Buckingham Palace is back on Netflix, with The Crown Season 3. The royal soap opera spent the first two seasons attempting the draft the first retelling of the history of the second Elizabethan era to great acclaim. It might not be William Shakespeare's Richard III or Henry V, but it was convincing enough that those who will never bother read history could take these episodes as close enough to the true story to pass muster. Season 3 continues to sail on with this sympathetic portrayal of the monarchy, relying on the passing of memory into shadow to adjust the picture to a monarchists' view.
But, as the trailer promised, the times, they are a-changing. And with them, the cast. Golden Globe-winning star Claire Foy is out, tossed over for Oscar-winning star Olivia Colman in the titular role. Matt Smith’s Prince Philip has left via the TARDIS, and Tobias Menzies is now standing ten feet behind his wife in Smith's wake. Vanessa Kirby’s BAFTA-winner turn as Margaret will now be Helena Bonham-Carter’s BAFTA-winner-to-be turn as Margaret.
Once again, history is fungible in the hands of writer Peter Morgan. Though the rough outline is correct, the deals are usually fudged. In the first two seasons, that fudging often came with enough truth in it to pass muster, leaving the show mired in half-correct scenarios, muddled by rumored what-ifs of the time, and almost always aiming to make Elizabeth seen more sympathetic. But this year, the show starts going completely off-book when it comes to history in places.
The biggest is with Margaret, whose trip to America is wholly reimagined to fit into the sorts of royal visits of the last decade when crowds swooned over Bill and Cathy Cambridge, or will swoon this coming Christmas over H, Megs, and baby Bubba Sussex.
Unfortunately, it's all nonsense, as Margaret not only made a bad impression on Americans but sadly did not engage in drinking games with President Lyndon Johnson either. Clancy Brown's Johnson, by the way, is only slightly worse than the Kennedy portrayals of last season. Considering how badly the JFK episode went over, one can only speculate whether Morgan was determined to do better this time or is simply thumbing his nose at fans. Thankfully, the time jump at the end of the season moves the show past the Nixon and Ford years, so that's two presidents no one has to sit through.
Bonham-Carter at least has a chance to go all out, even if the same event didn't happen in real life. But the show never forgets this is Elizabeth’s story. The queen’s blue eyes have magically turned brown, but otherwise, the silhouette is remarkably close, which the show takes great pride in by comparing the two on stamps in the opening episode. Colman also somehow has managed to nail the queen’s voice in the same way Foy did. When listening with eyes closed, it is almost impossible to tell them apart.
But Colman has a different part to pay now that she's older and settled. The series is still working overtime to make sure audiences sympathize with her at every turn. Her friendship with Porchie (John Hollingworth), rumored to be something more, is just friendship. Philip is still the biggest pain in her arse. When she does make bad choices, such as with Aberfan, the show makes sure to wallow in her grief over them.
And then there's Charles. Josh O’Conner manages to make the hangdog Prince somehow sexy while still maintaining the image of an outwardly large-eared clueless clod of a disaster. But Morgan needs to thread that needle to build some degree of sympathy for the future King of England. Elizabeth, for the first time, is shown as a cold fish of a mother, though the lessons she's trying (badly) to teach Charles are rooted in what the show sees as the home truths of doing this job. And the relationship with Camilla (Emerald Fennell), whom everyone knows Charles will eventually marry, is played more like star-crossed lovers than strictly necessary. But it's all in the service of knowing that Diana (Emma Corrin) is coming down the pike once Season 4 begins.
So far, The Crown has done an excellent job of setting up the royal family for the disaster on the way. The question is if it can navigate the treacherous waters that the royal family so badly failed to handle in the 80s and 90s.
All ten episodes of The Crown Season 3 are streaming now on Netflix.