I thought Season 4 of The Crown, which my wife and I just finished binge watching, was the best of the series so far. It had two toweringly important stories, each brilliantly acted and powerfully presented.
Margaret Thatcher, the U.K.’s Iron Lady, contemporary of Ronald Reagan (from my American perspective), was tour-de-force portrayed by Gillian Anderson. Her acting, excellent to begin with in The X-Files, just gets better and better. Her conversations with Olivia Coleman as Queen Elizabeth II were non-pareil. Woman-to-woman, perfect tones of voice and gestures and head inclinations and facial expressions, these conversations are a veritable textbook of how to act. And the true story of Thatcher, the combination of her real toughness and real vulnerabilities, including her clinging love of power, rang bells as to what’s happening in the United States right now. Trump has none of Thatcher’s steel. His toughness is all bravado. But he has the same love of power. And though Thatcher believed in democracy, albeit as a hard-eyed conservative, and Trump is a fascist at heart, their penchant for clinging to power is disturbing to contemplate, and deftly portrayed by Anderson as Thatcher in The Crown.
Charles and Diana, as we all know, is a modern-day Shakespearean tragedy. Josh O’Connor has Charles, at least far as we saw him in the news clips, pretty well down pat. The slightly bent head, the almost diffident smile, all of that hiding a keen wit and a boiling well of anger at being stuck in this marriage and even life makes a riveting counterpoint to Emma Corrin’s Diana, innocent at first, growing into a thirst for fame, soaking it up, and the beginning of a real humanitarian soul that leads her to hug a boy with AIDS in Harlem, NY. The two of them drive themselves and hence the larger family to the breaking point.
But the Queen survives it all, and succeeds, better politically than personally, but still tolerably well at this point, as the family celebrates an internally frosty Christmas in the closing scene. I have no idea how accurate this all is. I of course know nothing of Elizabeth personally, and I prefer ancient Roman history to England for the past seventy years. But, as I always tell my students, docu-dramas never tell the complete truth, not usually even most of it, and that’s ok. Because, at their best, they can tell deeper truths about human affairs, in all senses of that word. And this season of The Crown does one fabulous job of it.