By bringing outsiders within the palace walls of the British monarchy, “The Crown” depicts Britain’s royal family in a way that neither film or TV has rarely explored with such depth.
The acclaimed Netflix series documents iconic, international royalty in a respectful fashion, and although movies and television shows typically mishandle the depiction of real-life figures, “The Crown” steps up to the challenge by crafting an entertaining program that might not always be realistic, but remains consistently engaging.
Notably, the passage of time is crucial to the show’s storytelling, considering that the creators are devoted to showcasing the evolution of the monarchy over the decades and subsequently rely on the excitement of introducing publicly familiar, yet contextually new characters to the show’s roster.
As “The Crown” progresses throughout the decades, Season 3 begins with new actors to depict Queen Elizabeth, her husband Prince Philip, her sister Princess Margaret and Margaret’s husband, Lord Snowdon. Notably, in Season 3, Olivia Colman has replaced Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II, and Helena Bonham Carter has taken Vanessa Kirby’s place as Princess Margaret. Where Season 1 and Season 2 spanned 1947 to 1964, the third season picks up a few months after the Season 2 finale in 1964.
Thankfully, the replacement of actors does not compromise the series’s devotion to the integrity of the story; “The Crown” holds no interest in incorporating old-age makeup and editing to skirt around the fact that the previous actors are older than they are. Nevertheless, the older actors cannot simply rely on their age to supplant their acting ability, since they are responsible for depicting historical figures and interpreting a pre-existing character within the timeline of the show in a manner that allows the audience to forget they are watching a different actor.
The opening scene for Season 3 introduces us to Oliva Colman as an older Queen Elizabeth II, who is presented with a stamp, an updated profile placed adjacent to her previous stamp, a profile of Claire Foy as the younger Queen Elizabeth. “A great many changes,” says Colman. “Nothing one can do about it. One just has to get on with it.”
This witty, passive-aggressive introduction is equally clever and uncomfortable. In the same way that the episode, which is suitably titled “Olding,” shows framed desk-side pictures of the current royal family, this decision prompts two effects.
If anything, Season 3 of “The Crown” shows that the creators are being honest with their decisions, but it also brings the viewer out of the reality of the story. On a visual level, some of the actors are more believable as the older counterparts than others, and this is something that becomes more difficult to ignore as the show continually reminds the audience.
The apparent self-awareness works against the already imperfect illusion that the audience has been sold before, and for those who are even pickier, a number of the actors’ appearances not only fail to resemble their younger iterations, but they do not look enough like their real-life counterparts either. Perhaps as “The Crown” continues into Season 4, when the actors are meant to depict characters in their late 40s and 50s, this jarring age effect will be more forgivable. However, at the moment, the age discrepancies with Olivia Colman currently in her mid-40s and Helena Bonham Carter in her early 50s is nearly impossible to reconcile.
Admittedly, the opening scene confronts the contradictions that the show knowingly faces. Morgan and his team of creatives comprehend the audience’s curiosities, while simultaneously telling us that this is how it will be done. Yet, despite its difficulties, Season 3 of “The Crown” pulls it off well. Olivia Colman’s words ring with the familiarity of Claire Foy’s character, and Colman’s sharp humor and delivery remind us that the actress is well-versed in the shoes she has chosen to fill. Viewers might not believe that they are physically looking at the same Queen, but the character remains intact.
With regards to critical and audience reception, the first two seasons of “The Crown” were a success. Having to move past a previous connection between an actor and character will prove uncomfortable for many viewers, but the choice benefits the show nonetheless.
Undeniably, fans of “The Crown” who have followed the show for the past three years might find difficulty detaching actors that brought certain characters to life, people will likely invest more into the freshest round of actors as they evolve over time, and if the first episode is reflective of anything, Season 3 and Season 4 will retain the binge-worthy qualities as their predecessors.