The Crown (4 stars)

The Crown

Two iconic blondes make waves in season four of Peter Morgan's epic regal drama

For a certain generation, The Crown has finally reached its sweet spot. With season four spanning 1979 to 1990, Peter Morgan's drama covers the ill-fated marriage of Charles and Diana, while the political backdrop is dominated by Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first woman prime minister, a figure who remains hugely divisive today. There's nothing here on the miners' strike or her wholesale destruction of trade unions, but plenty on the Falklands War, her stubborn reluctance to stand alone in not issuing sanctions on South Africa's apartheid regime, and there's a substantial section devoted to her son Mark going missing in the Sahara Desert while rally driving.

Everything that we see in the political sphere always tracks back to what's occurring with the Windsors, so the Queen's loyalty to the Commonwealth is put at risk by Tory foreign policy while her family is threatened by Thatcher's wartime bloodlust given that Prince Andrew was keen to serve in the Falklands. Meanwhile, Mark Thatcher's disappearance has the Duke of Edinburgh and Elizabeth II contemplating on their 'favourites' among the offspring.

Oddly, there is no card shown at the beginning of each episode to declare whether this is historically accurate or playing fast and loose with the facts and situations. Clearly, the conversations that may or may not have taken place are a matter for high conjecture, but the greater truths are being considered here rather than the nitty gritty of whether the Queen really said that to Thatcher during their regular 'audiences', or whether that blazing row between Charles and Diana played out precisely like that.

As for the performances, Olivia Colman remains a stoic monarch, showing more empathy towards the palace intruder who chatted with her in the royal bedroom than her own children or struggling daughter-in-law. As Diana, relative newcomer Emma Corrin delivers a pitch-perfect performance mirroring exactly the shy mannerisms which the public saw, while behind closed doors she rages at her uncaring husband (Josh O'Connor is also excellent as the conflicted Prince of Wales who yearns for his true love Camilla) as her own mental breakdown becomes almost too agonising to watch (some episodes begin with a written warning about the eating disorder scenes). And Gillian Anderson utterly transforms herself into the Conservative leader, her voice, walk and manner capturing Thatcher to the letter and truly leaving Meryl Streep's lukewarm performance in The Iron Lady in her wake.

Above all, The Crown portrays a family where personal happiness always comes a distant second to duty and loyalty. From Princess Margaret to Lady Di, and Princess Anne to the future King, there is a not a contented soul among them. This is the kind of greater truth that Peter Morgan and his team of directors exposes time and again with compelling brilliance.

Available on Netflix, Sunday 15 November.

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