At the end of the 1970s, the Royal Family is preoccupied with safeguarding the line of succession by finding an appropriate bride for Prince Charles who is still unmarried at 30. When Lord Mountbatten is assassinated by the IRA the family is rocked to its core and Charles loses his mentor. In the wake of that grief, a young Lady Diana Spencer enters the frame and the die is cast. Their wedding in 1981 is an occasion which unites the entire country in celebrating this seeming fairytale romance.
As the season progresses and relations between the Waleses become strained, so too do relations between the Queen and her Prime Minister, Britain’s first female Prime Minister – Margaret Thatcher. Though on paper the two women seem to be cut from the same cloth, they often disagree about the appropriate governance of the country and the Queen’s constitutional obligation to remain silent is put to the test. By the end of the season the Prime Minister is ousted by her own cabinet after eleven and a half turbulent years in power, and the Queen finds herself head of an increasingly disunited family.
Set between 1979 and 1990, season 4 will take us to incredible places including South Georgia, where the invasion of the Falkland Islands sets Britain on a war footing, and across the world to Australia, where the Waleses embark on a politically sensitive tour after republican Prime Minister Bob Hawke has been elected. We will also be revisiting Balmoral Castle, where both Thatcher and Diana will be subjected to the infamous ‘Balmoral Tests’, and the beaches of Mustique, where Princess Margaret retreats during a difficult period in her life.
It’s the 1979 election and Queen Elizabeth finds herself inviting Britain’s first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, to form a government after a landslide victory. Almost exact contemporaries, the two women find that neither is quite what they had expected and they feel confident of a good working relationship together. Meanwhile, Prince Charles’s refusal to settle down weighs heavily on the Royals. Having been thwarted in his choice of bride, Camilla Shand, his relations with his family, including his once confidante, great uncle Lord Mountbatten, remain strained.
In an impassioned attempt to redress the situation, Mountbatten tries and fails to express his concerns to the Prince about his irresponsible behaviour. But when Mountbatten is assassinated in an IRA bomb attack, the Royal Family is rocked to its core; robbing the Queen of a key ally, and Prince Charles and the Duke of Edinburgh of a father figure. Grief stricken and lost, Prince Charles tries to take his great uncle’s advice and find a uitable bride. Enter young aristocrat Lady Diana Spencer who charms him with her vitality, kindness and beauty.
When Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis pay their first visit to holiday with the Royal Family in Balmoral, they wonder if they will pass the infamous ‘Balmoral Test’. Prince Charles, meanwhile, continues in earnest to court Lady Diana Spencer however still hesitant about the match, he seeks guidance from Camilla who persuades him to invite Diana to Balmoral.
Facing opposition in her cabinet to the speed and severity of her policies, Margaret Thatcher struggles with the concept of taking a ‘holiday’ and finds herself a fish out of water in the rarefied world of the royal court. Having started her premiership on a positive footing with the Queen, cracks start to appear in the relationship as the weekend exposes their stark differences and the Prime Minister leaves Scotland galvanised to sweep aside the old establishment within her own cabinet. But while Thatcher fails the Balmoral Tests, Diana passes with flying colours and the Duke of Edinburgh urges Prince Charles to propose.
After a brief courtship, Prince Charles bows to family pressure and proposes to Lady Diana Spencer. But cracks in their ‘happily ever after’ begin to show as Prince Charles embarks on a long-planned six week tour of Australia, leaving the newly engaged Diana isolated and floundering in the Palace as she undergoes the transformation from teenager to Princess of Wales. While the outside world imagines only the fairytale, Prince Charles’s absence and the level of scrutiny that Diana finds herself under begin to torment her and doubts about the marriage start to creep in.
As the wedding fast approaches, Diana feels increasingly trapped and what began as a fairytale, turns into a nightmare. Only Princess Margaret, herself the victim of thwarted romance and an unhappy marriage, warns the family that this is a mismatch that will create misery for all. Her words are unheeded and the wedding of the century goes ahead.
Margaret Thatcher finds herself uncharacteristically distracted after her son Mark goes missing in the desert whilst competing in the Paris Dakar Rally. Her maternal affection and anxiety for her son’s well-being impedes her ability to run the country in the way she is used to. The Queen, aware of her situation, is sympathetic to this display of humanity but Thatcher’s obvious preference for her son over her daughter, leads the monarch to question who her own favourite child is.
After meeting with each one, she finds them all wanting, and comes to the painful realisation that she has failed as a mother. What legacy is she leaving the country with such heirs? Will the monarchy be able to survive without her steady hand? However, she finds consolation in the fact that she has also had to play mother to the nation and as it appears Britain is moving closer to war in the Falklands, it is a role she must continue playing without flinching.
Margaret Thatcher is enjoying renewed popularity due to the success of her Falklands campaign but ordinary people are suffering under her divisive leadership. One such man is Michael Fagan. After being driven to the edge by the eye-watering welfare bureaucracy and subsequently, losing his children in a custody battle, he hits rock bottom and successfully breaks into Buckingham Palace in order to talk to the one person who might be able to help… the Queen.
The intrusion gives Thatcher the ammunition she needs to insist on improvements in the Queen’s security. And while Thatcher basks in the glory of a successful war in the Falklands, the Queen feels more remote than ever from her subjects.
Wales’s marriage is on the rocks and it’s becoming a cause for concern amongst the family. But when republican Bob Hawke is sworn in as Australia’s Prime Minister, it falls to Prince Charles, accompanied by Princess Diana and their young son Prince William, to embark on an important and politically sensitive tour of Australia to win back the public’s affections. The tour starts badly as the couple receive a cool reception from the press and public.
However, with ten thousand miles between them and court and free from the influence of Queen and Camilla, the royal couple start to rekindle their romance and this display of togetherness helps them win over the Australian people. But as Princess Diana’s growing popularity hits fever pitch, Prince Charles struggles with being outshone and cracks begin to appear in the marriage once more. On returning to England, Princess Diana seeks the help of the one person she feels her husband will listen to, his mother. But she doesn’t receive the warm embrace she hoped for.
Bruised by another failed romance, and facing her own mortality after a lung operation, Princess Margaret once more turns to her older sister to request a more active role in the family firm. But her timing is unfortunate – Prince Edward’s 21 st birthday sees her once more knocked down the order of precedence, and further under-employed.
When even the normal idyll of Mustique fails to lift her spirits and unable to muscle through this slump, she eventually seeks professional help. It is within this context that she learns the heartbreaking story of her first cousins, sisters Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon, who were placed in a mental institution decades earlier, assumed dead. Channeling her own pain she confronts her mother and finds herself outraged by the moral decisions of the family, which puts survival ahead of everything else, no matter what the cost.
The Queen finds herself at odds with her Prime Minister after Margaret Thatcher’s refusal to cooperate with commonwealth leaders and back tougher sanctions against South Africa and its apartheid regime. Struggling to remain impartial on issues dearest to her, the Queen shares her frustration with her press secretary, Michael Shea, and a story is passed to the press, detailing The Queen’s disquiet about Thatcherism.
When the story blows up, the Queen is required to deny her role in it, but her actions have stoked the flames, causing an unprecedented rift between Prime Minister and Sovereign with parties fearing a constitutional crisis. It is then that the Queen must once more remember the limits of her role as an apolitical figurehead and embrace the quiet power she still wields.
The Wales’s marriage is at an all-time low with both Prince Charles and Princess Diana seeking comfort elsewhere. As rumours gather pace, the Queen turns to straight-talking Princess Anne to ask the truth about the state of the marriage and is left concerned, knowing that its deterioration risks destabilising the monarchy itself.
When the Prince of Wales’s skiing party is hit by a sudden avalanche, his safety is temporarily in doubt. But whilst his near-death experience makes Prince Charles realise he wants to be free of his marriage, it has the opposite effect on Princess Diana who commits to doing everything she can to reconcile their relationship.
Strong-armed by his parents to make the marriage work, Prince Charles keeps Diana at a distance and instructs her protection officers to report any indiscretions back to him, in the hope that she will do something he can use as an excuse to separate their households. And, sure enough, after a failed attempt to woo Prince Charles with a theatrical surprise, Princess Diana looks for love elsewhere.
While Margaret Thatcher is stabbed in the back by her cabinet and finds herself unexpectedly facing a leadership challenge, Prince Charles uses the resumption of Princess Diana’s affair to try and escape the marriage. Both women are left devastated by being betrayed by those closest to them. But as Thatcher is forced to leave Downing Street, Princess Diana’s first solo trip to New York gives her the opportunity for rebirth as she begins to understand the power of her celebrity for the first time.
Hoping for congratulations on her return home, she is instead faced with fearsome animosity from Prince Charles, aware that her increasingly popular public profile impacts badly on his relationship with Camilla and any hope of a future with her. With the Wales’s marriage in freefall, the Queen’s sympathies lie not with her son or daughter in law, rather with her sometime antagonist, Thatcher, whose controversial leadership eventually led to her being ousted by her own cabinet.
The Crown Series 4 drops on Netflix from 8am on Sunday 15 November 2020