"Colman slips right into the show, a high diver of such talent she barely makes a splash," says Willa Paskin. "The new Crown, which arrives Sunday, is like the old Crown: polished, elegant, and sumptuous. It makes gossip feel genteel, turns recent history into a drawing-room drama, and generously provides a visual tour of the royal family’s extensive properties. If you have previously enjoyed curling up on a cold winter weekend with this series, it will, again, keep you warm. It is, however, almost a complete waste of Olivia Colman." Paskin adds: "The earlier seasons dealt with the vacuum that is Elizabeth, both as a person and as a ruler, by making the tension between the understated Elizabeth and her overstated job the central drama of the show. Elizabeth was not the protagonist in every episode, often ceding the stage to her husband, Prince Philip; her sister, Princess Margaret; various prime ministers; and other historical events in episodes that would wind up orbiting around the monarch in one way or another, much to everyone’s chagrin. All of this, plus (Claire) Foy’s performance—which had just enough prickliness to insinuate the queen was judging everyone and everything and tamping it all down—kept things tense enough for a show that is, basically, a long bubble bath. But now Elizabeth is a monarch in middle age, secure in position and her power, a Zen master of doing nothing."
Olivia Colman nails Queen Elizabeth II role: "Colman is an extraordinary actress, as anyone who has ever watched her in anything can attest," says Kristen Baldwin. "(Finished Fleabag? Cue up Broadchurch next, and then The Night Manager.) The Emmy-nominated star gives a performance that is technically precise — she nails Her Majesty’s posh nasal voice and clipped cadence — as well as emotionally resonant. In public and private, Elizabeth maintains a dour mask of dignity, but Colman reveals glimpses of the feelings that swirl underneath — whether its jealousy over the American media’s fawning reception of Margaret, or deep sorrow over the Aberfan mining disaster, which killed 116 Welsh children in 1966"
The Crown doesn't get praised enough for producing exceptional episodic television: "The Crown routinely gets praise for some of the elements I’ve already mentioned: impeccable direction, fine acting, its overall top-notch production values, which remain top-notch in season three," says Jen Chaney. "But one of its best, most overlooked qualities is the fact that it delivers television that is episodic in the truest sense of the word. While it’s certainly ideal to watch all ten of these episodes in their intended order, one could theoretically stream episode three or six in isolation and not only follow what’s happening, but also feel like they had digested a single story, completely told. The Crown certainly possess the ambition and artistry that might tempt some people to use that phrase that’s thrown around a lot about prestige television: It’s like a movie. But The Crown is not a movie. It’s exceptional television that takes full advantage of the narrative structure and scope the medium provides."
The Crown is saved by its actors and directors: "This dual attempt to humanize the royals without going too far in any direction presents an uneasy balancing act that The Crown doesn’t always nail," says Caroline Framke. "The moments when it does can be transcendent, which is almost always thanks to the actors, not to mention the directors guiding them. Without these steady, nuanced performances, The Crown could easily droop under the weight of its own ambition and others’ expectations. With them, The Crown becomes as compelling a portrait of how power warps individuals, and the world along with them, as exists on TV."
The Crown shines even brighter in Season 3: "Colman is masterful as a cold but not uncaring figurehead for a country in need of solace," says Lorraine Ali. "She has to fake tears when touring a disaster site where a schoolhouse full of children were buried under an avalanche of coal sludge. She’s bothered, but mostly by why she can’t feel things the way others do. She wants to feel, but even if she could, her station demands an inhuman detachment. Colman carries that imbalance with her throughout the season, frostily dressing down her own son Charles (Josh O’Connor), then tenderly talking about the race horses she loves as if they were her real children."
The Crown presents so many conundrums: "The main one is: what is it? A soap?" says Lucy Mangan. "With all the personal dramas, behind-the-scenes machinations and a natural Joan Collins figure in Princess Margaret (now played, with magnificently casual disdain, by Helena Bonham Carter), it certainly lathers well. Is it prestige television? The money up on screen, the attention to detail, the hewing to British constitutional history and the dragooning of every respected member of British Equity suggest so."
The very broadness and sweep that keep The Crown lively can also hold it back: "It’s a portmanteau of many different kinds of drama: domestic, romantic, military, political, even espionage," says James Poniewozik. "It does all of them well, but none surprisingly. Its control precludes the wildness at the heart of many of the greatest series. This show can be, like a distant monarch, easier to revere than to feel passion for."
How Menzies approached playing Prince Philip: "There’s a heat to him,” he says. “There’s a pent-up energy. A suppression. An alpha maleness that has had to be diverted in different directions. He’s more choleric (than the rest of the royal family). More inclined to bite. Which I find endearing. The reality is that he spends his life going into lots of rooms where people are nervous to meet him — tongue-tied, reverential, don’t say very much — which must be very boring and then at times just infuriating.”
The Crown creator Peter Morgan explains why the Queen is like Tony Soprano: "You’ve got prime ministers, you’ve got government, you’ve got crises, you’ve got national conflict, you’ve got other members of the royal family, you’ve got any number of avenues that you could explore,” says Morgan. “Why do you always need to gravitate back to this rather silent, taciturn, dutiful middle-aged woman? It doesn’t feel like a natural way for a television show to pivot, and yet it does. It’s a bit like what it must have been like for David Chase trying to write episodes of The Sopranos without Tony Soprano in it. I’m sure he must have tried a million times and then thought, it’s a bit ugh, let’s bring Tony in for a couple of scenes, and suddenly it all shifts its gravity, and you’re rooted. Even in the making of season 1, as early as that, I would realize in the cutting room, Oh, my god, we need to put Claire (Foy) back in, let me rewrite a couple of scenes and put them around Claire, which we did a lot to anchor the show.”