Review: 'The Crown,' Season 3 The third season of The Crown arrives with a new queen: Olivia Colman takes over as Elizabeth II. This season, the Netflix show evolves into a potent look at why the monarchy exists in England.


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Review: 'The Crown,' Season 3

Review: 'The Crown,' Season 3

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The third season of The Crown arrives with a new queen: Olivia Colman takes over as Elizabeth II. This season, the Netflix show evolves into a potent look at why the monarchy exists in England.


"The Crown" has a new cast. Award-Winning actress Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter join the third season premiering today on Netflix. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the show manages a seamless transition while also continuing to ask important questions about the role of monarchy in a democracy.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: "The Crown's" third season begins with Olivia Colman as a dower disappointed Queen Elizabeth. It's 1964, and she's staring at two portraits of her profile for a postage stamp - one a new image and the other from her youth - as an aide tries to lift her spirits.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Everyone in the post office is delighted with the new profile, ma'am, on which they feel to be an elegant reflection of her majesty's transition from young woman to...

OLIVIA COLMAN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Old bat.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) A mother of four and settled sovereign.

DEGGANS: This scene features images of Colman and the woman who played Elizabeth in the two previous seasons of "The Crown," Claire Foy. It's a not-so-subtle nod to a changing of the guard on screen. Gone is the luminous Foy and the impish Matt Smith who played young Elizabeth and Prince Philip. In comes Colman, Tobias Menzies as Philip and Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth's sister, Margaret.

Now, Margaret desperately wants to be queen, but her desire is overshadowed by qualities - especially an impulsive, entitled nature - that would make her terrible at the job. It doesn't stop her from complaining, including on a flight with her husband played by Ben Daniels.


BEN DANIELS: (As Antony Armstrong-Jones) Elder sister, younger sister, No. 1 and No. 2.

HELENA BONHAM CARTER: (As Princess Margaret) Who is No. 1?

DANIELS: (As Antony Armstrong-Jones) You, a natural No. 1 whose tragedy it is to have been born No. 2.

BONHAM CARTER: (As Princess Margaret) That is my burden.

DANIELS: (As Antony Armstrong-Jones) She knows it, too.

BONHAM CARTER: (As Princess Margaret) Yes, I think she does. That's her burden.

DEGGANS: Wonderful as Bonham Carter's Margaret is, Colman's Queen Elizabeth is the bigger acting triumph. She must show competing ways of emotion inside a woman known as a solid ruler who spent decades perfecting the art of seeming unmoved. It can look at times as if Colman is wearing the same three expressions in every episode, but she signals Elizabeth's emotional turmoil in small moments - pursed lips or a tear welling that never quite gets out of her eye. A key moment comes when Elizabeth must confront a relative played by the always regal Charles Dance, who wants her to dismiss a struggling prime minister and Parliament.


COLMAN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) I am protecting the prime minister. I am protecting the Constitution. I am protecting democracy.

CHARLES DANCE: (As Louis Mountbatten) But if the man of heart of that democracy threatens to destroy it, are we supposed to just stand by and do nothing?

COLMAN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Yes. Doing nothing is exactly what we do. And wait for the people that voted him in to vote him out again if indeed that is what they decide to do.

DEGGANS: There is so much to love here - Clancy Brown as a crusty Lyndon Baines Johnson bonding with Margaret over their shared disdain for JFK, Menzies' Philip cluelessly causing a deluge of bad press when he complains on U.S. TV about the royals' low pay. So much in these episodes would be avoided if the monarchy just had a good press agent.

It's always been tempting to dismiss "The Crown" as a high-priced soap opera aimed straight at Anglophiles, but the show's real mission has often been to ask, what's the purpose of a hereditary monarchy in a democracy? This show humanizes a royal family tangled by contradictions - to have power yet not, to be fiercely private, public figures, to participate in world events only as the regal reserve face of a democracy. "The Crown" might in some way be propaganda for an unfair aristocracy, but it's also irresistible, insightful television.

I'm Eric Deggans.


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