“The Crown” Season 4: All Ten Episodes Ranked According to a Guy Who Barely Knows Royal Family Stuff

Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth!

Queen Olivia Colman looks upon Margaret Thatcher and just doesn’t know what to make of her.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: last spring my wife Anne and I binged the first three seasons of Netflix’s The Crown and soon caught up with the rest of fandom. One slight hitch: while Anne is a major history aficionado, that was never my forte, especially not the story of Queen Elizabeth II and her ruled subjects, some of whom are incidentally also her family:

Compared to my blissfully ignorant self, Anne is far more knowledgeable of history in general and British royalty in particular. My interest in their reigning family went dormant for decades beginning on the morning of July 29, 1981, when my family woke up at 5 a.m. — over summer vacation, mind you — to watch Prince Charles marry Princess Diana, two strangers I knew only as frequent costars of my mom’s favorite tabloids. Their wedding lasted approximately six days and was performed entirely in slow motion with British golf commentators prattling through the lengthy silences in between the happenstances of nothingness. For the next 15-20 years I retained nothing of British history apart from their role as the Big Bad in the American Revolution. Frankly, I’ve learned more about their country’s storied past from my wife and from Oscar-nominated movies than I ever did from school. Sad, unadorned truth.

So far I’ve enjoyed The Crown anyway, and understood most of what’s gone on…

Season four may be its best yet. Olivia Colman gets comfy enough to have fun on the throne, Tobias Menzies bemuses and is bemused from the sidelines (for a while, anyway), Helena Bonham Carter selectively empathizes with other outsiders in their own skewed orbits, and Josh O’Connor triples his screen time as Prince Charles, the put-upon whiner who thinks he’s aged into a thwarted hero, doesn’t see himself becoming the villain. They’ve managed to survive into those lovable ’80s, when two new names emerged to take places for themselves in the British pantheon. Gillian Anderson transforms into Margaret Thatcher, the uncompromising Prime Minister who inspired thousands of destitute punk bands and numerous low-budget films about the political rage and hopelessness she instilled; and Emma Corrin (Pennyworth) as young Diana Spencer, who inspired thousands of tabloid reporters, paparazzi, impressionable little girls, and fabulous fashion mavens.

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The 10 Best Episodes of “The Crown” So Far According to a Guy Who Barely Knows Royal Family Stuff

Olivia Colman and The Crown!

From Hot Fuzz to Broadchurch to The Night Manager to The Favourite and more, Olivia Colman has already been ruling for years.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: a while back I spent an entire weekend watching the first episodes of twenty different series across multiple platforms. That experience provided us a blueprint for our binge-watching over the subsequent months. I haven’t written about everything we’ve watched, but since that entry my wife Anne and I have gone through Netflix’s Unbelievable (harrowing and unforgettable), Wild Wild Country (surprising and at times Too Much, by which I mean too much padding, but altogether illuminating), the first two seasons of House of Cards (despite potentially tossing fifty cents into Kevin Spacey’s tin cup), a wholly unrelated and regrettable detour for Tiger King (now we get all the references, but at a steep cost to our souls), and, far less dishonorably, all three seasons of The Crown.

My brief thoughts on the latter’s pilot:

Some early reviews had led us to believe writer Peter Morgan’s longform follow-up to his Best Picture nominee “The Queen” amounted to “Royal Sexytime”. Perhaps later down the road, the sight of Queen Elizabeth II snogging Prince Philip may be lying in wait to drive us to the brink of horror, like that one Marvel miniseries that dared readers to visit Aunt May’s heyday as a horny teen. Mercifully the first chapter didn’t go there and seemed much like any other British costume drama, save a few expletives and the Eleventh Doctor’s bare butt. Bonus points for casting consummate professional Jared Harris to take over for Colin Firth as King George VI. A pity Elizabeth herself hardly figured into her own story at first. Presumably Claire Foy has more lines later?

Thankfully she did, except in scenes where she consigned herself to historically accurate silence for the sake of burying feelings like true British royalty. Thirty episodes later, we’re caught up with other viewers and ready for more. Until season four presumably hits the broadband waves later this year, all we can do for now is ruminate on what we have on hand.

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Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Indirectly Saluted with Viewing of “The King’s Speech”

My wife is a much greater fan of British royalty than I’ll ever be. She’s studied and retained much of their history and knows the order of succession to a fair magnitude. As far as my superficial interest is concerned, if they’re not frequently mentioned in entertainment headlines, they’re not in line for the throne. Whenever we see Oscar-nominated movies about British kings and queens, she explains their history and context anew every time with the patience of a saint. Of all the responsibilities and skills we’ve divided between the two of us in our blissful marriage, Knowledge of European History is firmly in her bailiwick, just as Slightly Advanced Math is in mine.

I knew nothing about Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee until I learned how it would interfere with this week’s release schedule for British comic shops. As usual, my shoddy post-school method of learning about history brings me new awareness of my surroundings from unexpected sources. I knew she’s been queen longer than I’ve been alive, but I had no idea her reign is about to enter its seventh smash decade.

Today we had company over for a few hours, with tentative plans to watch a movie. I thought to pop in something vaguely on-topic, but we don’t have The Queen. I went with the closest possible film on hand — The King’s Speech, the story of how her father Colin Firth learns about leadership and friendship from Captain Barbossa after Dumbledore passes away and Firth’s older brother Memento Guy abdicates the throne for the sake of true lust. Or something like that.

Elizabeth and her sister appear in just a few key scenes. From ages eight to thirteen, Elizabeth and her sister Margaret, who I’m told was also eventually well-known, are among those few subjects who demonstrate patience with their king, fully understand his impediment, and respond to him with love and encouragement anyway. This positive reinforcement is in direct contrast to the hundreds of other characters and extras, whose expressions of awkwardness and discomfort would fit right into a typical episode of The Office (either version). Having never been under the Queen’s rule, I’m not in a position to draw any parallels, whether genuine or ironic, between that portrayal and her reign to date. I tend to think the filmmakers were aiming for utmost respect.

As tributes to HRH go, I could’ve gone with much worse. I also have the entire Naked Gun trilogy on hand. Those cameos by her convincing, put-upon stand-in may not have sent the right message this weekend.

So, happy Diamond Jubilee, then!

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