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Princess Diana Makes Her First Appearance In Season 4 Of 'The Crown'


The new season of Netflix's drama about England's royal family, "The Crown," drops today. In it, Gillian Anderson plays Margaret Thatcher and Emma Corrin is Princess Diana. Here's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: As "The Crown's" outstanding fourth season begins, it is 1979. And Margaret Thatcher is taking power as the first female prime minister in British history. At first, Queen Elizabeth, played with punctilious reserve by Olivia Colman, sees a potential ally in another powerful woman, defending her to Tobias Menzies' Prince Philip as they watched Thatcher on TV.


TOBIAS MENZIES: (As Philip) That's the last thing this country needs.

OLIVIA COLMAN: (As Elizabeth) What?

MENZIES: (As Philip) Two women running the show.

COLMAN: (As Elizabeth) Perhaps that's precisely what this country needs.

DEGGANS: But then, they have the first of many regular meetings to discuss government business. And the Queen discovers Thatcher isn't exactly jumping on the train to sisterhood when she asks who will be in her cabinet.


COLMAN: (As Elizabeth) I'm assuming they're women.

GILLIAN ANDERSON: (As Margaret) Women?

COLMAN: (As Elizabeth) In cabinet.

ANDERSON: (As Margaret) Oh, certainly not. Well, not just because there aren't any suitable candidates, but I have found women in general tend not to be suited to high office.

COLMAN: (As Elizabeth) Oh, why is that?

ANDERSON: (As Margaret) Well, they become too emotional.

COLMAN: (As Elizabeth) I doubt you'll have that trouble with me.

DEGGANS: That's an excellent bit of foreshadowing because viewers will find the Queen's inability to express emotion and the tremendous impact it has on her family as one of the key storylines in this season of "The Crown." In fact, the season features two overarching, exquisitely told tales - Thatcher's rise and fall and the start of Prince Charles' marriage to Diana Spencer, the woman the world would come to know as Lady Diana. The marriage story reflects worst on Prince Charles, who was browbeaten into proposing to Diana despite being in love with the married Camilla Parker Bowles. In particular, Charles is swayed by a note written by his great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, just before his death. Here, Mountbatten is played by Charles Dance.


CHARLES DANCE: (As Mountbatten) My dear Charles, there exists no greater compliment than to be called a prince among men and use of virtues to which you must reach and rise. And it grieves me to say that you are not working hard enough to reach and to rise.

DEGGANS: But Charles can't find the fortitude to commit fully to his new fiancee. He leaves Diana alone to learn all the customs and etiquette expected of her, exacerbating her eating disorder. Charles communicates his ambivalence when a TV reporter tries to get the painfully awkward couple to express their love.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) And if I may say, you both look very much in love.

ELIZABETH DEBICKI: (As Diana) Oh, yes. Absolutely.

JOSH O'CONNOR: (As Charles) Whatever in love means.

DEGGANS: As this story unfolds, the entire royal family looks awful, too out of touch to realize what a terrible situation is brewing. And all along, the viewer knows the horrific ending that's coming. Critics say "The Crown" is a glossy advertisement propping up the English monarchy. But what this series really does is humanize the royal family. We're given grounded, understandable backstories for all their biggest failures and scandals in ways that don't excuse unforgivable behavior as much as explore and explain it.

Those who hate Thatcher's conservative policies may have a problem with how sensitively her dismissal from British politics is depicted here. And some may wonder if the Queen's emotional cluelessness was as innocent as Colman makes it seem. But this season, packed with great performances and sharp storytelling, is the series' best effort yet at revealing the tortured soul of one of the most unique families of the modern era.

I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF HANS ZIMMER'S "'THE CROWN' MAIN TITLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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