The Netflix Highlight: “The Crown” Season 3
(Note: Netflix is breaking a scheduling tradition with the release of this new season. The service has reliably debuted new material on Fridays for years, but this new season of “The Crown” debuts on Sunday. As such, I’ve added a day to the time window in the headline, going from the usual seven-day grouping to eight days in this case.)
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.
History: The Ringer created a “syllabus” to learn more about the historical events surrounding the new season. One of the more out-there suggestions is to read an anecdote (and potential urban legend) about President Lyndon B. Johnson peeing on a Secret Service agent. That’s a primer for a Season 3 episode in which Princess Margaret meets Johnson and they bond over a love for vulgarity. As The Ringer notes, here’s the Johnson context:
Lyndon Johnson is one of American history’s great complicated historical figures, a talented but vulgar politician thrust into turbulent times. His Great Society, a slate of economic reforms and civil rights legislation unparalleled by any administration since, is a definitive American governmental triumph; his decision to plunge the U.S. headlong into the Vietnam War is a definitive national disgrace.
Princess Margaret, played by Helena Bonham Carter in Season 3, meets the bombastic Texan during his tenure in the White House, where they bond over a shared love of vulgarity. So rather than any book or documentary about LBJ the politician, consider this often-repeated anecdote about his fondness for urinating outdoors.
Comparable Shows: Many shows and movies have focused on royalty over the years, but “The Crown” stands apart for the opulent budget Netflix puts into the sets. Most royal shows look impressive in a few, special set-piece scenes, but otherwise have the plot take place in lower-cost settings, such as plain rooms and outdoor fields. Meanwhile, each frame of “The Crown” looks like it cost a kingdom to create. The characters travel the world and jump from beautiful set to beautiful set, such that it’s hard to find a moment in which the show is “saving money.” So it seems disingenuous to say “The Crown” is like any other “royal” show you’d find. Also, most “royal” shows eschew realism for pulpy romantic plot lines, which “The Crown” does not do. Although, for these reasons, “The Crown” is kind of its own thing, I’d say shows like “Downton Abbey” and “Victoria” similarly flaunt images of old English money while having fairly low-key plots.
The Characters And Money: As arguably the most famous monarchy in the world, these characters have, obviously, palatial estates and ungodly riches. The show leans into having the characters reckon with this in the third episode of the season. In this episode, the royals must decide whether to visit the small Welsh village of Aberfan after a coal-related disaster kills over 100 people, most of them children. The monarchy traditionally doesn’t stand shoulder to shoulder with poor, Welsh citizenry, but the disaster becomes a catalyst for personal reflection on the ills of keeping a wall made of riches between the queen and the people.
Bonus: Olivia Colman recently played a far more bawdy queen of England in the 2018 movie “The Favourite.” She won an Oscar for playing Queen Anne of 18th century England in the movie. Here’s her acceptance speech:
“The Crown” Season 3 Trailer:
A Couple Of Netflix News Stories From This Week
1. Eddie Murphy will star in “Beverly Hills Cop 4” on Netflix. This comes after a few months of the company supporting Murphy’s comeback to stardom. He recently starred in the Netflix movie “Dolemite Is My Name,” and the company announced a forthcoming comedy special.
2. In the latest addition of ― don’t trust documentaries on Netflix uncritically ― Netflix has to correct elements of the recent hit, “The Devil Next Door.” The film has various inaccuracies in maps shown throughout the series. Most egregiously, the maps erroneously suggest that contemporary Poland ran death camps during World War II, at a time when Nazi Germany actually occupied the country.
And here are the shows and movies that joined Netflix this week:
- “Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj” (Volume 5, Netflix Original)
- “A Single Man”
- “Chief of Staff” (Season 2, Netflix Original)
- “Harvey Girls Forever!” (Season 3, Netflix Family)
- “Jeff Garlin: Our Man in Chicago” (Netflix Original)
- “Maradona in Mexico” (Netflix Documentary)
- “The Stranded” (Netflix Original)
- “Avlu” (Part 2, Netflix Original)
- “The Club” (Netflix Original)
- “Earthquake Bird” (Netflix Film)
- “GO!: The Unforgettable Party” (Netflix Family)
- “House Arrest” (Netflix Film)
- “I’m With the Band: Nasty Cherry” (Netflix Original)
- “Klaus” (Netflix Film)
- “Llama Llama” (Season 2, Netflix Family)
- “The Toys That Made Us” (Season 3, Netflix Original)
- “The Crown” (Season 3, Netflix Original)