The Crown season 4: Diana, Thatcher and the start of a royal soap opera – Why everyone is talking about the return of Netflix's royal saga

Gillian Anderson and Emma Corrin join the cast of The Crown for the highly anticipated fourth season as the Iron Lady and the shy nanny who would become the People's Princess.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 15 November 2020 - 3.12am

When you’re looking back at the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, it’s fair to say that the 1980s were when things began to take a slightly more 'eventful' turn.

That isn’t to say that The Crown hasn’t been gripping, fascinating and sumptuous TV to watch over its first three seasons. But anyone who has previously watched the show and hasn’t given out a little squeal of excitement at the prospect of the Netflix series tackling the Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher years is telling fibs.

Ahead of the show’s release on Sunday November 15, here are three reasons everyone is talking about The Crown season four.

The royal soap opera - Diana Spencer arrives

Emma Corrin as Diana in The Crown Netflix

Joining Olivia Colman’s Queen and the breathtaking ensemble of Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip and Josh O’Connor as a young Prince Charles, is fresh-faced newcomer Emma Corrin.

We - and Charles - first meet Diana all innocent and bushy-tailed, popping out from hiding behind a plant pot, dressed a tree. As Diana enters the royal firm as an outsider, the hunting metaphors that her brother Earl Spencer would later offer up in her eulogy are laid on thick in the early episodes.

Diana is an almost impossible role to tackle, because never has a public figure been so analysed, scrutinised and dissected. But Corrin’s performance is marvellous, capturing a slightness of Diana as she’s hurled into the cold, cruel and rigid rules of ‘duty’ and ‘tradition’ that control the royal family.

The soap opera of Diana, Charles and Camilla dominates the new season – and will inevitably be the central story in the next – and Corrin and O’Connor outshine some of the bigger names and more established cast as they come to the fore in the saga.

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Meet Gillian Anderson's Margaret Thatcher

Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher in The Crown season 4 Netflix

If excitement levels weren’t already high enough for season 4, the casting of Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher, the UK’s first female Prime Minister, has had us glued to every teaser, clip and trailer.

How would the actress, so loved for her performance as Dana Scully in the X-Files and more recently as Jean Milburn in Sex Education, transform into one of the most divisive political figures in modern history?

Thankfully, by the end of the first episode, you lose any sense that you’re watching Gillian Anderson performing. She doesn’t perfectly nail Thatcher’s voice, but The Crown isn’t an impressions show.

What Anderson does master is the steeliness and the character of the Iron Lady. Her one-on-one scenes with Olivia Colman are worthy of a cinema screen. The duo are spell-binding as the power dynamic between the two jolts against the presumptions of many that two women running the country will get along swimmingly.

Jaw-dropping true stories

Helena Bonham-Carter as Princess Margaret in The Crown Netflix

The Crown’s greatest moments in the first three seasons were when it explored stories and moments often forgotten in the royal story.

Season four continues that tradition as it isn’t the wedding of Charles and Diana and their romantic woes nor the assassination of 'Uncle Dickie' Mountbatten in episode 1, but rather the avalanche disaster on a skiing trip that involved Prince Charles, the disappearance of Mark Thatcher, the Queen’s disquiet over the South African policy of apartheid and the break-in of painter and decorator Michael Fagan into the Queen’s bedroom that prove the most intriguing stories.

It is also the richness of the wider cast, which make The Crown a pure joy to watch. Erin Doherty’s sardonic Princess Anne steals every scene and warrants her own spin-off series.

Bonham Carter’s Princess Margaret continues to struggle with her royal role as she is sidelined within the family and moved away from the spotlight. Margaret is always at the centre of social gatherings, but Bonham Carter takes a triumphant centre stage of her own in one episode in which she discovers some shocking secrets about her family's past.

The show often struggles to serve the vast array of characters – Bonham Carter and Menzies' Duke of Edinburgh are very much lurking on the periphery this year – but that only highlights the show’s success. We’re continually left wanting more.

Season 4 of The Crown is now available to watch on Netflix.

Watch The Crown seasons 1-3 on Netflix.