Ian Thomas Malone

the crown Archive



November 2022



The Crown wallows in an annus horribilis of its own making

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The general logic behind rotating the cast of The Crown every two seasons was to give the show a chance to cover the spread of major events in the Royal Family across the long and storied reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The transition in practice is a bit clunkier, with the need to reacquaint the audience with the characters gunking up the narrative flow of the show. A further complication stems from the reality that The Crown is slowly creeping up on recent history, particularly one saga that’s been covered ad nauseam for the past few decades.

Season five centers its narrative on decay. The Crown is quite preoccupied with positioning the decommissioning of the royal yacht Britannia as a broader narrative for the downward trajectory of relevance for the Royal Family as a whole, a notion that might confuse viewers fresh off the triumphant Platinum Jubilee, as well as the global outpour of affection following the death of Her Majesty in September. The fairly rosy outlook for the monarchy was hardly a given in the midst of 1992’s infamous “annus horribilis,” which saw the breakdown of 75% of the Queen’s children’s marriages as well as a tragic fire in Windsor Castle.

The overabundance of doom and gloom illustrates season five’s predominant shortcoming, a textbook example of showing without telling. Bad things happen to the monarchy and the Queen (Imelda Staunton) is very sad about it. She loses her boat, her kids get divorced, and Diana is tricked into going on national television to pull back the curtains as to what an uncaring and unsympathetic family the Windsors really are. That’s kind of it. The Queen doesn’t really do anything other than mope and cling to the past, even with regard to her choices in cable television. 

Previous seasons of The Crown, particularly the third season, struggled with Her Majesty’s place in a narrative that often found her relatives far more interesting to depict. Philip (Jonathan Pryce) and Margaret (Leslie Manville), once primary focuses of the series, are reduced to idle background characters, the former seeing his primary arc consumed with carriage riding and a friendship with Penelope Knatchbull (Natascha McElhone) that the show rather openly wishes was more than that. The Crown retains its contempt for the Queen Mother (Marcia Warren), one of the most interesting members of the family who’s been reduced to a window draping for the entire course of the series.

The Crown also refuses to let its fascination with the Duke of Windsor slip away, giving the long-dead former monarch an epilogue in the form of his valet Syndey Johnson (Jude Akuwudike), who later served Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw) in his efforts to ingratiate himself to the Crown. Episode three perhaps best highlights the main issue for the season as a whole, a narrative so strapped for plotlines that it would dedicate a full episode to the father of the man who died in the same car crash that killed Princess Diana. Such screentime might have been better deployed to the Queen’s three other children. After a season of relative prominence, Anne (Claudia Harrison) is reduced to almost complete obscurity, while Andrew and Edward barely exist at all.

Unsurprisingly, season five dedicates much of its runtime to the end of the marriage between Charles (Dominic West) and Diana (Elizabeth Debicki). The biggest problem with this dynamic is the reality that the show brought upon itself. The irrevocable breakdown of the marriage was already defined throughout season four, leaving this season with little but the epilogue. There are interesting moments here and there in the saga, particularly toward Diana’s mindset heading into the Panaroma interview that was solicited under false pretenses, but there’s not enough meat here to carry a season. Debucki does a fabulous job as Diana, but she’s hardly given many moments to define the Princess of Wales as her own like Emma Corrin was able to manage.

West is perhaps in the most strenuous position among the leads, portraying the future King of England in the midst of his most unlikable era. Along with Pryce, West suffers from an inability to truly sink into the role, neither actor able to deliver an accent that sounds much like their subject. Charles is fundamentally correct in most of his concerns about the future of the monarchy, but nothing can change how insufferable and entitled he fundamentally comes across as. Late-season remarks by Tony Blair (Bertie Carvel) lay out the challenges with Charles quite well.

The Crown spends its own annus horribilis oddly bored with itself, a meandering season without the passion it once evoked toward its privileged subjects. There’s nothing new to explore and nothing fresh to say about Diana and Charles. As much as stagnancy may have defined this chapter of the Royal Family, it’s hard to forgive the show’s exceedingly boring delivery. As an institution, The Crown will always have to deal with the “why” of monarchy, an existential moral question with real-world implications. As a show, The Crown might want to take a more deliberate approach to its own execution and present a better thesis for its own existence. 



November 2020



The Crown returns to form on the coattails of its most celebrated Princess

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There is perhaps no greater moment of excitement for fans of The Crown than the arrival of Princess Diana. Four seasons in to a planned six-season run (briefly reduced to five before returning to its original course), Diana represents a turning point for the series, where period drama increasingly encroaches upon our modern era. As the Royal Family today endures controversies surrounding Megxit and Prince Andrew’s choice of friends, Diana’s popularity endures.

Surrounded by an exceptional cast including Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Tobias Menzies, Emma Corrin captivates as the young Princess of Wales. Corrin’s performance illustrates the complexities of Diana’s position both as an outsider to the Royal Family and as a figure who became a global sensation. Diana is a singular figure in modern culture. Corrin handles that immensely daunting task with nuance and grace.

Fellow season four newcomer Gillian Anderson takes on a similarly daunting task as Margaret Thatcher, in many ways the inverse of Diana for the purposes of The Crown. Thatcher is among the most hated politicians of the modern era, posing difficulties for a fictional depiction that’s bound to try and humanize the Iron Lady. Anderson is wonderful, occasionally bringing out those moments in the viewer where one’s emotions are tied up in an uncomfortable display of sympathy toward a figure known for her absence of humanity.

Season three often suffered from a lack of urgency to make the most of its ten episodes. Season four by comparison often has too much to do. Diana’s rise takes up much of the early episodes, intertwined with the Queen’s relationship with Thatcher. The Crown has always emphasized episodic storytelling within its broader narrative, but season four simply has better stories to tell. There’s nothing comparable to last year, when a whole episode was wasted on Prince Philip being fascinated with the moon.

Ten episodes is not a lot of time to spend on a group of individuals as complex and fascinating as the Royal Family. Prince Philip and Princesses Anne and Margaret see their roles greatly diminished, a necessary decision made in service to the season’s more compelling narratives. The Queen Mother (Marion Bailey) continues to be woefully ignored, a fascinating figure done a great disservice by The Crown.

Colman is finally given a chance to shine. Season three often sidelined the Queen in favor of the actions around her. Between conflicts with Thatcher and her responsibilities as a mother, the Queen has plenty to do this time around.

In many ways, Prince Charles is the true antagonist of the season, more so than Thatcher. Josh O’Connor does a fabulous job as the dour Prince of Wales, perpetually sulking over his marital problems and jealous of Diana’s enormous popularity. The Crown is hardly fair to the future King of England, who is depicted as fairly lazy and selfish. Stories need heroes and villains.

The Crown is not a documentary. Biopics almost always take large creative liberties with their subjects. Many articles are popping up over the inaccuracies of the events depicted, a fair correction of the record. One might feel a natural degree of sympathy toward how someone like the Duchess of Cornwall might feel at being seen as a vicious adulterer uncaring toward the mental wellbeing of a national icon. As bleak as it sounds, that shouldn’t really override the primary objective of The Crown, to produce compelling television.

Diana’s arrival gives The Crown a chance to recapture the magic of spectacle. Few series evoke a sense of awe and wonder quite like Morgan’s Royal Family fantasies. Historians can balk at the creative liberties all they want, but this is one of the most exciting shows on television. Truth need not be as important.




November 2019



Season Three of The Crown Lacks Purpose

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Cast changes are a predicament that practically every television show faces. The idea of The Crown switching up its entire principal cast every two seasons is pretty much without precedent, though the name recognition of the subject matter makes this proposition a bit less daunting. It’s not as if the Royal Family needs much of an introduction.

To its credit, the new cast barely need to be reintroduced either. Olivia Coleman, Tobias Menzies, and Helena Bonham Carter all pick up their roles seamlessly, playing the aged Royals with grace consistent with the characters’ trajectories thus far. Pictures of the first generation cast, as well as an early cameo from John Lithgow’s Winston Churchill, serve more as treats for the fans than needed continuity bridges.

While the actors pick up where their predecessor left off, season three often feels unsure of where it’s supposed to go as a story. The previous two seasons of The Crown managed to blend larger historical plots with an intimate family narrative quite effectively. That sense of cohesiveness is completely missing here, the show’s attention scattershot over a spread of plots that share little in common with each other.

Season three feels determined to shine the spotlight on anyone other than Elizabeth, squandering Olivia Colman by reducing her character to a reactionary role. It’s hard to parse what exactly her plotline is supposed to be, as she’s rarely the main focus of any episode. Colman is superb, but she’s simply given nothing to work with, no time to shine. Claire Foy’s Elizabeth received many storylines with which she could advance her character. By comparison, Colman gets almost nothing.

The Crown has always been an ensemble drama, but the Queen isn’t supposed to be reduced to mere supporting character. Philip and Margaret both enjoy several episodes worth of extended focus. The show has always found plenty of time for Margaret, but season three doesn’t really have anything new to say about her as a person. The themes present in her focus episodes retread familiar ground.

This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the show now also focuses on the younger generation of royals, particularly Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Princess Anne (Erin Doherty). The whole point of switching up the cast was to move the ball forward and tell new stories about this family. Too often, the show seems perfectly content to roll around in well-trodden grass, which often comes at the expense of the Queen herself. By the time the show carved out time for the rest of the family, old characters and new, there’s little space left for Elizabeth to have a substantive arc for herself.

There are a few standout elements worth noting. The Queen’s relationship with Prime Minister Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins) receives a fair amount of attention, a peculiar friendship given Wilson’s Labour roots. Menzies’ Prince Philip is the real standout of the season, building off Matt Smith’s early interpretation while leaving his own mark on a man eager to find purpose as age changes his perspective on life.

The Crown is rarely bad television, but it is often quite boring. The events covered feel quaint compared to magnitude of earlier arcs. This show is designed to portray 60 individual chapters in the life of this family. Season three feels like a big waste of time when you consider how much history lies within the walls of this family’s time in Buckingham Palace.