Glitz, drama, politics and history is the compelling mix that Netflix’s highly successful series “The Crown” has provided its audience since its 2016 premier. With the star cast of Claire Foy and Matt Smith, the show grew into one of Netflix’s most popular original series with its phenomenal first two seasons. The third season, however, shakes up this framework, taking place fifteen years later and replacing the original stars with an all-new cast to reflect the changing time.
Established British Actress Olivia Colman stepped into place as the regal, restrained Elizabeth II while “Game of Thrones” and “Outlander” star Tobias Menzies took over as Prince Philip. With big shoes to fill they handled their roles nicely, bringing an aura of maturity, complexity and confidence to the now-established monarchs. Colman especially captures the emotional coldness of Elizabeth and her humanity behind a royal screen. “To do nothing, to say nothing, is the hardest job of all,” she says to her son, putting words to the emotional distance she struggles with.
The characters’ increased maturity parallels the growth of the show as it veers into the occasionally dark subject matter. Death and national debt, historical tragedies and young love, country cottages and Carribean Islands all play a role in this dynamic third season. Thriving, maturing characters are set against the backdrop of ‘60s Britain, a time of both great struggles and accomplishments. While the U.K. avoids falling apart from financial pressure and an attempted coup, the royal family struggles with its image in an increasingly televised era. Meanwhile, global innovations sweep the world. Neil Armstrong and his companion land on the moon, while Princess Margaret neatly saves a relationship with U.S. President Johnson.
However, despite its vast scope, the show does not lose focus of its royal family. The newest season introduces new family members in the form of Prince Charles, played by Josh O’Conner, and Princess Anne, played by Erin Doherty. Their presence as semi-leads continues the youth and vitality of the previous cast, and their young relationships contrast compellingly against the maturing marriages of their family members. Prince Charlesespecially becomes a star of the show as his struggle between his personal identity and his role as heir apparent bubble to the forefront in several episodes.
However, Charles is not the only character who is given due screen-time. Veering away from Elizabeth-centric footage, season three of “The Crown” expands upon the royal family with both old and new characters. Prince Philip struggles to find a purpose for himself while Princess Margaret especially shines in this season as a complicated, willful woman in a unique social position. Flashbacks to her childhood reveal a charming child that wants to save her sister from the unwanted pressure of being the heir. The child is not entirely lost in the older Princess, a thriving woman in a difficult marriage whose darker sense of humor and self-determination pierces through a thick veil of royal formality. Her clear inner struggles and strong personality highlight the flaws, the emotions and the ultimate humanity behind the gilt and glamour of royal life.
Overall, the third season of “The Crown” stands up to, and possibly even exceeds, its predecessors. Pulling off a smooth time-switch, the aging cast adds an element of maturity which is paralleled in the plot. Meanwhile, the introduction of a new generation in the form of Prince Charles allows the show to maintain its youth, while a focus on the supporting cast allows for continued development and a fresh twist in the royal family’s story.