I am the kind of person who prefers comedies before, during and after tragedies. But the recent release of season 4 of The Crown reminded me how spectacular and immersive dramas can be. Much before the Kardashians were the most dramatic family in the world, the royal family of Britain took the crown for this title. While these kinds of shows take some time to set up the premise, the second episode of the first series reeled me into the show beyond my imagination. King George VI passed away while Queen Elizabeth was in South Africa. The news had to be broken to her in a compassionate manner and, most importantly, not by the media. This could have been a simple phone call to the 25-year-old princess. Instead we got a sequence whose intensity is almost palpable. The scene is a perfect storm with quick cuts of a frenzy of phone calls trying to get to the new queen, every radio station talking about the news of the deceased king and the queen’s calm oblivion to the matter. To make matters worse (and to break your heart), she had just finished writing a letter to her father when a simple look from her husband informed her that the future of England was in her hands, something she did not want, nor was ready for. The nine-minute sequence had me on the edge of my seat. This proved to me that this show will squeeze every ounce of drama out of any situation, however important or trivial it may be.
The recently released fourth season takes you on a journey of “the day after the happily ever after” of the royal family and the condition of England under Margaret Thatcher, both facing a decline. The political situation of the country is expressed through the story of Michael Fagan. What stood out about this episode was that we don’t actually spend that much time with the queen, but can still feel her looming presence. Through the episode we follow Fagan, an ordinary working class man who lost everything and was pushed to breaking point, like many were during that era. Stuck in a helpless web of bureaucracy, Fagan tried to seek help from anyone in power. In a desperate cry to be heard due to the loss of his job and family, he broke into Buckingham Palace and compelled the queen to look at life wearing his shoes. Their brief conversation opened her eyes to ‘ordinary’ lives, something the family dreaded to encounter in the beginning of the episode. When asked about it, Fagan described this episode as “having used a poetic license to get the point across,” something this show specialises in.
The creators of the show promise a sincere look at the inner workings of the royal family, highlighting the grey areas of every decision they make. This season takes an especially deeper look into how isolated and lonely the life of a royal can be. The pressure from the public to seem pristine, to cover any crack, crevice or chasm, led many members of the family to develop mental health conditions. Princess Diana’s eating disorder, Princess Margaret’s downward spiral and Princess Anne deciding to just give up: all these humanise the seemingly perfect. Even in the episode, ‘Favourites’, where the queen is trying to figure out who her favourite child is, we discover that all of them were sinking in their own deep end, be it due to unhappy marriages or bullying at school.
We can understand why every member of the family goes down the path they do: the crown. Like the finale of every season, this one also ended with a speech about the purpose of the crown and everyone around it. The crown is a central source and everyone must play their part to keep it afloat. A complete disregard for one’s own life, to show stability for the crown, takes a toll on the royals, at a time when there was a massive stigma regarding mental health. The aristocratic life, in its essence, revolves around the crown and must unconditionally serve it – at any cost.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.