For fans, this is incredibly exciting. They have patiently waited through decades of monarchical history dating back to the Queen’s coronation in the 1940s to get to Diana and Thatcher. While the older stories were gripping, for many they have lacked the contemporary resonance of the 1980s and for many viewers this season will be the first time the Netflix drama has been within living memory.
Having seen new episodes from season four ahead of the launch on 15 November, it feels like the most energised series yet. It fizzes with a new set of strong lead performances telling unbelievable – but mostly factual – stories from the past. Here are our biggest takeaways...
It’s funnier than ever
In one episode, Thatcher goes on a hunt, accompanying the Queen. “I couldn’t help noticing ma’am, you didn’t bring any outdoor shoes,” notes one courtier at Balmoral where the prime minister has gone for a royal visit.
“That’s right,” retorts Margaret, adding, “what a straaaaange thing to say,” as Gillian Anderson hammily drags it out her vowels. The prime minister is genuinely contemplating why she’s been asked about sensible shoes. Could going to the countryside actually mean going outside?
What follows is a camp reimagining of Thatcher trailing a stag across the Scottish Highlands accompanied by a gunman and Her Majesty the Queen. Thatcher, unprepared, is dressed to the nines in a two-piece power suit designed for delivering evening speeches in, not the kill for the table, but begrudgingly she’s off hunting at first light on Her Majesty’s invitation.
She has on a pair of muddy outdoor shoes the Queen has offered her, and slips across the dewy early morning grass with the efficiency of a deer on ice skates and the look of a toddler who’s dropped her ice cream.
It’s a hilariously camp instance that is funny for how feasible it feels.
Later, a begrudging Thatcher and husband Dennis attend a Scottish sports day, which includes log throwing, as guests of the Queen. Gillian Anderson brilliantly embodies Thatcher’s snobbishness in her body language: she gives the prime minister a quivering lip as she struggles to hold her public face, bemoaning what an utter waste of time this all is.
Thatcher would much rather be behind her desk working but she’s paralysed, stuck here in the depths of the countryside, and it’s joyously funny.
In the meantime, the rest of the royals, bedecked in wax jackets and appropriate shoes, jump in and out of muddy Land Rovers, embracing the culture of the outdoors to which Thatcher is so allergic.
Gillian Anderson relaxes into the role Thatcher – although not everyone will enjoy it
Thatcher was loved and despised – division which led her to become immortalised as one of the most famous prime minsters. But in recent years portrayals of her have become more pervasive than footage of actual Thatcher herself.
Meryl Streep did a cracking job at capturing her in The Iron Lady, Spitting Image had their go, and now it’s Gillian Anderson’s turn.
It feels as if she takes a while to warm into the character in the initial few scenes, including in episode one where she experiences a fraught audience with the Queen. In that scene, Gillian’s performance feels like it drifts into pastiche: the delivery is extra slow, her words extra incensed and head bobs an inch or two more dramatic than the Iron Lady’s herself.
But within half an episode, Gillian relaxes into Thatcher’s tailored business suits: she peers listlessly out of a plane window while bemoaning the royals, asserts that she, and only she, unpacks her husband’s clothes on trips away and tirelessly lectures anyone she meets about the value of hard work. Across these moments, Gillian captures what many perceived to be Thatcher’s irritating tone deafness, but also how her single-mindedness makes her vulnerable.
As we mentioned above, Gillian also manages to make her performance light and comedic when appropriate, but Thatcher supporters may find that she’s gone a little OTT with the delivery.
Emma Corrin’s Princess Diana will win over royal fans and detractors – just like the Lady herself did
Director Ben Caron deliciously plays around with the audience’s thirst for Diana in episode one when she first appears non-recognisably (no spoilers here.) She might not be instantly Diana, but the introduction of an unknown character is so stylistically handled in the scene, it’s easy to work out what’s going on after a few seconds.
When she finally appears, Emma Corrin as Diana is majestic. At 24, she naturally conveys the lightness, energy and naivety of Diana in those early years before her life become complicated. Emma reveals the Diana before she became fatigued, and before the affairs – a young woman in awe of Prince Charles.
She depicts how overwhelming that must have felt – her eyes dart nervously in their sockets as she greets the royals all at once, and is criticised by Princess Margaret for not bowing to each family member in the right order. She looks curious, excited and concerned all at once and it feels haunting.
As do scenes that echo decades of TV news coverage – scenes of the soon-to-be royal as she goes about her life in London followed by a throng of photographers.
Overall, it feels eerily close to home
Of course, for many of The Crown’s audience, the 1980s are within living memory. For those slightly younger, Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher are two figures with stories which pervade the news today, so even for younger viewers this season feels palpably modern.
This sense of the show being brought gradually up-to-date will create more anticipation ahead of season five – which will likely tackle the tragic death of Diana in 1997 – and season six, which was confirmed earlier this autumn.
But for now, the fashions, particularly of Princess Diana, and everything from the cars being driven, to the attitudes of the characters, feel relatable.
There’s a unique sense of pleasure in events from living memory being recalled in a glossy high-budget TV drama – we’re all enjoying a bit of nostalgia more than ever right now – and The Crown’s fourth season finds its magic by blending familiar stories from the royal family with surprising revelations we never knew before.
The Crown season four debuts on Netflix on 15 November.