The weird thing about Peter Morgan’s season four of The Crown is how Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), portrayed as a well-intentioned, conflicted outsider in season three (so much so that it engendered even my sympathy) has changed with season four, which basically turns him into a spoilt monster, a sudden slide into the the dark side worthy of Anakin Skywalker. The story of his repeatedly thwarted romance with Camilla (Emerald Fennell) and how he is pushed/cajoled into marrying the beautiful young Diana Spencer against his will and the doom that inevitably follows may not be historically accurate but it does make a hell of a great drama, and a fine distraction from all things Covid. All the while the shadow of Edward VIII’s abdication in favour of his lover, Wallis Simpson, a storyline that weighed heavily over the first two seasons, hangs like a lesson of history now repeating. Camilla is Charles’ own Wallis, but his sense of duty sees him return to the fold and acceptable marriage, but The Crown‘s narrative seems to be that the real lessons of Edward VIII weren’t heeded at all.
The biggest surprise of this season is that while Charles is now an absolute selfish monster the show then defies expectations with its portrayal of Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson), one of the most hated political figures in British history reimagined here as an almost sympathetic character deserved of reappraisal. While the series also perpetuates the popular myth of Diana (Emma Corrin) as a beautiful ‘peoples princess’ horribly wronged by the Royals, it also teases the alternative view of her as manipulative fame-seeking woman who foolishly/naively failed to appreciate what she was getting into.
Its perhaps inevitable that the series ultimately favours Diana’s side of things leaving Charles the role of boo-hiss villain (and Camilla his horrid accomplice), thus relegating the last few decades of the real-life rehabilitation of Charles and Camilla’s reputations largely in tatters. Naturally this has resulted in the previously well-received series coming under some fire here in the UK from Royalists horrified by its vilification of Prince Charles and perpetuation of the Diana myth popularised by anti-Royals, as if aghast at all those years of carefully scripted turning of public opinion being all for naught. Its rather sweet, the fire and brimstone being directed at The Crown when all those decades of carefully fabricated photo opportunities and vetted interviews were likely as much a fictional drama themselves.
There is some currency in the interpretation of The Crown as silly pantomime, as historically accurate as Downton Abbey, but as narratives go, its very seductive and certainly great drama, and with this fourth season it may have managed its most enjoyable season yet.