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The shadow cast on the monarchy by Princess Diana means that her introduction has been one of the most anticipated events of The Crown. And in season four, which premieres Nov. 15, the moment is finally here. It won’t take long into the newest season of Peter Morgan’s saga about Queen Elizabeth II’s reign for Prince Charles’ (Josh O’Connor) eventual bride to show up, played by newcomer Emma Corrin. But first, another woman who helped define the ’80s for Britain arrives: Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson).
In a socially distanced press conference live-streamed for press around the world in early August, the series’ main trio — Olivia Colman (Queen Elizabeth), Helena Bonham Carter (Princess Margaret) and Tobias Menzies (Prince Philip) — discussed the introduction of those two important women this season.
First, Diana — who charms not only Charles, but also his family. Particularly his father, who understands the struggle of joining the royal family.
“I guess there are some similarities in that it’s another outsider position that he obviously has been in, so maybe he has some kind of appreciation for the challenges that she’s going through,” Menzies said. “But I think on a very basic level he just thinks it’s a good fit. In a slightly old-fashioned way, I think he also just liked her femininity, her beauty. He was sort of very seduced by her as well, I think.”
Thatcher, on the other hand, is an outsider not only in that she is the first woman Prime Minister in all of Europe, but her style simply doesn’t mesh with the Queen’s.
“There were lots of very funny moments between Thatcher and the queen in our version,” said Colman. While the queen is happy to work with another high-powered woman, that feeling doesn’t necessarily last once the two actually meet — there are plenty of awkward moments between the two that cause plenty of problems. Added Colman, “The queen … was excited for having a woman to pick her up and it didn’t last, because it turns out not everybody gets on with everybody.”
While Diana makes an excellent first impression, Thatcher, on the other hand, does not really fit in with the upper crust. Menzies teased an early episode of the season, in which Diana and Thatcher are put through the same paces: “Peter’s constructed this episode, called ‘The Balmoral Test,’ [to] see these two very different women being tested through this prism of the strange etiquette and rules, slightly unreadable, of this family. Diana gets it and therefore passes with flying colors, [which] is a big part of why that relationship is championed by the family going forward. Whereas Thatcher is out of her depth and doesn’t understand the hidden, unspoken rules, and sets up the rest of the series about her kind of animosity to the privilege of this class.”
That said, the idealized early days of Diana’s interactions with the Windsors are rosy compared to what follows once the press gets wind of her. And while the world is aware of what will eventually unfold, what happens behind the scenes isn’t widely known.
When it becomes clear that there are problems in Charles and Diana’s relationship, Elizabeth and Philip will again push to preserve duty to the crown above all else. Princess Margaret, on the other hand, has been burned by a situation like this before.
“I said, ‘Well, I’m not going to be encouraging an interference with a marriage when I was Vanessa Kirby back in season one, my whole life was destroyed originally by my sister interfering with the marriage,” said Bonham Carter. “I think that happened in real life — there was a sympathy for Diana. She saw Diana being picked up by the press as she was, and that she was taken as a fashion template. But she also knew that this was going to be a honeymoon, and that being heralded by the press then could quickly turn. But it’s a complicated thing, marriage into the royal family, it isn’t just for just an emotional [union] — there’s a job and there’s a duty. And I think she’s can see that Diana is too young.”
Lady Diana Spencer was just 19 years old when she met thirtysomething Charles, and the two would marry in 1981 at ages 20 and 32, respectively. And as season four of The Crown covers the entire decade of the ’80s, many of the ups and downs of their union will play out on screen this year.
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