The ever-running nature of time and the static nature of the Royal customs are the central theme of the latest season of The Crown. Queen Elizabeth has aged, she has outgrown her vulnerable self and is now a settled monarch who has sedimented her sentiments to keep up the divine honour of the crown. Charles is a grown man and has finally realized the long awaiting burden of being declared the Prince of Wales, taking him a step closer to accepting kingship and miles away from attaining the considerate love of his family. Years have passed, people have grown, interests are developed – Charles finds his calling in acting, Queen’s greatest confidant and support in the form of Churchill, is no more; but the rigidity of the suffocatingly constructed convolutions of Monarchial mandates continue to strangle the lives within.
A masterfully staged scene introduces the Queen to the audience; there is not much change, one of the members of the household suggests, which The Queen dismisses with a quirk about her becoming an Old bat. Olivia Colman’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth cannot be described by mere adjectives, for it presents a unique conundrum; Colman’s ability to act is unquestionable but the character development of the Queen played by Claire Foy to the Queen played by Olivia Colman is slightly disconcerting, owing to the natural idiosyncratic self of Colman. An ardent fan of the series cannot help but notice the conspicuous change in Elizabeth’s reaction to situations. There is a tinge of quirk and stinging indifference towards matters, you would think, concern her. This departure from a more vulnerable young woman putting on a steardy persona to hold the fort to someone colder and stoic, could be a writing choice, a natural character development for a lady who has reached middle-age but one could wish for a smooth transition. Despite the shoddy writing, the fleeting glimpses of Claire Foy disappear in the astounding acting prowess of Olivia Colman.
The first few episodes of the new season are bogged down with uninspired writing. Peter Morgan’s extraordinary writing prowess has been the backbone of this show for most parts of the first two seasons. The writing in the first three episodes does not offer any surprises or insights. There is a jump in time from Season 2 to Season 3, a jump of a decade and this presents an opportunity for the writing to explore this hiatus to create captivating shift in dynamics between the characters or in their heads. Rather, we are treated with a familiar structuring of an episode that feels dated and is completely devoid of the subtlety in writing, that Crown usually boasts of. There are moments of magic, like the introduction to the royally troubled soul, Princess Margaret. Sitting in a gathering, she sings soulfully, which is a direct reference to the iconic scene from Season 2 where the much younger and fierce Margaret dances in agony. The acceptance that comes with being in a marriage for years, however troubled it is, is beautifully displayed in this shift from a dance of agony to a settled song of melancholy. These moments of inspired writing are far and few between episodes that reek of familiarity that soon translates into boredom.
Helena Bonham Carter is nothing like Vanessa Kirby and rightly so. The flirtish flair of Vanessa Kirby is replaced by the decaying destitute portrayed by Helena. The difference in appearance between Kirby and Carter is the most astounding achievement of this casting decision. Helena’s much shorter and chubbier appearance fits the character of an alcoholic, troubled middle-aged woman, perfectly. Beneath the fancy dresses and thick layers of makeup lies a face smeared in tears. She is a different person without the makeup. The scars shine when the make-up is off and that is when Helena Bonham Carter revels in the ache of Margaret. Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip is restrained and beautiful. There is an endearing rigidity to his performance that is gleefully broken by an overwhelmed Prince Philip as he sees man land on the Moon and in a moment of unleashed sense of aspiration he takes control of the aircraft and flies into the sky, literally, reaching out to the Moon and calmly sheds a tear or two at both, the joy of seeing something surreal and at his place in this world, or in his family.
Just when the underwhelming emotion cracks the splendid, spotless Crown, Charles enters the scene in Episode 6 and passes a blinding light of brilliance through those cracks and fills one with jubilation towards the stunning comeback by the show. Charles’ introduction catapults the inchoate narrative into a throbbing tale of discovering a voice. The show, too, comes off age as we see Charles come off age while he prepares for his investiture in Wales. Josh O’Connor who plays Charles is exceptional. His inspired performance aids the stupendous scripting in creating densely layered moments, painted with poignancy. In a hairraising confrontation between a mother masquerading as the Queen and a young man refusing to put on the mask of nothingness that his Queen demands him to, the brilliance of writing merges with the aching bereavement of the performances to achieve a climax that is so emotionally stunning that every nerve in you, is invigorated.
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A season marred by inconsistency manages to retian Crown’s brilliance by redeeming itself in the final gut-wrenching moments with Princess Margaret and her tragedy stricken life, in the final episode. Helena Bonham Carter in this episode goes full throttle to deliver an intimate performance that makes this one of the better episodes of the season. With season 4 already in shoot, one hopes for The Crown to regain its artistic splendour and revel in the love of its audience by creating a layered drama of laboured relationships, which this season dearly missed. This season of The Crown is an assortment of different degrees of Brilliance and Banality but it is eventually, embellished enough, with some illuminating writing and acting, to let the shine remain. God saved The Crown, indeed.