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REVIEW: Gillian Anderson completely steals the show in The Crown Season 4

By Rory Cashin

November 9, 2020 at 1:59pm

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Gillian Anderson's performance as Margaret Thatcher in the new season of The Crown is properly fantastic.

Fans of Gillian Anderson have known for a long while now that she is a truly incredible actress. The X-Files, Hannibal, The Fall, Sex Education... she can adapt to her surroundings better than she has ever been given credit for, but we get the feeling that her turn as Margaret Thatcher in the new season of The Crown will finally land her the plaudits (and the awards) she so richly deserves.

Thatcher is one of three women that the new season focuses on, and the different ways they all react to a position of power. Thatcher wields it like a sledgehammer, completely obliterating everything and everyone that gets in her way or possesses an alternative viewpoint to her own. Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) now views her position with weariness, the privilege of her birthright counterbalanced by a life not lived fully, and any sign of emotion seen as a weakness. And then we've got the new Princess Diana (Emma Corrin), who finds she is expected to bend to the ways of royal life, or it may end up breaking her completely, all while married to a man who openly loves another woman.

As the show rapidly catches up with the modern day, the scandals of the royal family will be fresher in viewer's minds, and some of these behind-the-scenes and/or completely made-up conversations will become all the more juicier. However, it frustrates at times that the show can seemingly skip over important plot elements at random, especially when focusing on Diana, Prince Charles (Josh O'Connor), and his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles (Emerald Fennell). What seems set up to be a brilliantly told tragedy ends up a bit of a missed opportunity, as we're never given solid emotional ground for Diana and Charles' relationship, and they seem to be hopelessly in love or hanging by a thread depending on the episode, but without the show really filling in the blanks of the sudden changes of heart.

What is more successful are the tense but polite face-offs between the Queen and the Prime Minister, each of them attempting to rule the United Kingdom in very different ways. Anderson layers her Thatcher initially with a likeable, almost charming crankiness, before revealing the true harshness of her soul and her constant attempts to chip away at the morale of the lower classes.

Then there is the rest of the royal family, who get less of a look-in than the central trio, but when the story spotlight does focus on them, they absolutely shine. Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) once again nails being the smartest person in every room, but couples it with a new sense of vulnerability that eventually becomes quite heartbreaking, while Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) ducks in and out to provide emotional support to Elizabeth, but also the constant reminder of their completely broken marriage.

It is all presented in the usual lushness we've expected from The Crown, and the world-hopping of this season's story does make sure things never get too dull and theatrical. Some major historical moments - IRA bombings, South African apartheid, the visit to the New York children's hospital - are literal background dressing for their interpersonal strifes, and the sheer amount of things happening during this season makes sure it absolutely zips along.

While some episodes are less interesting than others - bizarrely, most of the episodes that focus on Charles and Diana are a bit of a drag - there are others that will likely go down as some of the best TV of 2020. And with all that in mind, just give Gillian Anderson all of the awards now, please and thank you.

The Crown Season 4 will be available on Netflix from Sunday, November 15.

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