Although this series began as at least a notional celebration of the monarchy, with each passing year it has become subtly more anti-monarchical, simply by presenting the royal family more or less as they are.
This season covers the 1980s, the era of Diana and Margaret Thatcher, so there’s plenty of dramatic material. The conversations between members of the royal family are of course fictional, although it seems to me that they represent reasonable guesses about what the characters really thought. I doubt that the Queen was as much of a ninny as she is portrayed here, although she is clearly out of touch with the lives of ordinary people. But Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother really were nasty pieces of work. Interestingly, the most likeable royal is Prince Phillip, which may be more of a tribute to the actor Tobias Menzies than anything else.
The marriage of Charles and Diana is presented as doomed from the start, which it probably was. The arranged marriage between a privileged man, who was nonetheless prevented from marrying the woman he truly loved, and a young woman little more than a child who thought she was living in some sort of fairy tale was truly tragic. The lunch meeting of Diana and Camilla before the wedding really did occur – and who thought THAT was a good idea? – although I suspect the conversation that actually occurred was even more surreal than the one depicted here.
I didn’t much care for Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher. She got the clenched-jaw speech pattern right – Thatcher actually took elocution lessons to learn to speak that way, in a futile attempt to be more acceptable to the British upper crust. But the net effect of this hyperrealism is to reduce the portrayal to a kind of caricature. It’s the same mistake Meryl Streep made in The Iron Lady, IMO: Someday we’ll get an honest cinematic appraisal of Thatcher by someone who actually likes her – it hasn’t happened yet.
Despite these reservations, though, I think on the whole this series is worth watching.