Is it possible to watch Series Three of The Crown without crying?
PUBLISHED: 06:00 26 November 2019
Whatever you think of the Royals, try watching The Crown without weeping. It's not possible, says Liz Nice
I keep telling my mother to watch The Crown but she won't get Netflix.
She is missing out.
I've just spent the weekend watching the entire third series and have been trying to pinpoint what exactly it is that makes this extraordinarily hagiographical study of our Royal family so compelling.
I'm not a Republican these days, but there are times when the thought crosses my mind! (Prince Andrew on Newsnight, Harry and Meghan bemoaning their terrible lot…) But you watch the Crown and find yourself weeping for these people, who have everything you imagine you could possibly want.
Why is that?
A big part of the programme's appeal is its nostalgia. Series 3 covers the 1960s and 70s, ending with the Silver Jubilee; this is history that is so close you can touch it and it feels like the right time to look at those moments again.
The episode about Aberfan is superb and should be shown in schools. Every child in Britain should understand why that unthinkable disaster happened and how it came to happen so that our future leaders will be determined that nothing like it could ever happen again. It makes you ponder how often it is still happening.
The parallels with Grenfell are obvious. Parallels are clear too when the powercuts are on, the Palace is covered in candles and, after Ted Heath is ousted and Harold Wilson has to step in to form a minority Government, Prince Philip is heard telling the Queen that we have never seen Britain in such a mess.
Don't worry, you hear yourself telling Tobias Menzies (who plays Philip). Just wait 'til you get to 2019!
The Crown's genius though is to do the one thing the Royal Family can never do, as Prince Andrew discovered last week to his cost. Show us who each member of the family really is (albeit a pretty idealised version.)
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The Queen, whom Olivia Colman inhabits brilliantly, struggles with her inability to show her feelings - ingrained ever since she understood as a young girl that the crown was to be placed on her head. Her struggle with herself over Aberfan - should she go? - reminded me of when Princess Diana died; the country is telling her one thing, tradition and her fear of showing any kind of emotion are telling her another. Similarly, her relationship with her sister, Princess Margaret, played by Helena Bonham Carter who has never been better in any role, is almost unbearably poignant. Margaret could be, and often was, truly frightful, yet The Crown helps you to understand why; her sense of her own futility, her unhappy relationships; the overwhelming message of the series with so many of the Royals (apart from delightfully indomitable Princess Anne) is that they are all quite lost.
How can you not feel for Prince Philip as he struggles to find purpose; berating himself for never having achieved his own potential as he watches the moon landings in awe?
While the episode about Prince Charles' investiture, when he was forced to leave Cambridge and spend a term in a not especially welcoming Wales learning Welsh, is heartbreaking. His tutor, a Republican and Welsh nationalist eventually takes pity on him, as do we all when he is asked if he will be going out to dinner.
No, he says, he will just be going to his room. He hasn't managed, despite best efforts, to make any friends. "It's fine," says Charles, "I'm used to it."
None but the hardest heart would not weep at that.
Prince Charles has come out of The Crown better than anyone, I think. I read yesterday that he has never been more popular and this was put down to his work, his environmental sensibilities and his happy marriage. I think it has a lot to do with The Crown however. You can't help but feel for the sensitive boy he was, sent away to a school where he was bullied, prevented from being with the woman he loved and never being mothered in the way that is every child's right. Even as an adult, he is shown always being desperate to see his mother, to win her approval, but each time having to wait for her to finish doing something apparently more important until he can hear the eternally hoped for words, 'The Queen will see you now.'
There are lessons for us all in The Crown,
For parents to take more time for their children.
For families to be more sensitive to each other's struggles.
And as a reminder that everyone, whatever you might think of them, has their own crosses to bear, their own fears and hopes, and no one really, despite outward appearances and vast differences of wealth, has it better than you on the inside.
Whether you love the Royal Family, or would like to see them removed immediately, in these angry times, and with Christmas approaching and our own families to navigate, we can all do with remembering that.
As for my mother, she babysat on Saturday night and, on my return, I caught her halfway through episode two, series one.
I suspect she'll be back for another visit very soon. I'll leave a box of tissues at the ready.