The Crown season three is dropping at an interesting time. Peter Morgan, Netflix, everyone involved with The Crown could not have known that, of course, but as it happens, The Crown arrives at an existential crisis at the same moment that the British royal family is knee-deep in another kind of crisis. As Olivia Colman portrays a queen in mid-life, facing mid-life crises, national crises, and family crises, the actual queen is facing late-life crises, Brexit crises, Epstein crises, and Sussex crises. There is even an echo of the strict austerity of the 1970s and 1980s in today’s economic conditions. I don’t think The Crown is a show that strives for relevance the way something like, say, Watchmen does (more on that tomorrow), because The Crown is ultimately a very fancy soap opera. But The Crown is not ignorant of the intersection of soap and reality, and for the first time, it feels like The Crown is providing a kind of deliberate echo to the modern royal family.
The full trailer for The Crown gives us glimpses of the miners’ strike, Lord Mountbatten’s funeral, Prince Charles’ investiture, Camilla is on the scene, and Charles is struggling with his role as heir. “My family means well,” he says. “No they don’t,” is the reply. This line, in particular, is chilling given the present situation surrounding House Sussex. The trailer also shows off a plot about the rivalry between the Queen and Princess Margaret, again an uncomfortable reminder of the latent issues percolating between Princes William and Harry. And then the queen utters the line, “That’s the thing about monarchy, we paper over the cracks.”
But what if the monarchy CAN’T paper over the cracks? Two months ago, I was just excited to see Princess Anne. Now, though, we’re post-Love Shield 2019, and we’re seeing through the ITV documentary just how upset and demoralized Harry and, especially, Meghan are after a year of unrelenting press negativity. The monarchy is not “papering over” the racism and misogyny exposed by the tabloid media aimed at Meghan Markle. If anything, they are highlighting the cracks, because they aren’t doing a damned thing to stem the tide or show they are at all modern about having a biracial woman in the family. The Windsors have survived this long because they have always managed to modernize just when they need to. But they aren’t modernizing now, and I truly wonder if this might be the tipping point against the royal family.
Of course, The Crown has not yet arrived at the Harry-and-Meghan season. But it is interesting how some of the themes and issues highlighted in this trailer echo today, and how incredibly unflattering it is. Peter Morgan, creator of The Crown, is undeniably pro-royalist, and I wonder if he meant for his fancy soap opera to be quite THIS unflattering toward the Queen. It’s one thing to revel in the gossip and innuendo about the royals behind closed doors when there is nothing else going on. But at a time when monarchy feels more out of step than ever with day-to-day life, and when we’re seeing the institution grind down a person who has not actually done anything wrong, a strain of unpleasantness creeps in.
It’s hard to enjoy the escapism offered by soap opera when the escape hatch is just a window to the real world. The Crown season three looks very good, and I am still here for Princess Anne. But I care less than ever about the royals, and I might actually be mad at them, upon reflection. The first two seasons managed to strike sympathetic chords for the royals, but I wonder if season three can do the same when every day the actual news is full of a new chapter of the real-life drama of the royals, and it gets uglier and uglier with each banner headline.