When it comes to Buckingham Palace, there will always be tea to spill—and The Crown’s fourth season is proof. The show takes a turn for the dark side, revealing the worst parts of the royal family and those who exist on its fringes. There’s Princess Diana’s eating disorder. Charles’ inability to escape the infantile Romeo and Juliet fantasy playing out in his head. Princess Margaret discovering a shameful, long-kept secret. Margaret Thatcher, stern and unmovable, finding herself scrutinized by members of the royal family while vacationing in Balmoral Castle.
The standout episode would be the Dickensian “Favourites,” which channels A Christmas Carol. Here, the Queen (Olivia Colman continuing her role to outstanding effect) gets to interview the ghosts of her children, only to find she’s raised a bunch of unhappy brats, empty specters floating aimlessly, with nothing going for them but the lineage they belong to, their blue blood both a gift and a curse.
But much of this season’s hype revolves around the introduction of Lady Diana Spencer and Margaret Thatcher in the series narrative. The two British icons are played amazingly by newcomer Emma Corrin and X-Files alum Gillian Anderson respectively. They embody women at very different stages of their lives—women who must come to terms with the circumstances their respective roles have laid out for them: The Iron Lady as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister to an ailing United Kingdom, and Diana as Princess of Wales, mother to a future king and wife to an extremely insecure prince.
Thatcher's tough and rigid ways spark a scandal when, in an unprecedented event, the press gets a whiff of the tension between Buckingham Palace and Downing Street. Meanwhile, Diana, a mere child thrust into unfamiliar territory, is left to fend for her sanity as she's picked apart by not just her husband but by her in-laws and the watchful eye of the public. With her doe eyes and fragile features, Corrin eerily captures the nuances of Princess Di's persona and that palpable unhappiness that seeped through all the paparazzi images.
This season invokes that strange innate fear we have of flushing the toilet only to have the water rush back up, a mix of shit and piss overflowing from the throne, staining the floors everyone walks on. The series certainly takes liberties portraying these famous personas, but one might be right to say sticking to the facts could even be more interesting than what this artful dramatization presents. Or not. The British royal family could all just be a bunch of snooty, boring old farts. In the end, however, it might be this mysterious middle ground between truth and fiction that keeps the show sharp, fueling our insatiable obsession with people we will never truly know.