November 16, 2020
Stars Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter, Gillian Anderson, Josh O’Connor, Emma Corrin, Marion Bailey, Erin Doherty, Stephen Boxer, Emerald Fennell.
The acclaimed series about the British monarchy takes a turn in its fourth season to focus on the women who defined the United Kingdom in the 1980s.
With Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman) having served as Queen for several decades, the series shifts further away from dealing with her adjusting to the position, and puts more emphasis on examining the appropriateness of a monarchy in modern society, and the impact that open question has on Elizabeth’s growing family.
In particular, the season introduces Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) and takes a hard look behind the scenes of her marriage to Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), which famously ended in divorce before her tragic death in a car accident in 1997.
Diana is depicted as a bright-eyed teenager looking for a fairy tale life and getting a lot more than she expected, with Charles marrying her only out of convenience to satisfy the pressures of his hereditary duties. Much to the chagrin of his family, he remains in a discreet relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles (Emerald Fennell), who the previous season had been deemed unsuitable as a match for the future king.
Meanwhile, the other major thread of the season concerns the rise of Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) as prime minister, who vows to reshape the country from the bottom up. This leads to a bit of a clash of personalities with the Queen, who doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with her policies — a disagreement that eventually spills out into the press in a breach of protocol that proves scandalous. Thatcher, in turn, finds the royal family to be a bit boorish and out of touch with her perception of the common British citizen. As they are roughly the same age, the season takes the obvious, but effective, move of exploring their parallel tracks toward leadership — working class republicanism versus aristocratic duty.
The season also hits upon some of the other historical milestones of the 1980s, such as the Falklands War, and even finds time for a welcome cameo from some familiar faces from earlier seasons. One fascinating detour involves focusing an episode on the story of Michael Fagan, an unemployed commoner who managed to break into Buckingham Palace in 1982 and managed to have a conversation with the Queen in her private bedroom.
With this latest batch of 10 episodes, the series maintains its usually high marks for writing and acting, and while the veracity of certain off-the-record events might be open to scrutiny, the season will likely be up for several awards when the time comes.