel about horses. All she wants to do is pet horses, but instead she has to run a freaking country. Luckily, being the Queen of said country means you can jaunt off for a week or two to focus on your horse hobby, leaving your mother in charge, and that’s exactly what Elizabeth does. After attending the Queen Alexandra Stakes, she realises her horses and methods are out of date. Her pursuit of modern horse racing takes her to Normandy, France, and then Kentucky, where apparently all the best horses are.
With unrest growing in her home country, Elizabeth and her new racing manager, Porchey (John Hollingworth), escape it all. In fact, in an intimate moment at dinner, Elizabeth admits to her companion that she often wonders if she would have had a happier life doing what she actually loves: Breeding and racing horses. Not, say, dealing with a coup, the news of which interrupts her emotional dinner. On the phone, Wilson says that if the Queen does not protect him from the brewing rebellion, he will have to go full anti-monarchy. No worries, though. She has his back.
In what can only be described as a stern telling-off, the Queen calls off Mountbatten’s dogs and sends him to see his sister, Princess Alice, who reminds him they’re old, and this is no longer their problem. Hear, hear.
Episode 6: Tywysog Cymru (Prince of Wales)
You met Princess Anne, but there’s another royal youngster lurking in the shadows: Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), and it’s time for him to make his official debut. Every future king begins as a Prince of Wales, but this time around, the palace wants to send their heir to Wales itself in order to learn enough of the language so he can give the official investiture speech in Welsh. A nice gesture! Except Wales doesn’t exactly want him.
A brief history lesson: The late 1960s were an especially divided time for the U.K., with Wales feeling more than a little shafted by the British government. In 1925, Plaid Cymru — The Party of Wales — was formed to advocate for independence from the U.K. By 1966, they officially had a seat in Parliament, and by 1969, things were ramping up. Which is why Dr. Tedi Millward, the vice president of the party, was not pleased to be tasked with teaching Welsh to the future king himself. For Millward, Charles represents everything that’s wrong with the status quo, and the two get off to a contentious start.
Charles isn’t thrilled either. Having been pulled out of Cambridge (where he’s been having a fun time playing Shakespeare), he has been dropped into the University of Wales, Aberystwyth without fanfare, staying in a regular dorm room and working among regular students. This may not sound that bad, but remember, this is the son of a man who complained about having to sell a yacht.
Which is why it’s perplexing that when Charles is finally given some special treatment, an invitation to dinner with university higher-ups, he totally biffs it. Despite his one-on-one tutoring, he can’t name any important Welsh figures, and reveals he hasn’t even stepped foot in the school’s library. This elicits a strong scolding at his next session with Millward, who demands respect despite their mutual reluctance to be there.
These cold feelings towards one another slowly fade as Charles actually does his reading and Millward notices a sad fact: His student has no friends. One evening, as they finish up their session, Charles remarks about the night he’s about to spend at home, prompting Millward to invite him over for dinner.
This presents another problem. Millward and his wife literally met protesting for Welsh independence, and she’s almost more stringent about her politics than he is. She’s initially not pleased to see the future king on her doorstep, but things soften as Charles’ true nature is revealed. He’s also an outsider, and never experienced a true family life like the one he witnesses at dinner. He relates to the feeling of being talked down to, and is receptive to their stories of Wales’ plight, like the fact that an entire Welsh town was drowned underwater to provide drinking water for Liverpool, England.
It’s this conversation, and his growing affection for Wales, that prompts him to go rogue in his investiture speech. Because the whole thing is in Welsh, his mother doesn’t notice when he ends up slipping some lines about respecting Welsh identity in there, earning him nods of approval from the crowd. However, the Queen does eventually acquire a translation of the speech, and is livid when she sees what her son has done. Her anger isn’t necessarily about Wales, but because she knows a small part of him was talking about himself.
Charles reminds the Queen that he has his own voice. Unfortunately for him, she shoots back, no one wants to hear it.
Episode 7: Moondust
Who knew the most heartbreaking episode of The Crown would be about…Prince Philip? After certain behaviour that may or may not have gone down last season, my only goodwill towards the royal husband comes thanks to the charm of Tobias Menzies. After this episode I would probably die for him, and it’s all because of the astronauts.
Episode 7 explores the 1969 moon landing from the British perspective, and Philip especially is enamoured with the adventure. He’s lost interest in the church, and his royal life in general, as he enters his midlife crisis. What has he achieved? What is his purpose? And why is the Dean of Winsor so old?
That’s a problem that can be fixed, and the Queen swiftly recruits a new Dean: Robin Woods (Tim McMullan). He’s no stranger to the feeling of listlessness that overcomes men at a certain age, and asks Philip for permission to use an empty building on the estate to open an academy for personal and spiritual growth aimed at mid-career priests who need to recharge. Sure, Philip says, but doesn’t really see the purpose. It’s no moon landing.
In fact, after watching the incredible feat on July 20, 1969, Philip says as much in his first visit to this Sad Men Club. Despite the fact that he just took control of his pilot’s plane and brought it to dangerous heights just to be above the clouds just like the astronauts, he believes he’s totally fine. Actually, he says, it’s this group of men who are the deluded ones, and calls their philosophising self-pitying nonsense.
His spirits are buoyed even higher when the Queen reveals the very astronauts who landed on the moon are coming to Buckingham Palace for a royal visit, and grants Philip a private meeting with the adventurers. We see him prepare detailed questions for the men, convinced their journey unlocked the secrets of the universe and, specifically, the answer that will make him stop feeling so pointless. “Do we have a destiny?” he writes on a piece of paper.
Suffice to say, Neil Armstrong (Henry Pettigrew), Buzz Aldrin (Felix Scott), and Michael Collins (Andrew Lee Potts) do not have those answers. They don’t have anything special to say about their adventure, other than that it was crazy, and can they please run around Buckingham Palace and take pictures now?
Philip. Is. Crushed. It hurts me so dearly. His dreams are shattered. What’s more, we learn that his mother, Princess Alice, recently passed, and now, the one thing getting him up in the mornings turned out to be a disappointment. What’s a man to do? Go St. George’s House for Middle-Aged Sad Men (that last part is my addition), of course! Back with the priests, Philip admits he misjudged them, and opens up about the slow drip of depression that has been creeping over him. He needs, in a word, help, and as we learn in the epilogue of the episode, his and Robin’s subsequent lifelong friendship is the answer.
Episode 8: Dangling Man
The fact that there was a salacious royal love triangle (rectangle?) involving Princess Anne and Prince Charles that took 50 years and eight episodes to be revealed makes me want to file a formal complaint about the curriculum of my AP European History class. The players are Princess Anne, Prince Charles, Camilla Shand (Emerald Fennell), and Andrew Parker Bowles (Andrew Buchan). At first it seems simple: Charles is smitten with Camilla! Until he informs Mountbatten that the reason she’s back on the market is because she and Andrew had a falling out after Andrew started seeing Anne.
After learning all of that, it’s kind of hard to turn our attention to the new prime minister, Edward Heath (Michael Maloney). Believe me, the Queen is just as bored by him as you are, and doesn’t understand why he wants her to go to France, of all places. It is pointed out that a trip to France would allow the Queen to visit the aging Duke of Windsor (Derek Jacobi). He’s ill and isn’t expected to recover but, after all the grief he put their family through, Philip puts a stop to any notion of a good-natured visit.
Charles and Camilla have a casual date night — I assume all casual date nights include a palace, a makeshift dinner in a private wing, and watching your date’s great-uncle give an interview on TV about his time as the Prince of Wales. It prompts a conversation between Charles and Camilla about his dissatisfaction with his family and turns into a discussion of the fact that the duke didn’t really abdicate because of love for his now-wife, Wallis Simpson (Geraldine Chaplin), but because of his frustration with the establishment. Just some casual pillow talk!
The Queen heads out on her trip to France, which gets interrupted by the message that the duke isn’t just ill, but “close to the end.” Despite Philip’s frustrations, she stops by for a visit. The preparation for this visit, unfortunately, takes out nearly all of the duke’s remaining life force. However, he’s able to perk up enough to praise the Queen for all her work, and reveal that he and Charles have been writing letters to each other.
“What a king you would have made in a kinder world,” Charles writes in one of the letters, promising that when it’s his turn, he will wear the crown on his own terms and make his great-uncle proud.
Episode 9: Imbroglio
We pick up at the Duke of Windsor’s funeral, after which Wallis gives Charles the pocket watch and compass that belonged to his great-uncle; “No excuse for going in the wrong direction,” the engraving reads. Before heading off to the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, Charles admits to Wallis that he believes Camilla is the one, and she pushes him to never turn his back on true love.
“Watch out for your family,” she warns.
“They mean well,” he replies.
“No, they don’t,” she says, ominously.
Hopefully, the course of this true love will run smoothly because the Queen has bigger fish to fry. Tensions have risen between the government and the National Union of Mineworkers, the latter of whom have formed so many blockades in pursuit of fair pay that the last remaining stockpile of coal is threatened. Heath believes that all the government needs to do is stand strong and use the eight weeks of reserves they secreted way, which should be more than enough time for the strikers to stand down.
Over at the Royal Naval College, Charles isn’t exactly giving it his all. He’s distracted by thoughts of Camilla, his recent phone call with whom (unbeknownst to Charles) featured Andrew lurking in the background. Which is why we should all be concerned when he tells Mountbatten that he needs his help introducing Camilla to the family as The One.
Mountbatten isn’t going to do that. Instead, he goes into full problem-solving mode and has a meeting with the Queen Mother (Marion Bailey) about putting a stop to this romance. At the same time, Heath meets with the head of the mineworkers union about putting a stop to the tension — aka telling him that the government won’t be deviated by strikes. Despite their attempts to find common ground with their mutual backgrounds, its Heath’s clear disdain for the workers that causes the talks to entirely break down, resulting in nationwide power cuts that could last up to a year.
An angry Charles arrives home to the Queen. Did she have something to do with him getting posted in another country for eight months? She denies any involvement, but calls Mountbatten and the Queen Mother into her office immediately after, because they likely did. At first, she’s livid at them for breaking up the love affair. It wasn’t true love, they insist, because, as Anne later corroborates in one of the best scenes of the season, Charles can only marry Camilla if he’s prepared for there to always be three in the marriage. Camilla is still in love with Andrew, which is why it takes only a conversation between the Queen Mother, the Shands, and the Parker Bowles to set a wedding date.
Mountbatten breaks the news to Charles, who can barely believe it, even when he hears it from Camilla herself over the phone. However, she drops the news that this wasn’t entirely her plan. He leaves for his posting knowing his family once again interfered in his love life, and that resentment will fester over the next eight months.
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