The Crown Season 3

The Crown (Netflix)

The Crown’s third series kicks off with a particularly good in-joke, in which Elizabeth II casts her eye over two postage stamps. The first shows the head of Claire Foy, the second Olivia Colman. ‘An elegant reflection,’ simpers a lackey, ‘of Her Majesty’s transfer from young woman to…’

‘Old bag?’ asks the Queen.

Hardly. If anyone can follow Foy’s glorious reign, it’s surely Oscar-winning Brit royalty Colman, who is as magnificent as you’d expect. As is Tobias Menzies, taking over from Matt Smith as Prince Philip, and Helena Bonham Carter, succeeding Vanessa Kirby as the outwardly vivacious, privately desolate Princess Margaret. There’s also a brief last hurrah for John Lithgow’s Winston Churchill, with the terrific Jason Watkins blowing into Downing Street promising the white heat of revolution as a note-perfect Harold Wilson.

While the faces may have changed, though, elsewhere it’s business as usual, with writer Peter Morgan effectively delivering 10 mini-movies, each using the royal family as a prism through which to refract the major news events of the day (events in which Colman’s Queen is often a surprisingly peripheral figure). 

Among the standout episodes are a devastating recreation of the 1966 Aberfan tragedy, Elizabeth’s frozen response to which has strong echoes of Morgan’s film The Queen, and the story of how Margaret’s outrageous flirting with President Johnson secured Britain a billion-dollar financial bailout. Tywysog Cymru, meanwhile, plays like a Celtic King’s Speech, as Charles (the excellent Josh O’Connor) is dispatched to Aberystwyth to be coached in the language by a firebrand Welsh nationalist and anti-monarchist.

Morgan’s depiction of the oft-strained relationship between Crown and state feels particularly topical this time around (during the 1967 devaluation crisis, there’s even talk of the Queen dissolving Parliament). And sure, there are times when his loose relationship with the actualité enters the realms of outright fantasy. But, taken with a generous pinch of salt, The Crown – every episode of which literally looks a million dollars – remains a classy and compelling blend of soap opera and social history.

 

War of the Worlds (BBC One)

There have been many versions of The War of the Worlds, from Orson Welles’ panic-inducing radio broadcast to Jeff Wayne’s rock opera – but this is the first faithful TV adaptation of HG Wells’ sci-fi classic. Well, faithful-ish: it’s been shunted forward a few years into the Edwardian era, and Eleanor Tomlinson’s heroine Amy is a new creation. Nevertheless, it’s a handsomely made, surprisingly scary take on what, 120 years on, is still surely the only alien invasion story ever to have been set in Woking.

 

Greg Davies: Looking for Kes (BBC4)

This lovely film – following comedian and former English teacher Greg Davies’ pilgrimage to the heartland of Barry Hines’ classic novel A Kestrel for a Knave – was a moving testament to, as Jarvis Cocker put it, the working class ‘desire to escape… to soar and fly free’. Among the highlights was the moment when Hines’ brother Richard, on whom the story was based, tried his hand at falconry for the first time in 50 years. (Turns out he’s still got it.)

Published in Waitrose Weekend, 21 November, 2019

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